SeaWorld is a company which operates water parks where members of the public can visit shows involving various sea animals, swimming around and performing for their pleasure. That's the public's pleasure, not the creatures', as the parks are beginning to prove controversial since there was an incident at one in the United States where an experienced trainer called Dawn Brancheau was attacked by a killer whale named Tilikum. When she died as a result of her injuries, the voices raised in protest at the practices of SeaWorld started to be heard, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite was one of those giving them a platform in this very documentary.
Often the best documentaries centre around a simple idea that the filmmakers wish to convey, it doesn't matter how complex the facts are, as long as the audience emerges from watching them in some way educated or enhanced having got the message intended, then you can safely say the production has done its job correctly. If that were the case, then Blackfish could be judged an absolute success, taking a subject that few had given much thought to and shining a light on what according to this were deeply inhumane practices in the care of some very large and potentially very dangerous animals. The results were that SeaWorld at the very least had a lot of explaining to do.
That killer whale mentioned above, the one which killed its trainer, was at the heart of the story, though they were quick to point out Tilikum was not the only example of these beasts attacking the workers at these parks, indeed the statistic quoted here indicates incidents where serious injury or even death took place number close to one hundred, so far. As for Tilikum, at the time they made the documentary he had killed three people, the first one a trainer in 1991 at one of the sorriest ocean parks you ever saw, whereupon he was bought by SeaWorld and taken to the States. You might have thought it would be a good idea to keep him away from people from then on, but they were not going to allow all that (often abusive) training to go to waste and set him to work.
Doing tricks for the audiences attending the park looking for a holiday treat, unaware that if this was accurate, the whole concept of what the public were pouring funds into was the very definition of cruelty. There are a collection of experts and ex-trainers at SeaWorld Cowperthwaite interviewed, and all tell you in no uncertain terms that this was a scandal, making killer whales psychotic by cooping them up in tiny pools when in the wild they would be travelling hundreds of miles a day, forcing them to interact in ways which went against their normal, complex social structure, and giving them all the excuse they needed to lash out in frustration or outright anger, which of course is precisely what the whales have been doing - they have never done so in the wild. The family friendly atmosphere looks horribly sour in the extensive footage used.
Some of that footage is from the official SeaWorld advertising, others are amateur clips and naturally when the "accidents" happen we see the news items. That the company refused to speak to the documentary makers to stick up for themselves might well have shot themselves in the foot because with very little endorsement of these parks, which present their establishments as environmentally beneficial as zoos do these days, they start to look like hellholes for the animals - Tilikum was not destroyed because he's too valuable, as is his sperm for breeding purposes now SeaWorld is not allowed to capture the killer whales in the wild anymore. The mood is bleak in telling us these creatures live half their expected life span in captivity, not what SeaWorld tell their visitors or indeed staff, and the impression is that although they see the damage the naïve workers stick with the job as they think they are the only ones who can really help the imprisoned whales. Not the slickest of documentaries, but one whose vivid message is hard to shake: these water parks do nobody any good.