Many of us have seen the Blackfish film and quite a few have fallen for the misinformation that the film reported. At first, it was a little convincing, but the obvious thing that hit me as false was that the images weren’t current—they were all from the 80’s. How can that be a reliable source of something that supposedly happened now when the filmmakers themselves say that the images were from a different decade?
Recently, my significant other got a job at SeaWorld and he told me immediately that they have a website dedicated to explaining the misinformation that the film tried to impose on us. That already disproves the last statement in the film that “SeaWorld repeatedly declined to be interviewed for this film.” SeaWorld is not afraid to explain to anyone who has questions and shine the light on the black hearts of these Blackfish filmmakers.
The website in question is Truth About Blackfish, if anyone wants to find information on what SeaWorld has to say.
I read through a pdf file that they uploaded for audience benefits that breaks down every single thing that Blackfish claimed. It was an astounding 32 pages of misleading information that even broke it down to the second of the 1-hour+ film. Again, you can find the entire pdf file on their site, but I want to bring up the ones that surprised me the most in denouncing the claims in the film. All of these quotes are from SeaWorld and the pdf that they uploaded on the analysis of the film. None of these quotes are mine or have been altered in any way.
TIME STAMP:01– 1:13
Opening Sequence: Undersoundtrack consisting of actual 911 calls, five separate pieces of footage combined to depict
- trainer (presumably Dawn Brancheau) swimming in a tank with a whale (presumably Tilikum);
- various interactions between the trainer and the whale in the water, including the whale circling trainer;
- the whale making aggressive move towards the trainer.
The Opening Sequence is false and misleading. It consists of separate pieces of innocuous training and show footage taken by SeaWorld’s underwater cameras cobbled together (under actual 911 calls regarding Dawn Brancheau) to mislead the audience into believing it is viewing footage of the fatal incident between Ms. Brancheau and Tilikum on February 24, 2010. However, the Opening Sequence does not contain footage of an attack, and neither Ms. Brancheau nor Tilikum are depicted in the Opening Sequence.
In addition, the Opening Sequence casts SeaWorld in a false light, misleading the audience into believing that SeaWorld trainers, including Ms. Brancheau, swam with Tilikum, which never occurred. From the date that Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld in 1993, SeaWorld had special safety protocols for the care and handling of Tilikum which prohibited any employee from conducting waterwork with Tilikum at any time.
TIME STAMP: 1:40
Introduction to cast member John Hargrove, who throughout Film speaks about Tilikum.
Mr. Hargrove worked at SeaWorld San Diego from 1995 until 2001 and SeaWorld Texas from 2008 through August, 2012. Hargrove never worked at SeaWorld Florida, and never worked with Tilikum.
TIME STAMP: 1:54
Introduction to cast member Samantha Berg, who throughout Film speaks about Tilikum.
Ms. Berg has not worked at SeaWorld in over 20 years. Ms. Berg worked at SeaWorld Florida from February 1990 until August 1993. She worked primarily with dolphins, beluga whales and sea lions, and had very limited experience with killer whales. Ms. Berg was not assigned to Tilikum’s team and did not work with Tilikum.
Ms. Berg has conceded her lack of expertise in the context of offering opinions in the zoological area. In an email dated September 7, 2011 to John Black, OSHA’s Lead Trial Lawyer in the Department of Labor’s case against SeaWorld, Ms. Berg offers to critique the expert report of Jeff Andrews, Sea World’s Zoological expert in the trial, but conceded: “Mainly, I am concerned that because I only worked at SWF for 3 ½ years – and one year at Shamu Stadium that my testimony may not be credible compared to a guy with 25 years of zoological experience.” She also admits: My direct knowledge of SeaWorld’s Procedures for training their staff only extends to what was in place up until August of ’93 – I question whether this qualifies me to speak to SeaWorld’s current safety or training procedures.” Although Counsel for OSHA rejected Ms. Berg as a witness at trial, Ms. Berg repeatedly opines on these topics throughout the Film.
TIME STAMP: 2:10
Introduction to cast member Kim Ashdown, who throughout the Film speaks about Tilikum.
