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Blackfish poster

SeaWorld has responded to the controversy sparked by the movie Blackfish by releasing a list of six reasons why the movie is "emotionally manipulative propaganda".

Blackfish has once again raised questions about the morality of SeaWorld keeping killer whales in captivity, as well as questioning the chain's safety record. It focuses on the death of Dawn Brancheau, an experienced trainer who was killed in an incident involving an orca named Tilikum in 2010.

The media furore surrounding Blackfish has led to a number of high-profile musical acts pulling out of performances at SeaWorld Orlando. However, the company has maintained that attendance at its theme parks is still strong.

Now, SeaWorld has issued an official response to the allegations made in the movie. In a post labelled "Truth About Blackfish", it lists six objections to the movie, alongside two videos. We've embedded the two videos and the full text from SeaWorld below.

We object to Blackfish because its two central premises are wrong: (1) that life at SeaWorld is harmful for killer whales and for trainers working with these animals, and (2) that SeaWorld has attempted to cover up the facts surrounding the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, as well the history of Tilikum, the killer whale involved in that accident. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To make these ultimately false and misleading points, the film conveys falsehoods, manipulates viewers emotionally, and relies on questionable filmmaking techniques to create “facts” that support its point of view.

Here are some significant examples with links to supporting documents:

1. Blackfish employs false and emotionally manipulative sequences concerning the collection and separation of killer whales: Through stock footage and video mismatched to the narrative, the film implies that SeaWorld collects killer whales from the wild and separates mothers and calves. NEITHER IS TRUE.

  • Collection: The film depicts a killer whale collection in Washington State that occurred 40 years ago. It leaves viewers with three false impressions: (1) that SeaWorld continues to collect whales from the wild to this day; (2) that Tilikum himself was collected by SeaWorld; and (3) that the collections done four decades ago were illegal. None of this is true. SeaWorld does not collect killer whales in the wild, and has not done so in over 35 years. Tilikum was not collected by us. And the collections four decades ago were conducted in compliance with federal laws, pursuant to federally-issued permits at that time.
  • Separation: The film highlights two separations. In one instance, involving a whale named Takara, the film leaves you with the impression she was a calf when separated. In fact, Takara was 12 years old when she was moved. In the second, involving a whale named Kalina, the film misleadingly shows footage of a calf that is only days old. Kalina was moved when she was 4 ½ years old because she was disruptive to her mother and other whales. We do not separate killer whale moms and calves, and in the rare occurrences that we do move whales among our parks, we do so only in order to maintain a healthy social structure.

2. The film relies on former SeaWorld employees, most of whom have little experience with killer whales, and others who haven’t worked at SeaWorld in nearly 20 years: These individuals, who speak with apparent authority, have little or no firsthand knowledge of the incidents they describe. Most of them had no experience with Tilikum, and several never even performed with killer whales in the water. The film’s “cast” is completely unfamiliar with current conditions and techniques at SeaWorld, and are certainly in no position to critique a trainer of Dawn Brancheau’s caliber or her last interaction with Tilikum.

  • The Film includes a SeaWorld video of a female trainer riding a killer whale, while one of the cast members, Samantha Berg, talks about her “experience” at Shamu Stadium. This segment misleadingly implies that Ms. Berg had relevant experience when, in fact, the video used in the film was shot 10 years after Ms. Berg had left SeaWorld. The trainer depicted in the video is not Ms. Berg but rather is a current SeaWorld employee. Of just the 3 years Ms. Berg spent working at SeaWorld, she spent only one year working with killer whales and she never conducted direct training with Tilikum.

3. The film also relies on animal rights activists masquerading as scientists: The film relies heavily on the dubious reflections of scientists who have aggressively campaigned against marine mammal display for decades, and have no expertise with killer whale behavior in captivity. These scientists include Howard Garrett, Lori Marino and Ken Balcomb. Mr. Garrett, along with cast members Samantha Berg and Carol Ray, joined with PETA in a previously filed lawsuit against SeaWorld. In this lawsuit, they equated SeaWorld’s work with killer whales as slavery under the 13th Amendment. Although their case was promptly dismissed by the Court, their anti-captivity bias is obvious. Likewise, the film relies on the statements of David Duffus, a professor of geography and purported expert in the area of killer whale behavior, whom Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Judge Kenneth Welsch found “has no expertise in the training of captive killer whales.”

