Blackfish shows orcas in calming, deeply emotional ways. These are animals with larger brains than humans, with a greater emotional capacity than us or any other mammal; as humans, we typically dismiss something like that due to our arrogance, but it’s true. These are majestic animals in their size and behavior, but when placed in captivity, everything changes. Imagine placing an animal that is used to navigating the oceans, with all the room in the world, and placing it in a 20 foot by 30 foot tank that they stay in for at least 14 hours in a day. It’s a horrifying situation, considering some of these animals can be up to 16 feet long, but it’s part of many parks around the world. SeaWorld is the one placed front and center, and they’re quite demonstrative in their maltreatment of animals. 

And while this could’ve been an incredibly manipulative film, it often lets other people tell their thoughts and the director stands back and observes. SeaWorld is never accused of abusing the animals in their parks (outside of them is a whole different story); if anything, their insistence on treating the animals casually despite their inclination to attack in closed quarters shows that they’re being foolish, maybe even naive. It’s tragic to see how events have unfolded over the years, with trainers being killed when they love their work and the animals. But these are calculated situations that have been created by people who want to profit, and the animals aren’t in their natural states. They’re depressed, live shorter lives, and aren’t allowed to roam free.

Orcas are beautiful animals. Blackfish acts as a quasi-nature documentary of sorts, helping us learn about these animals and just how intelligent they are. We hear documents of how humans have trusted orcas while training and still been injured, yet there has never been an injury to a human out in the wild with an orca. That amazes me. This is a film that cares deeply about its subject matter, and rightfully so. We see the brutality that orcas can exhibit, for they are beasts that can destroy anything in their path. We see broken arms, hear of people being scalped and genitally mutilated, and see them attack one another. It’s disturbing. I learned a lot of things from Blackfish: animals like this shouldn’t be in captivity; I’d rather spend the extra money and go whale watching; and I’ll never visit SeaWorld again. 

Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)

Written by Eric Forthun