Ms. Ashdown worked at SeaWorld Florida primarily with dolphins, beluga whales and sea lions, and with killer whales for only approximately 4 months. Ms. Ashdown was not assigned to Tilikum’s team and did not work with Tilikum. Ms. Ashdown never performed waterwork with killer whales.
TIME STAMP: 2:12
Introduction to cast member John Jett, who throughout the Film speaks about killer whales and Tilikum.
Mr. Jett has not worked at SeaWorld in over 17 years. Mr. Jett worked at SeaWorld Florida from 1992-1996, and had limited interaction with killer whales. Mr. Jett worked for a short period of time with Tilikum under the supervision of a senior trainer. Mr. Jett was never the trainer in charge of any session with Tilikum, and had no decision on how or when Tilikum would be worked.
TIME STAMP: 2:43
Introduction to cast member Dean Gomersall, who throughout Film speaks about killer whales and Tilikum.
Mr. Gomersall worked at SeaWorld Florida with sea lions, beluga whales and dolphins, and never worked with killer whales. He never worked with Tilikum.
I’m kind of appalled that this film would even dare to use people who didn’t even work with Tilikum, but still took the time to act like they were experts on him or like they worked with him. It’s even more ridiculous to hear the testimonies of former team members who didn’t work with killer whales. How can you be an “expert” on this topic when your expertise was on other sea animals, not killer whales?
TIME STAMP: 2:08
Introduction of Jeff Ventre
Ventre has not worked for SeaWorld for over 18 years. Mr. Ventre was employed by SeaWorld from November 1987 through December 1995. Mr. Ventre worked with killer whales for approximately three years, and while he excelled physically at in-water interaction, he was not a decision maker, did not plan the day, and was considered a junior level trainer.
TIME STAMP: 4:48
Voice of Ms. Berg over Film showing female trainer riding a whale.
This sequence misleads the audience into believing that Ms. Berg is the trainer depicted as riding the whale (i.e. engaging in “waterwork” with the whale) thereby making it appear that Ms. Berg had relevant experience. In fact, the trainer is not Ms. Berg, it is Holly Byrd, and is footage recorded at SeaWorld more than 10 years after Ms. Berg left SeaWorld. SeaWorld has no record of Ms. Berg doing waterwork with killer whales; even if she did, it was very limited.
TIME STAMP: 8:24
Interview of George Tobin, who states that Tilikum ate Ms. Brancheau’s arm.
This is false. Tilikum did not eat Ms. Brancheau’s arm; The Coroner’s Report is clear that Ms. Brancheau’s entire body, including her arm was recovered.
TIME STAMP: 10:12 – 14:02
Film implies, through David Duffus (“it’s not a singular event”) and Howard Garrett (“Without missing a beat they went from Washington to Iceland and began capturing there”), that SeaWorld continues to capture whales in the wild.
This implication is false. SeaWorld has not captured whales in nearly 34 years. The last such collection by SeaWorld took place in 1979.
TIME STAMP: 17:22
Discusses training technique of punishing whales by food deprivation. The Film implies that all institutions with captive whales, including SeaWorld, use this technique. For example, later in the Film, when discussing the incident involving Dawn Brancheau, the issue of food is brought up (1:08:47. 1:09:13) (the sound of ice at the bottom of the bucket means that food is running out) with the misleading implication that SeaWorld deprived Tilikum of food or otherwise used a deprivation type of training technique.
This implication is false. Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld weighing 7,700 pounds, and currently weighs 12,000 pounds. SeaWorld has never deprived Tilikum of food for any reason, training or otherwise. Prior to Tilikum’s arrival at SeaWorld and continuing to this day, SeaWorld has only utilized operant conditioning, a scientific method that professional animal trainers have used for decades. Through rigorous efforts, trainers gradually increase the frequency of desired animal behavior, and minimize the occurrence of undesirable behavior, by encouraging the former with “positive reinforcement” and ignoring (and thereby discouraging) the latter. Punishment is never part of operant conditioning, and punishment is never employed at SeaWorld. SeaWorld pioneered and is the recognized world’s leader in the use of operant conditioning principles for the training of killer whales.