4. The film spins an entirely fictitious account of Dawn Brancheau’s death in order to advance its anti-captivity narrative. To support this bias slant, and specifically the idea that Tilikum was a psychotic and violent animal because of captivity, the film engages in a series of false and misleading statements about the circumstances of Ms. Brancheau’s death:

  • In its opening sequence, the film misleadingly cobbles together separate pieces of innocuous training and performance footage, synched with the actual 911 calls, to mislead the audience into believing it is viewing the actual footage of Ms. Brancheau swimming with Tilikum prior to the fatal incident. In fact, the opening sequence does not depict either Ms. Brancheau or Tilikum, or an attack of any kind. From the date Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld, no one was allowed to swim in the water with Tilikum, and Ms. Brancheau never did so.
  • Purely for shock value, the film includes a recording of an EMT technician, subsequently proved to be mistaken, suggesting that Tilikum swallowed Ms. Brancheau’s arm during the incident. This is false. This fact was readily available to the filmmaker in the documentation she obtained from the Secretary of Labor, yet was not included.
  • The film falsely suggests that SeaWorld “blamed” Ms. Brancheau for her death. We have never done that. She was our colleague and we mourn her loss to this day. The film, however, does blame Ms. Brancheau, and it accomplishes this through former trainers with little or no relevant experience. These trainers were not present on the day she died, and callously presume to critique her interaction with Tilikum.

5. To advance both its anti-captivity narrative and its false theories surrounding Ms. Brancheau’s death, the film falsely suggests that Tilikum had become psychotic and aggressive:

  • The film blatantly mischaracterizes the events that led to the death of trainer Keltie Byrne at SeaLand of the Pacific, a park that was never owned or operated by SeaWorld. Tilikum was one of three whales in the sea pen at the time Ms. Byrne drowned, and the jury in the Coroner’s Inquest (the Canadian investigation of the incident), which considered the testimony of 19 witnesses, did not identify any one of the three whales as the leader in the incident. Nevertheless, the film claims that Tilikum was the instigator, relying upon an interview given by two local residents. Another key fact never disclosed in the film: David Duffus, who is featured in the film numerous times as an “expert”, was the foreman of this very same Coroner’s Jury that investigated the SeaLand incident. Mr. Duffus testified that it was inconclusive that Tilikum was primarily responsible for the death of Ms. Byrne.
  • The film similarly trades in fictional theories about the circumstances surrounding the death of Daniel Dukes, an intruder who broke into the back area of Shamu Stadium after hours and jumped into Tilikum’s pool. The film claims there was a “public relations version” of the death and that Mr. Dukes’ death was somehow caused by an act of aggression by Tilikum. A review of the official Sherriff’s report reveals that virtually nothing said in the film about our conduct that day is true. In fact, Naomi Rose, Ph.D., an outspoken critic of SeaWorld who actually appears in the credits to Blackfish, was quoted after the incident as saying “since the body was found on Tilikum’s back, it’s unlikely the whale was behaving aggressively…….The whale was probably playing with the man and continued to play with the body after the man died.”
  • What clearly is supported by the facts is that prior to Ms. Brancheau’s accident in 2010, Tilikum had engaged in numerous interactions with trainers and veterinarians safely and without incident over a period of 18 years. Tilikum remains at SeaWorld, where he cooperates with trainers, socializes with other killer whales and our guests.

