This week in tutorials we watched the 2015 documentary Blackfish. Blackfish is about killer whale Tillikum, captured in the wild at a young age and taken to live and perform in aquatic parks in Canada and The United States. Focusing on the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, the documentary explores the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry.
Before the tutorial I had see this documentary once and I understood while the whales acted out the way they did but I also didn’t understand why after the first incident or even the second involving Tillikum, that he wasn’t set free back into the ocean and then after two more incidents put into isolation and treated like a sperm bank for breeding purposes until his death in 2016.
This kind of behaviour doesn’t just occur in killer whales, it happens to many animals kept in captivity. For example what happened with the gorilla Harambe at Cincinnati Zoo. If you are not familiar, in May 2016 a little boy climbed into the gorilla enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo and grabbed and dragged by a male gorilla named Harambe, The employees of the zoo feared for the boys life and felt the only solution was to shoot and kill the gorilla. The incident was recorded and cause worldwide controversy over the zoos choice to kill Harambe. The screams of the those watching on are said to be what agitated and disorientated the gorilla. This also highlighted the danger of animals kept in captivity in close proximity to humans and the need for better standards of care much like Tilikum’s situation.
During the lecture we also spoke about ‘Speciesism’ which is the idea that preferences of certain species such as humans should be catered to over other species such as animals, like a form of discrimination. But the documentary shows that the orca whales featured, use a special kind of pitch to communicate with their calf’s after they are separated. In the documentary these vocals never heard before was described as long range vocals, from the mother looking for their calf.
These creatures are highly intelligent, they are capable of emotions and yet they are treated so poorly and made to perform daily for hundreds of people around the world. These animals are used to swimming hundreds of kilometres a day are confined to, in comparison, a tiny tank and left to swim around in circles all day long.
The trainers all throughout Blackfish talk about their anthropomorphic views of the whales, it is clear that the relationships formed between the whales and the trainers blind them to the cruelty towards them. Although hundreds of people might enjoy the entertainment of watching the shows at places like Sea World, the treatment of these animals is terrible. To lock these animals up in tiny tanks and enclosures is just cruel, to be taken away from your home or taking a child from its mother, or being isolated and left alone or being made to perform tricks all day, would you be angry? If you couldn’t verbally communicate wouldn’t you use any other way necessary to get your point across? Although the outcome of this communication is awful, things like this wouldn’t happen if animals were more fairly treated.