For those of you who may not know, operant conditioning is a form of (psychological) training that was created by B. F. Skinner in which you can condition someone or something through reinforcements. It’s like when you try to train a dog to fetch a ball, or roll over, or play dead and only use positive affirmation as the reward.
TIME STAMP: 24:35
[Huxter] “And to this day, there’s no record of an orca doing any harm to any human in the wild.”
- In the 1910s, the Terra Nova Expedition recorded that killer whales had attempted to tip ice floes on which an expedition photographer and a sled dog team were standing.
- On June 15, 1972, 43-foot-long (13 m) wooden schooner Lucette (Lucy) was holed by a pod of killer whales and sank approximately 200 miles west of the Galapagos Islands. The group of six people aboard escaped to an inflatable life raft and a solid-hull dinghy.
- On September 9, 1972, a Californian surfer named Hans Kretschmer reported being bitten by a killer whale at Point Sur. His wounds required 100 stitches.
- In August 2005, while swimming in four feet of water in Helm Bay, near Ketchikan, Alaska, a 12-year-old boy named Ellis Miller was “bumped” in the shoulder by a 25-foot transient killer whale. The boy was not injured.
- During the filming of the third episode of the BBC documentary “Frozen Planet” (2011), a group of orcas were filmed trying to “wave wash” the Film crew’s 18-foot zodiac boat as they were filming. The crew had earlier taped the group hunting seals in the same fashion. It was not mentioned if any of the crew were hurt in the encounter.
“[t]he adult offspring never leave their mother’s side.”
The Film offers no scientific basis for this statement, SeaWorld is aware of none, and the statement defies logic. If no adult offspring ever leave their mother, there would be no genetic diversity necessary for survival or separate pods of killer whales. It is estimated that there currently exists thousands of pods of killer whales in the wild.
TIME STAMP: 24:35
Garret: “they have lifespans very similar to human life spans. The females can live to about 100, maybe more – males to about 50 or 60.”
There is no scientific support for this assertion. The most recent study on life expectancy of southern resident killer whales is that females live between 30 and 46 years and males 19 to 31 years.
Garret stated in an interview for the film Lolita: Slave to Entertainment that “in the wild female [killer whales] average 50 years of age,” which is consistent with the scientific evidence upon which SeaWorld bases its numbers.
TIME STAMP: 28:52
Ventre: He arrived I think in 1992. I was at Whale and Dolphin Stadium when he arrived and he was twice as large as the next animal in the facility.”
This misleadingly suggests that Ventre was present at Tilikum’s arrival at SeaWorld in 1992. However, killer whales are housed at Shamu Stadium, not at Whale and Dolphin Stadium. By his own admission, when Tilikum arrived in 1992, Ventre did not work at Shamu Stadium and he had no firsthand knowledge of Tilikum’s arrival.
TIME STAMP: 29:08
Jett: Tilikum was raked upon arrival at SeaWorld, with implication that killer whales are not raked in the wild.
The assertion regarding Tilikum is misleading, and the implication is false. Tilikum was not immediately introduced to the other whales upon his arrival at SeaWorld. When he was introduced, he did not receive rakes right away. As social hierarchy was established, in order to establish dominance, the females did on occasion give Tilikum superficial rake marks, none of which affected his health. The raking stopped within a few weeks. Ultimately, the females bred with Tilikum. There is scientific evidence that raking occurs in the wild (see nos. 43 and 44, infra), and that because whales generally travel in pods, whales do not “run away” from their pod to escape raking.
TIME STAMP: 31:35
Berg’s account of a trainer being yelled at for walking near Tilikum’s pool with wet suit unzipped.
It has always been SeaWorld’s “area safety protocol” that a trainer walking around or near any of the whale pools must have a zipped up wet suit; this was not a policy instituted solely with respect to Tilikum. The screen shot at 31:55 depicts two trainers whose wetsuits are completely zipped up. Berg’s account demonstrates that supervisors had a heightened awareness around Tilikum. The incident with the wetsuit demonstrates that the supervisors made this awareness very clear to all personnel present.
