A scene from Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Blackfish.
Marine life living in captivity has taken on a renewed spotlight of late with the release earlier this month of Gabriela Cowperthwaite's controversial documentary Blackfish, which drew a marked rebuke from SeaWorld. Now the park is facing a new public relations controversy with recent footage of a young pilot whale showing signs of distress when it appeared to get trapped out of water while onlookers looked on with apparent horror.
The young animal is seen floundering on an aquatic stage adjacent to the main tank as video of the incident is caught by a park patron at SeaWorld's Orlando park. Adult pilot whales appear to be trying to help the creature, but it instead continued to flail on its side for nearly a half hour, according to a report by CNN. Trainers had left the nearby stage after lightning appeared in the area. After a disturbed visitor to the park alerted an employee, trainers helped push the pilot whale back into deeper water.
John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer who is critical of the park's practices and appears in Blackfish, told the news network that physically, the pilot whale was not in danger, but added, “However, with that being said, the animal is definitely in distress. And because of that, the trainers should make every move they can to get that animal back into the water as [quickly as they can].”
Blackfish focuses on an orca called Tilikum, which killed trainer Dawn Brancheau after the captive animal dragged her under water. The orca—commonly known as a killer whale—had killed before, and the film uses footage and interview to present a case that against keeping marine animals in captivity. “I just had thought they all got along and especially at a place like SeaWorld,” said Cowperthwaite in an interview earlier this month with Deadline. “So I started peeling back the onion. The idea that they're committed to preservation and education was also something I believed and grew up thinking about SeaWorld. What I came to understand is that they actually miseducate and there's no data that they are committed to environmental conservation.”
In its response to the movie, SeaWorld noted that the film is misleading and added, “Blackfish ignores everything in our long history that shows the dedication and skill of our zoological staff, our commitment to education, research and conservation, our work to rescue and rehabilitate animals in need, and the inspirational impact of seeing these animals and others up close.”
Blackfish is now playing daily at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Watch the trailer below, as well as the video of the pilot whale recently captured and posted to YouTube.