SeaWorld’s Secret is Out

Posted by Jenni James, ALDF Litigation Fellow on October 29, 2013

SeaWorld’s secret is out. On October 24th, 1.4 million people tuned in to CNN to watch Blackfish, the documentary that exposes the dark side of orca captivity. Blackfish (this generation’s “Free Willy”) tells the story of how Tilikum, a six-ton orca, came to kill his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. Blackfish leaves us asking whether orcas are ours to cage. The answer for me—and for many others—is a resounding no.

lolita-graphic-oct-2013

Thanks to ALDF, CNN, and two industrious SALDF chapters, I was able to see Blackfish earlier, at screenings at UCLA and NYU. After each screening, I was honored to share a panel with filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Together we answered questions posed by ALDF supporters and our panel moderators, UCLA SALDF’s Lina Cohen and NYU SALDF’s Charmayne Palomba.

We discussed ALDF’s work on behalf of Lolita, the only captive orca held in the U.S. outside of a SeaWorld park. Lolita, whose 1970 capture is featured in Blackfish, has been failed by agencies that should protect her. ALDF sued the USDA for refusing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, leaving Lolita confined in a tiny tank, without shade or orca companionship. ALDF sued NMFS, who excluded Lolita from protection under the Endangered Species Act. We discussed how Lolita’s biggest problem is one shared by all nonhuman animals–she is property under the law, so she lacks fundamental legal rights and cannot sue to protect herself.

Gabriela said that she didn’t set out to make a film about animal rights. A mother and a SeaWorld patron herself, Gabriela simply wanted to know how an experienced trainer could be killed by a captive orca. When the story didn’t add up, Gabriela dug deeper. When she realized how horrible life in captivity was for orcas, she had to share. In particular, she was moved by the suffering of orca mothers, whose babies were torn from their sides at SeaWorld’s whim. Gabriela now advocates to end captive breeding and to transition orcas to sea pen sanctuaries.

I asked Gabriela whether she realized as she was making it that Blackfish would create such a buzz? Her answer was classic. “I make documentaries. I don’t expect anyone to see my films on purpose.”

The audience asked what they could do. The answer was simple. Don’t buy a ticket. Orcas are held captive because their display is profitable. SeaWorld sells an illusion. Blackfish pulls back the curtain. If you aren’t one of the 1.4 million who have already watched, look for a screening near you or arrange one of your own.

We freed Willy. Now it is time to free Tilly—and Lolita and the world’s 50 other captive orcas.


13 thoughts on “SeaWorld’s Secret is Out

  1. Evelyn Ford says:

    There needs to be laws on the books that protects
    animals from exploitation ,like making millions for putting these giant sea animals in what amount to cages! They have born into them the places to go during different seasons traveling thousand of miles !they must feel so trapped and frustrated ! SETthemFree!

  2. Cate Malone says:

    I will never again buy a ticket to SeaWorld unless they do what is right and free these whales. THANK YOU Gabriela for making the film, it will open many eyes and could free these beautiful animals!!

  3. C Johns says:

    I was so sickened when finding out the facts of orca captivity. We love animals and were sucked in by the grand spectacle that is Sea World. We will never again go to one of their parks. Instead, we will plan a trip north to see them in their own natural surroundings.

  4. Debra Cleaver says:

    I was deeply disturbed by this film, especially the haunting and desperate calls by the mother’s trying to locate their babies. And, so upset with the comments by Jack Hanna of The Columbus Zoo, that I emailed him to tell him of his complete disregard for these magnificent creatures. Of course there has been no response, this animal abuse is big business. As I stated in my email, zoos, aquariums and any other so called sanctuarys are a necessary evil. We want humans to be able to experience wild animals, but we must be sure that they are in a safe environment suited for their health and well being.

  5. Ed Martino says:

    I just tweeted this and got a few RTs.

    Edward Martino, PhD
    @ermphd
    @MelbournDolphin @nikutamao Seems to me that Orcas are “sentient beings” thus they deserve respect.#Blackfish

    What really got to me was the combination of the Orca’s brain size and the over development of areas related to emotions. Combine these facts with the social and language behaviors, the permanent bond with moms and kids and we MUST leave these Sentient Beings free to roam the seas!

  6. Nina Tyler says:

    I was very disturbed and saddened when it saw this film due to the conditions these whales were in and the treatment they are given!! Especially from a mothers point of view it made me sick to see the baby orcas stolen from the mother orcas! I was very impressed with the film and glad I was able to watch and get the low down of this business definitely recommend this film for everyone to watch!

  7. Rita Stevenson says:

    Black fish enlightened me and inspired me to ACT,, I was sickened by the disturbing footage of Lolita’s capture and Tilikum’s current state adn facility, why would ANY one continue to keep Tilikum, after he killed a few trainers, he is NOT dangerous is suffering from the abuse of captivity, PLEASE RELEASE TILIKUM and LOLITA and ALL other seawrold, or Marine land attraction park, Orcas belong n the ocean, NO <ORE whales of dolphins be captured or amd put on display to entertain man.,STOP MOW and FREE TILIKUM AND LOLITA

  8. Katie Desmond says:

    Set all the Orcas free. No more unnecessary innocent deaths. They are intelligent beings that don’t understand that humans need oxygen to survive. Leave them be or teach and show and let them go! But understand the possibility of death if any accident happens. The trainers love their trainees. It is a good death if that is what they chose. I’m positive, these magnificent beings didn’t intentionally hurt their trainers. With love, Katie

  9. Rita Wilcox says:

    As keepers of this beautiful earth and all its creatures, we must draw a line here so that we do not become abusers. Of course zoos and aquariums are an essential part of education, especially for children who don’t live near nature. However, intelligent highly developed animals who have a language and evolved social hierarchy should not be trapped like this.

  10. Alexandra Smith says:

    Like others who have posted here, I was terribly disturbed to see how these precious whales were treated. I’ve never agreed with these large aquariums but every aspect of Sea World is absolutely shameful!

    After seeing the film Black-fish, it confirmed my opinion that human beings are truly the very lowest form of life on earth there is. My little ones, (all with four legs) have never been “possessions” and I considered them to be my family.

  11. Alexandra Smith says:

    Like others who have posted here, I was terribly disturbed to see how these precious whales were treated. I’ve never agreed with these large aquariums but every aspect of Sea World is absolutely shameful!

    After seeing the film Black-fish, it confirmed my opinion that human beings are truly the very lowest form of life on earth there is. My little ones, (all with four legs) have never been “possessions” and I consider them to be my family.

  12. Me says:

    I wonder how many of you have paid to swim and pet dolphins? It’s interesting that people want orcas (which are NOT whales, by the way!) released from captivity because a timely documentary was released (thankfully) but people don’t seem to be concerned about other species in captivity. Please don’t limit your efforts and attention only to orcas.

  13. Liz White says:

    How is this still possible in 2013? HOW?