I want to thank Robb for posting links to my blog post about CNN and Blackfish on ThemedReality
. For the most part I am not critical of the film and it's not my intent to discredit it. I am an advocate for the humane treatment of captive animals, which is different from being an animal rights advocate. In the end, SeaWorld will do what is right and I will continue to eat meat.
After reading through over a thousand postings on my blog and other websites, as well as comments on facebook and twitter, here are a few things I'd like to share about the film and its promotion:
1. Based on the large number of comments concerning content in the film that isn't actually in the film, I'm under the impression that a lot of people commenting about it haven't actually seen it. Just like a lot of people commenting about my blog post didn't take the time to read what I wrote.
2. Although Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of the film, claims she does not come from an animal rights background and that it was never her intent to make an animal rights film, this is indeed an animal rights film. Advocacy films tend to end with images of common people working to make a change. Blackfish ends with footage of animal rights protesters at SeaWorld's entrance. in addition, Cowperthwaite has both embraced and been embraced by peta.
3. The neurologist who features prominently in the film, Dr. Lori Marino of Emery University, is Science Director for the Nonhuman Rights Project, a fact not disclosed in the film. This organization's mission statement is "to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,”which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them."
4. There are two edits in the film that can lead to an easy misinterpretation of the facts. The first is at the end of the film, where a charity run for the Dawn Brancheau Foundation and an interview with her sister about the Foundation's work immediately follows the footage of animal rights protesters at SeaWorld's entrance. This gives the impression that the Foundation and her family support the removal of orcas from the parks, which could not be farther from the truth. The family has and continues to refuse to discuss the issues of Dawn's death and of orcas in captivity.
5. The second edit takes place near the beginning of the film. Following footage of the 1970 captures in Puget Sound, which were done for Sea World when it was owned by the partnership of Milton Shedd, Ken Norris, David Demott, and George Millay, and mention of the Orca deaths during those captures (which has been documented for decades), the film mentions that Sea World switched their capture location to Iceland. The film then immediately cuts to footage of Tilikum being captured in the North Atlantic. I have seen numerous comments about SeaWorld capturing Tilikum and how his family died during the capture. Sea World was not involved in the Tilikum capture and there is no evidence of orca deaths during that incident. The entire third chapter of David Kirby's book Death at SeaWorld dramatizes Tilikum's capture and does not mention any orca deaths.
There are sites on the internet that provide the same sort of distortion. http://www.seaworldofhurt.com
mentions in an article titled "Ten Things You Don't Know About SeaWorld" that "Orcas that were at SeaWorld before 1972 were likely kidnapped from their ocean homes. For example,Tilikum, a 32-year-old orca, was captured at the age of 2 by a marine "cowboy." Tilikum wasn't taken from his natural environment because he was injured—instead, he was torn away from his family against his will and confined to a small concrete tank for a hefty profit."
The piece fails to mention that Tilikum, who was captured in 1983, resided at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia until the park closed in 1992, at which time he was relocated to SeaWorld Orlando. Many of Tilikum's issues are the result of his treatment in Canada and not at SeaWorld. Note that SeaWorld of Hurt is a website owned by peta.
6. All of the performers who have cancelled gigs at SeaWorld have and continue to perform at casinos. These are institutions where large numbers of people are encouraged to perform addictive and potentially damaging acts of gambling in an enclosed environment without natural sunlight while having their judgement distorted by copious amounts of free alcohol.
7. Without CNN and now Netflix, public exposure to the film would be minimized. Theatrically, the film only showed in 99 theaters (my market not being one of them) and made just over $2 million in box office receipts. CNN continues to promote its ownership of the film. CNN.com has posted a news piece each time a band has canceled its SeaWorld performance. Each piece mentions both CNN as owning the film and having broadcast it. For instance, the piece on REO Speedwagon states: "The fans became upset after watching the CNN documentary "Blackfish," which first aired on CNN in October." CNN also has used the sensationalist headline "SeaWorld Fights for its Survival" for an on air segment about SeaWorld appealing the ban on trainer contact with whales. As evidenced by the company's recent expansions - Manta, Turtle Reef, Explorer's Cove, Aquatica in San Diego, Aquatica and its expansion in San Antonio, and TurtleTrek, Antarctica, and expansions to Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando - I'm pretty sure that SeaWorld is not dependent on human interaction with orcas for its future survival. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA also gives a good example of how a marine life/theme park can survive without orcas.
8. Although the switch from Anheuser Busch to Blackstone is discussed in the director's commentary on the DVD, ownership of SeaWorld and ownership changes are never mentioned in the film itself. This gives the impression that SeaWorld is under the same ownership and management now that it had been in the 1970's and 80's. At the time of Dawn Brancheau's death, Terry Prather was managing Water Country, a waterpark, in Virginia. Prior to that, he was with Jazzland/Six Flags New Orleans and Six Flags America. Before that, he was Managing Director of the prestigious Witte Museum in San Antonio. Now, I'll grant that Terry did work in maintenance and water quality at Sea World San Antonio from its opening in 1988 to 1997, but from knowing people in those fields at theme parks, I'm pretty sure that gave him an intensive understanding of the importance of safety.
9. If the footage of animal rights activists and Lori Marino's testimony are removed from the film, it becomes a documentary about workplace safety.
10. One thing I learned early on in the marketing of attractions is that the key to successful marketing is to target mothers - they're the ones who make all the decisions in today's modern family. And mothers feel sympathy for other mothers. The filmmakers play on this in their publicity for the film. Cowperthwaite frequently refers to herself as having been a "SeaWorld mom" who regularly took her kids to the park. The producers of the film, Judy Bart and Erica Khan are described as moms who, once their children were grown, decided to start a production company to produce films that "both inspire and entertain." (Not sure how all of Khan's children can be listed as grown, when her bio mentions them as ranging from ages 10 to 25). I've been unable to find anything about these two women. Their production company, Our Turn Productions, is registered with LA County to a nice three bedroom home in Huntington Beach owned by a lawyer. I have no desire to pursue this further, but there certainly is a question as to where these two women procured the funding for the production.
Other than the two edits and the lack of labeling of Dr. Marino that I've described above, I have no issues with the film. It's a good movie and I encourage you to see it if you're interested. But it's not the definitive piece on the issue and I will continue to do research on the business, scientific, and historical fronts before I get to the point where I'm comfortable making an opinion on the matter.