SeaWorlds PR Game: the reason that they’re changing it is because they aren’t idiots. The release of “Blackfish” has caused a lot of controversy for them and they’re starting to realize just how deep the problem goes. I watched the movie, then read the information page put out by SeaWorld and quietly started laughing to myself. The whole thing smells a lot like damage control.
The first problem is they’ve stuck the word ‘campaign’ in their link. Big mistake. In PR lingo this means the organization is trying to persuade you of something. In this case, that Blackfish is complete bullshit and shouldn’t be listened to. There’s a couple of problems with this. And most of them have to do with the fact a little research will weight the scales in the documentary’s favour.
‘Blackfish’ is a clever film. It takes the Michael Moore route of taking a very specific stance on a subject and then crafting arguments to support that stance. Are those arguments balanced? Of course not, that would defeat the purpose of the film, which at its heart is that keeping Orcas in captivity is cruel and inhumane as well as damaging to the animal. The argument is not against SeaWorld itself (and yes, they do good things too, for conservation and such), but Marine Parks. Therefore of course the film has an obvious bias. But I’ll be interested to see if SeaWorld tries to sue the ‘Blackfish’ production team anyway.
The other problem is while they address the testimonials, I’m not sure whoever wrote the page watched the film very well. Anyone who commented on Dawn Brancheau’s death was in fact a current employee, they attempt to discredit the scientist by saying he has ‘no experience training killer whales.’ Which is true, but he’s a scientist not an animal trainer, which are two different careers. He doesn’t comment on Dawn, but rather on the behaviour of the whales. Which, as a marine scientist, he is perfectly capable of doing. See, what they’re actually claiming here is that Duffy cannot comment on the behaviour of their captive whales because he has never trained captive whales. This is a circular argument. Duffy does not have to have trained captive whales to comment on their behaviour because he is commenting on Orca behaviour in general and all Orcas are not in fact in captivity. And truthfully, animals in captivity do not generally exhibit the exact same behaviours of those in the wild.
The only thing I might agree with on the page is that the documentary does not discuss trainer protocols and health and safety. Nor it does it discuss the court case in-depth. But a search of the Associated Press will provide media clips, articles and press releases which confer with the media clips chosen to be used in the film. The film accuses SeaWorld of trying to cover up the details surrounding Dawn’s death, but this might not be true. What was reported could just have been the result of a crappy crisis communications plan.
‘Blackfish’ doesn’t make the SeaWorld orcas out to be psychotic killers. A critical eye would be able to see that ‘Blackfish’ does infer that the orcas of SeaWorld and other marine parks suffer from abuse and neglect, and cannot be properly cared for in captivity. It raises some important questions about our treatment of animals and the intelligence of whales. And most importantly, it provides proof that there is a pattern in trainer injuries for those who work with orcas, which interestingly, is not refuted on the information page.
I did not walk away from ‘Blackfish’ thinking that Tilikum was psychotic and aggressive. I walked away sad, because ‘Blackfish’ asked me to think of Tilikum as a person. Of orcas as people. And you know what?
‘Blackfish’ presents a damn good argument that they are.
PS the highlighted links don’t seem to actually go anywhere