TIME STAMP: 32:47
Trainer in red wetsuit in the water, then cuts to segment showing a large whale jumping. The whale is Tilikum in the show pool, and gives the impression that the trainer is in the water with Tilikum.
By splicing together two disparate pieces of film, the viewer is misled into thinking that the trainer in the red wetsuit was in the water with Tilikum. This casts SeaWorld in a false light, misleading the audience into believing that SeaWorld trainers swam with Tilikum, which never occurred. From the date that Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld in 1993, SeaWorld had special safety protocols for the care and handling of Tilikum which prohibited any employee from swimming with Tilikum at any time. No water work (except for the desensitization safety training conducted with Tilikum in a controlled environment prior to February 24, 2010 in pools equipped with a lift floor) was ever done with Tilikum.
TIME STAMP: 33:04
Berg: Tilikum lunged at trainer Liz Morris (now Thomas).
This is false. Tilikum never lunged at trainer Liz Morris. In the late 1980’s, before Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld a male killer whale named Kanduke lunged at Ms. Morris.
TIME STAMP: 36:39-39:26
Separating calf from mother
Kalina was disruptive to her mother and the other whales, and at the age of 4 ½ was moved to another park. The Film misleadingly depicts a calf that is only days old, not 4 ½ years old.
TIME STAMP: 38:05
Separating Kasatka (mother) and Takara (daughter).
Separation occurred at SeaWorld San Diego in April of 2004 when daughter Takara was 12 years old.
Takara, at the time of the move, had her own calf, Kohana, who went with her to Orlando. At the time of the move, John Hargrove was not even working for any SeaWorld park, much less Sea World San Diego. By that point, he had not worked for SeaWorld in 3 years.
TIME STAMP: 38:05
Hargrove: SeaWorld brought in a scientist to analyze the vocals. “They were long-ranged vocals . . .looking for Takara.”
This is false. SeaWorld did not call in a scientist to analyze Kasatka’s vocals. There is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, that these were “long ranged vocals . . .looking for Takara.”
During this narration, the Film shows footage of a killer whale, leaving the viewer with the impression that the whale is Kasatka. The whale is at what appears to be underwater viewing glass and is opening and closing its mouth, which leaves the impression that the whale is “vocalizing” and otherwise “calling for Takara”. However, this footage is not Kasatka, nor was this even taken at SeaWorld San Diego, which is where Kasatka lives. In fact, whales do not vocalize through their mouths. Rather, they vocalize through their blowholes.
John Hargrove was not working for SeaWorld at the time of Takara’s move, and would not have known what behavioral reaction, if any, Kasatka had to Takara’s move.
TIME STAMP: 41:31
Ventre: “Dorsal collapse happens in less than 1 percent of wild killer whales. We know this.”
This is false. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim of less than 1 percent. To the contrary, there is scientific evidence that nearly one-quarter of adult male southern resident killer whales in the wild have collapsing, collapsed or bent dorsal fins.
TIME STAMP: 43:57 – 47:29
Video footage of John Sillick whale incident in 1987 (26 years ago).
Jett: “I saw that there was just a lot of things that weren’t right and there was a lot of misinformation.”
Berg: “John Sillick was the guy who in 1987 was crushed between two whales at SeaWorld of San Diego . .. and the SeaWorld party line was that was a trainer error.”
Gomersall: It was John’s fault and he was supposed to get off that whale. And for years I believed that and I told people that.”
Ventre: “We weren’t told much about it. Other than it was trainer error. . .”
Gomersall: “Years later you look at the footage and you go, you know what, he didn’t do anything wrong.”
None of the trainers critiquing this incident worked at SeaWorld San Diego or were present for this incident. The rehearsed routine called for the trainer to ride once around the perimeter of the pool on the back of the whale. Making a poor judgment call based on the routine, Mr. Sillick decided to ride a second perimeter –facing backward — and took the whale around a second time. This act threw off the timing of the send signal given to the other whale, which performed the behavior exactly as requested, resulting in the accident, not an act of aggression.
