By Danielle Cookish
The film Blackfish has created an unprecedented army of armchair activists worldwide. Where are these strong opinions being applied? The Internet. What are they doing to help animals in need? Nothing. The true injustice is in the viral spread of misinformation.
1. “SeaWorld Keeps Their Whales In Chlorine-Filled Tanks.”
The three Shamu Stadium facilities boast 62 individual filters, capable of filtering nearly 81,000 gallons of salt water per minute. That’s 132 million gallons of salt water recycled and reused every day. At no time does SeaWorld ever cross water between systems or tanks. To clean and purify the water, there are chambers throughout the facility that produce ozone. In a continuing demonstration of SeaWorld’s environmental awareness, all storm water from the park and its parking lots is filtered before it channels back to the surrounding ecosystems. At the San Diego park alone, the water quality team consists of over 45 people who work three shifts a day, constantly checking the water and systems. SeaWorld does not use chlorine in any of their water in any of their parks.
2. “Their Dorsal Fins Are Flopped Over. It Means They’re Sick.”
Why it’s not true:
Dr. Todd Robeck, Vice President of Theriogenology spoke of dorsal collapse during a recent roundtable discussion on The Voice of San Diego. Also present was Dr. Naomi Rose of The Animal Welfare Institute. Dr. Robeck has worked for SeaWorld since 1985. While Dr. Rose strongly opposes SeaWorld’s business model, they both agreed, through their medical and professional opinions, that dorsal bending and collapse is not a symptom of physical or mental illness, hydration, overall health, or welfare. This phenomenon is simply the affect of gravity over time on the fibrous connective tissue that makes up dorsal fins and tail flukes. When the animal spends more time at the surface, the dorsal will collapse. This has zero affect on the orca’s health, welfare, and agility.
But how many wild orcas experience dorsal collapse? You’ve probably heard those who are anti-captivity speak with firmness and certainty that the definitive number is 1%. Let’s talk about ecotypes.
Currently, there are 10 known orca ecotypes. Within one ecotype studied, dorsal collapse was present in 0.57% of wild adult male orcas in Norway. However, another ecotype studied had findings that 23.3% of wild adult males in New Zealand populations experienced dorsal collapse, followed by data analysis on British Columbian orcas with a 4.7% dorsal collapse rate. Data continues to be collected and analyzed to determine the gross average across the species.
3. “They Keep Tilikum Alone In A Pool So Small That He Can’t Move.”
Why it’s not true:
This now-viral, commonly used photo of Tilikum shows the 12,000-pound bull orca in a small, shallow pool. The facts behind this photograph are not represented, and instead make claims that fit the anti-captivity agenda. This is a medical pool. It is smaller than the other six pools in Orlando’s complex for husbandry and veterinary reasons. A news helicopter took this photo on February 24, 2010. In the lower left, the leg of a tent is visible. Under the tent lay senior trainer Dawn Brancheau, minutes after the fatal incident between Brancheau and Tilikum. Next, we’ll look at the upper right of the photo, particularly, the gate. It’s wide open. Even in the midst of chaos, shock, and terrible grief, that gate was placed in an open-locked position, to allow the animal the choice of deeper water and sun coverage. With regard to the horrific tragedy that had taken place moments before and Brancheau’s family, it is grossly disrespectful to circulate this image paired with misinformed propaganda. Tilikum is semi-retired, has access to several of SeaWorld’s enormous pools, and spends a lot of time with his grandson, Trua, on a daily basis.
4. “But the animals look sad and depressed.”
Why it’s not true:
Anthropomorphismis the act of applying human emotions, mannerisms, and characteristics to non-human species. Blackfish uses anthropomorphism widely throughout the film. For example, a scene depicting an orca “screaming” out for her calf, mouth agape, all set to a carefully chosen, dark musical score. These elements, when put together, will call on the human emotions of empathy, sadness, and guilt. Breaking down the elements makes us see a new, different picture. Removing anthropomorphism shows us an animal behavior, highly different than that of a human. Orcas have no connection to their lungs through their mouth, nor do they have vocal cords. All sound is created through the blowhole, which features a flap of muscle, allowing the animal to produce different volumes, pitch, frequency, and pulses in their vocalizations. It is physically impossible for an orca to produce sound by opening their mouth. Anthropomorphism is used to emotionally manipulate the viewer. “Blackfish is a movie that is designed to make you feel. It is not a movie designed to make you think.” -Former SeaWorld Orlando orca trainer, Kyle Kittleson.
5. “SeaWorld Only Cares About Profit.”
Why it’s not true:
- From 2010 – 2013, funds invested by SeaWorld in the maintenance, safety, and technological advancements in the killer whale areas of the facilities alone was $70 Million. These funds are in addition to all other areas of the parks, educational camps and programs, SeaWorld’s world class rescue program, charity donations, and The SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.
- Funds donated to conservation, care, study, or welfare of any animal species from Blackfish ticket sales, launch parties, school tours, house and car rentals, NASCAR sponsorship, PETA involvement and press, T-shirts, posters and other promotional merchandise: $0.
The spreading of misinformation is highly detrimental to the education of others. Viewing a 90-minute film that’s core foundation is sensationalism and public manipulation is not education. Sitting back and criticizing is not activism.
Pittman, R., & Gorter, U. (n.d.). Killer Whales Ecotypes and Forms. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from https://swfsc.noaa.gov/
Cowperthwaite, G. Blackfish [Motion Picture]. (2013). Magnolia Films.