By Doug Porter
By the time the documentary film Blackfish opens on this Friday the 26th of July (Hillcrest/ Landmark Theatres) the SeaWorld public relations campaign should be reaching a crescendo. The way I look at it, any film that provokes this kind of backlash prior to its release is worth checking out.
The questions raised in the movie, which builds a narrative about the captivity of orcas (also known as killer whales) around the death in 2010 of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, cut deeply into the wholesome public image that the mega chain of water /oceanariums /marine mammal parks seeks to promote.
While spokespeople with SeaWorld refused to cooperate in any way with Gabriela Cowperthwaite during filming, the resulting film is, by all accounts (including SeaWorld’s) a disturbing look at the living conditions of the nearly half of the world’s orcas in captivity owned by the company.
The intensity of SeaWorld’s response out to gives a clue as to just how concerned they are:
“Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate.”
What they are reacting to (and SeaWorld emailed most of the major film critics around the country) are advance reviews like this one in Salon:
“Blackfish” is a highly compelling film that’s already being touted as a likely Oscar contender. It uses the gruesome 2010 death of a SeaWorld trainer named Dawn Brancheau, and the troubled life history of a six-ton bull orca named Tilikum – who drowned and partly ate Brancheau, and has apparently killed two other people – as the starting points for a disturbing and much larger story.
Through extensive interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, scientists and marine-mammal experts, Cowperthwaite builds a portrait of an intelligent but profoundly traumatized animal who was taken from his family in the North Atlantic as an infant, and has been driven to anger, resentment and perhaps psychosis after spending his life in a series of concrete swimming pools.
It’s worth noting here that Federal regulators have kept trainers at SeaWorld from performing in the Shamu shows since 2010, despite an active campaign by the company to allow it.
Here’s the kind of thinking that strikes at the core of the company’s business plan, from TreeHugger:
With science recognizing whales, dolphins and other cetaceans as sentient beings, with deeply intelligent minds and strong family bonds — not to mention that they need a lot of space — it’s hard for many to think that a life in captivity could be mentally or physically healthy for marine mammals, especially large and active whales like orca. But to what extent such a life is problematic,Blackfish tries to make clear. It will likely leave viewers wondering how places like SeaWorld can continue to exist.
And that’s just why SeaWorld is so worried.
SeaWorld’s points of contention with the film, and the filmmaker’s responses are available on Blackfish’s website.
Here’s the very powerful trailer for Blackfish:
… Meanwhile, SeaWorld Parking Makes the News
You don’t want to piss off Angeleno Nikki Browning, and that’s apparently what SeaWorld San Diego has done.
She’s on the warpath after having her locked SUV cleaned out in the Mission Bay parking lot at SeaWorld recently. Browning told a UT-San Diego reporter that park security didn’t seem to care:
“It was hot, and frustrating,” Browning said. “I know thefts occur. But you go to SeaWorld and pay $15 to park, you have a reasonable expectation it’s a safe place.”
She said a San Diego police officer who took their report told them car burglaries there were common.
Police said it appeared that the thief used some kind of electronic device to open the SUV locks.Police statistics showed 78 vehicle break-ins or thefts at the park last year, 50 in 2011, and 18 this year through June.
SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz said they park about 1 million vehicles a year in the lot.
What was most striking about the story was the comparison with the San Diego Zoo:
The San Diego Zoo has no mounted cameras in its free, city-owned parking lot, but police operate a mobile camera tower seasonally. The zoo lot had one reported auto burglary so far this year, one last year, and three the year before, police said. A zoo spokeswoman said they, like SeaWorld, have about a million cars a year in the lot.
The above is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at San Diego Free Press.