The footage is misleading because it does not show what occurred in the stadium prior to the incident, it does not explain the rehearsed routine for the behavior, and it fails to disclose that the trainer failed to get off the whale after the first perimeter. These omissions enable the cast to falsely claim that SeaWorld is guilty of “misinformation,” that Mr. Sillick “didn’t do anything wrong,” and that the incident was an act of aggression.
Jeff Ventre admitted in a November 16, 2011 email directed to OSHA Trial Lawyers John Black and Tremelle Howard-Fishburne and OSHA Investigator Lara Padgett, that the Sillick accident was “not even an act of whale aggression”. He goes on to say that “It was a trainer being in the wrong place and getting smashed while riding a whale.” Nevertheless, the Film portrays the incident as an act of aggression.
Following this 1987 incident, and throughout the 26 years since, SeaWorld has developed and incorporated formal protocols for all waterwork interactions to minimize trainer discretion with respect to rehearsed routines.
TIME STAMP: 47:26
Home video footage of incident between trainer Tamarie Tollison and Orkid.
Video footage shows that Ms. Tollison broke SeaWorld’s safety protocols, including interacting with a killer whale (Orkid) without a spotter, and repeatedly stepping on Orkid’s rostrum. The Film misleadingly portrays this incident as an act of whale aggression, when the incident could have been avoided entirely had the trainer followed SeaWorld’s protocols.
TIME STAMP: 49:13
Footage of employee at SeaWorld San Diego riding a killer whale while wearing a bikini.
This occurred in 1971 – 42 years ago – at a time when SeaWorld was owned by the original owners (the first of three prior owners), and prior to the current safety protocols that have long been in place. This employee was a secretary, not a trainer, and the event was a publicity stunt/photo opportunity. No such incident could possibly occur at SeaWorld today.
TIME STAMP: 50:30
Video of John Hargrove with bloody face. Film implies that Hargrove was injured by a whale.
This footage is misleading because Hargrove’s injury had nothing whatsoever to do with any whale. Hargrove was doing a footpush into a stage slide and when he slid across the stage, he hit his head on the concrete slideover because he didn’t perform the maneuver correctly. In the correct maneuver, the trainer would keep his head up as he enters the slideover area. Hargrove basically dove into the concrete, injuring himself.
TIME STAGE: 55:12
Daniel Dukes incident. Ventre: “Well, all I know is the public relations version of it. . . he climbed the barbed wire fence around the perimeter and stayed after hours.”
Ventre was no longer employed at SeaWorld at the time of this incident in 1999, so he has no personal knowledge of the facts. His assertion of a “public relations version” is false and misleading. The official Sherriff’s report includes a detailed timeline of the events: SeaWorld employees first noticed Dukes in the pool around 7:20 am. 911 was called at 7:25 am and an officer was dispatched to SeaWorld at 7:26 am. When the sheriff arrived the body was still in the pool on Tilikum’s back. There was no barbed wire fence.
TIME STAMP: 58:21
“Family Tree” of breeding by Tilikum.
There is no scientific or other evidence linking the few incidents of whale aggression at SeaWorld to a whale’s genetic connection to Tilikum.
TIME STAMP: 1:05:39
A whale comes out onto stage while Ventre is talking into the microphone.
This segment is highly misleading because it is placed in the Film immediately before Jett states that he had been expecting somebody to be killed by Tilikum (1:06:26). Therefore, the whale coming on stage is depicted as a dangerous moment/act of aggression imperiling the trainer (Ventre). In fact, this is a scripted part of the show, and was entirely expected by the trainer (Ventre), who was never in danger.
TIME STAMP: 1:06:54
Berg Interview re Brancheau incident
Ms. Berg last worked at SeaWorld in 1993, seventeen years before the incident with Dawn Brancheau. Ms. Berg never worked with Tilikum and only worked with killer whales for a very brief period. Ms. Berg has no personal knowledge regarding the incident.
