Some of the video of SeaWorld accidents is disturbing, and a lot of the footage of orcas being herded so that their young can be grabbed for use in theme parks is heartbreaking.
But the most chilling moments in “Blackfish” — the CNN Films’ exposé of SeaWorld’s long, ugly history with Shamu and his kind — come from a 911 call and the transcription of a police interrogation.
From the 911 call: “A whale has eaten one of the trainers.” This happened in Orlando in 2010, an accident witnessed by thousands and thus too big for SeaWorld to cover up. And from the local sheriff’s department transcripts, which reveal the early stages of the theme park company’s spin on the event, a few blunt lines.
Question: “The arm?”
Answer: “He swallowed it.”
The gist of this documentary — which is built around scores of interviews with ex-SeaWorld trainers, eyewitnesses to tragedies and near-tragedies, and whale experts — is that this “didn’t just happen.” For decades, the film points out, huge, social and roaming orcas, confined to tiny pens and taught to perform in tank shows at amusement parks, have been involved in incidents and tragedies. Tilikum, the male who killed veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, was a breeding male who had killed before, and yet still was in the show at SeaWorld Orlando. Many of the trainers were unaware of the whale’s deadly past, but they suspected something by the way some company folks acted around him.
“Clearly (management) knew more than they were telling us,” ex-trainer Samantha Berg says.
A veteran diver recalls, with regret, the whale roundups SeaWorld used to run in Puget Sound before they were banned from doing so. To one, the witnesses talk of the personalities, intelligence and empathy of the whales, which never have human “accidents” in the wild.
The film is a little monochromatic in its use of trainers. Some have survived “accidents,” yet none of those people were talked to. But otherwise, this is as thorough a takedown of a business and its practices as you’ re likely to ever see.
SeaWorld corporate heads must be exploding at “Blackfish,” a damning documentary that shows the lies in “the party line” — that these “accidents” are always the fault of “the trainers.”
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Cast: Former SeaWorld trainers, whale experts, eye witnesses
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Running time: 1:24
Rated: PG-13; mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images