SeaWorld Condemns 'Blackfish' Documentary's Critical Take on Captivity

Theme park calls film on orcas in captivity 'inaccurate and misleading'

A scene from 'Blackfish.'
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
July 19, 2013 11:40 AM ET

SeaWorld has condemned the new documentary Blackfish, calling the film about orcas in captivity "inaccurate and misleading." The controversial film focuses on Tilikum, a killer whale who has been linked to the deaths of three people, including SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau. Brancheau was killed in 2010 when Tilikum attacked her and dragged her underwater. Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, asserts the deaths could have been prevented by not keeping the whales in captivity, where, the film maintains, they could be driven to extreme behavior.

Review: Blackfish May Be the 'Scariest Movie Around'

"Blackfish is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues," SeaWorld said in a statement reported by Variety. "To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld – among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research."

SeaWorld continued, "Perhaps most important, the film fails to mention SeaWorld's commitment to the safety of its team members and guests and to the care and welfare of its animals, as demonstrated by the company’s continual refinement and improvement to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau."

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite had her own response to SeaWorld. "I think SeaWorld is just looking to sow a seed of doubt because they have to," Cowperthwaite told Canada.com. "There were so many things I didn’t include because they took us away from Tilikum, but they were very disturbing and could have easily loaded the film and turned it into a piece of activism — which was never my intent."

She added, "I never started out thinking I wanted to shut SeaWorld down. I’m not an activist. I am a storyteller. And to me, this was a classic narrative with a 12,000-pound protagonist swimming right at the center."

Blackfish opens today. "This eye-opening doc contains sights and sounds that are stuff of nightmares," Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers writes in his review. "Forget The Conjuring, Blackfish may be the scariest movie around."

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