TIME STAMP: 1:07:01
Ventre Interview re Brancheau incident
Mr. Ventre last worked at SeaWorld in 1995, fifteen years before the incident with Dawn Brancheau. Mr. Ventre has no personal knowledge regarding the incident. Although Mr. Ventre purports to critique the incident, Mr. Ventre had at most, three years’ experience working with killer whales at a very junior level, and never in the role of trainer-in-charge of any encounter. By comparison, Dawn Brancheau, whom Ventre purports to critique, had 16 years’ experience, was one of SeaWorld’s most senior and experienced trainers, attained the title of Supervisor of Animal Training, and was the senior trainer on Tilikum’s team.
TIME STAMP: 1:09:13
Jett: “There is no food left . . . she kept asking him to perform more behaviors . . . he was not getting reinforced for the behaviors that he was doing correctly; he probably was frustrated toward the end . . .
Cast members purport to criticize Dawn Brancheau for her handling of Tilikum. None of the cast members was present at the incident or had recent first-hand experience with Tilikum and are engaged in pure speculation. During the OSHA hearing, there was extensive eye-witness testimony from trainers who were present for the Dine with Shamu show and Ms. Brancheau’s interactions with Tilikum both during and after the show. Lynn Schaber, then a Senior Trainer approved to work on Tilikum’s team, served as a spotter that day. She testified that she believed Tilikum performed correctly during the Dine with Shamu show. Jan Joseph Topoleski was an additional spotter for that show and the interaction that followed. He testified, referring to Dawn, “I remember she said she was really proud of the interaction that we did; nothing really out of the ordinary”.
TIME STAMP: 1:09:46
Jett: “Tilikum at some point grabbed a hold of her left forearm and started to drag her and eventually did a barrel roll and pulled her in.”
This is false. Jett had not worked at SeaWorld in 17 years and had limited interaction with killer whales. His account is pure speculation. At the OSHA hearing, two witnesses testified to the way in which Tilikum pulled Ms. Brancheau into the water. The first was SeaWorld trainer Jan Topoleski, who was acting as Ms. Brancheau’s spotter, who testified that Ms. Brancheau was pulled into the water by her ponytail. The second was a SeaWorld security guard (Mr. Herrera) who testified that he saw Tilikum grab Ms. Brancheau’s arm and pull her into the water (Tr. 247). However, on the date of the incident, Mr. Herrera had told the Orange County detective that the whale grabbed “either her hair or her arm.” On cross-examination during the OSHA hearing, Mr. Herrera admitted that he could not see Ms. Brancheau clearly from his vantage point and that “I’m not sure if he grabbed her arm or her hair, I don’t know. “(Tr. 249) OSHA concluded from this testimony that the way in which Ms. Brancheau entered the water “was not established as a fact at the hearing, and it is in dispute.” A third witness, Valerie Green, reported to the Orange County Sheriff that she saw “a woman’s ponytail in the whale’s mouth.” Ignoring the express OSHA finding and the overwhelming evidence that Ms. Brancheau was pulled in by her hair, the Film falsely states as “fact” that Tilikum grabbed Ms. Brancheau by the arm, for which there is no competent evidence.
It really is a shame that they use people who haven’t worked at SeaWorld in over a decade and have had a minimal amount of time with Tilikum. I think that all this criticism against Tilikum is hurting him more than anything.
I also think people shouldn’t criticize SeaWorld because they have animals in captivity. I mean, seriously–if it’s a bad thing to have captive animals then someone should sue me for owning a dog, a parakeet, and a hamster. They’re captive. They bite me when they get upset or don’t want me to handle them. Does that mean I’m a terrible person because they’re captives?
SeaWorld isn’t afraid to talk and educate people on what is going on in their park. They have nothing to hide. I think it’s always best to ask about the other side of the story instead of simply accepting everything that Blackfish is attempting to pass off as truth. The Truth website really deserves a look-see so we can all get a better understanding of what is truly happening. Nothing in SeaWorld is “behind the scenes;” they are more than willing to answer your questions. Take a look at the website and browse all of the things they have to say about the movie. Nothing is a secret.
A quote I saw on their website by Alyssa Simmons, a former trainer summed it all in a few words: “Conservation is not sitting back and criticizing.”
(All images were taken from the SeaWorld website)