Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Cowperthwaite's documentary explores several fatal incidents involving killer whales kept in captivity in American SeaWorlds, in particular a male killer whale called Tilikum and the death of whale trainer Dawn Brancheau. It is not a balanced investigation of the situation at such places; SeaWorld is painted as the bad guy, with its demands on the animals and trainers, and its alledged lies it has told to the public.
This is a very distressing film for a number of reasons. There is a lot of footage of the whale shows and training sessions, and Cowperthwaite uses some of the more horrific incidents in the film. We see a whale dive onto a trainer, another trainer being dragged under the water several times by another whale (and nearly drowning), and one female trainer who struggles to get out of an enclosure after being caught amongst several animals. I gasped several times at these scenes. The death of Brancheau was caught on film, but was not used in the documentary.
The other scenes of distress were to do with capture and treatment of the whales. Early in the film we see a whale hunt, and learn that the hunters would seperate the mothers and babies from the males, then take the babies. The sounds of the creatures can only be described as crying, and almost made me do so as well. Whale injuries, inflicted by other whales, are also seen.
For me however, the most uncomfortable scenes are those of the whale shows. I do believe that the trainers love the creatures they work with, and feel connections to these animals who have such developed emotions. But watching them standing on the whales, on their bellies and snouts, making them perform tricks sat very uneasily with me. These are some of the most amazing and intelligence animals in the world, and we use them purely for entertainment purposes when in captivity. I realise that one use this argument regarding dogs and cats, but (usually) we don't force them to live in an environment that is a fraction of the space they have in the wild, and not much larger than them.
The film is biased in its approach to its subject matter, and does set out to manipulate your response: the scenes of whales swimming in the wild are accompanied by happy music and idyllic lighting. However, I cannot imagine a positive side to this situation. One of the more startling facts presented in the film is that in captivity, these whales live for around 30 years, while in the wild females usually live 50 or more years (males a bit younger). If you love animals, and believe their welfare is important, this film will enrage you; it certainly shocked me.