6. The film falsely suggests that important facts about Tilikum were concealed from his trainers and that SeaWorld is indifferent to trainer safety:

  • SeaWorld was aware of Keltie Byrne’s death when it acquired Tilikum. We adopted special precautionary protocols regarding work with Tilikum, including prohibition of performance in-water work. These protocols were impressed upon all trainers who worked with Tilikum, yet the film falsely implies that important safety information about Tilikum and his background were withheld. This is untrue. Nothing was ever concealed from Tilikum’s trainers. During the OSHA trial surrounding Ms. Brancheau’s accident, SeaWorld provided more than 35 hours of testimony concerning our killer whale program and topics such as our detailed safety protocols and how they are communicated to our trainers. All of this testimony was in the possession of the filmmakers, but ignored by the film.
  • The film misrepresents, through the use of footage four decades old, that SeaWorld takes a cavalier approach to safety and qualifications of its trainers. This is completely untrue. The path to becoming a killer whale trainer is rigorous and lengthy: It takes years to be qualified to work with killer whales The film ignores all the steps and protocols trainers must take in order to be promoted through the ranks.
  • In addition to our written safety protocols and extensive training processes, we have invested tens of millions of dollars in state-of-the art improvements, including lifting floors, underwater cameras, and other both passive and active devices, all of which are tied together in our Emergency Response Program.

Conclusion

All of the falsehoods and misleading techniques in Blackfish are employed in the service of the film’s obvious bias, one that is best revealed near the end of Blackfish by a neuroscientist with no known expertise in killer whales. She claims that all killer whales in captivity are “emotionally destroyed,” and “ticking time bombs.” These are not the words of science, and indeed, there is not a shred of scientific support for them. Rather, they are the words of animal rights activists whose agenda the film’s many falsehoods were designed to advance. They reveal “Blackfish” not as an objective documentary, but as propaganda.

What do you think?

Most people have already taken sides on this argument. But does SeaWorld's latest statement change your view of Blackfish, or on the issue of killer whales being kept in captivity?

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Comments

I have to agree with some of the other posts here (although don't shoot the messenger, guys - you are responding to 'Nick at Theme Park Tourist' not directly to Seaworld!!)

I used to love going to Seaworld. No trip to Orlando was complete without a trip there and Shamu was definitely my favourite attraction.

That said, there was always a niggling thought at the back of my head that the pools seemed very small. Looking at the containment pools behind the main Shamu stadium I wondered how so many whales managed in such a small area when in the wild they are used to swimming hundreds of miles. I, like many others, feel I have been suckered in by the PR hype peddled by Seaworld.

In fairness, Seaworld does such good work with their Manatee programme (i.e. taking injured manatees, nursing them back to health and wherever possible releasing them back into the wild - or if that was not possible for medical reasons keeping the manatees in captivity)I therefore in my utter naivety, thought a similar thing happened with their other creatures and that perhaps the dolphins and orcas they have in their parks, were originally injured or perhaps orphaned and were taken in for their own protection. (As I say very naive of me!)

For the record, I have to say I am not an animal rights activist. I'm not even a vegetarian (!) but I do care when intelligent animals are abused, particularly in the name of 'entertainment' I would find it abhorrent to watch a dancing bear in captivity and have always shunned street vendors offering monkeys or similar creatures to put on my shoulder for a quick photo opportunity.

So why for so many years have I found it okay to go to Seaworld and watch dolphins and Orcas perform? Its a question I cannot fully answer. As previously stated I felt reassured because it was Seaworld and their 'education and rescue programe' appeared to be at the forefront of everything they did.

.... and then I watched Blackfish. Never has a documentary moved me so much. I was so angry and upset that I vowed I would never return to Seaworld or its associated parks. Even if just a 10th of the documentary's allegations are true, the park's bosses whould be hanging their heads in shame not trying to justify their existence by issuing the nonsense pasted above.

There are so many counter arguments that there is not enough space here to list them all.
But one telling allegation in the film - that male orcas' dorsal fins which often collapse when they are held in captivity(i.e. 'flop over' - as Tilikum's did) is due to the lack of exercise they get due to the tiny pools they are kept in. According to Blackfish, in the wild you NEVER see collapsed dorsal fins on killer whales.
While its difficult to measure the stress levels of a whale and probably nigh on impossible to measure how "happy" they are in human terms, doesn't this one physical symptom show that there is something very wrong with the animal's physical wellbeing?

http://cetaceaninspiration.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/why-does-an-orcas-dorsal-fin-collapse/http://cetaceaninspiration.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/why-does-an-orcas-dorsal-fin-collapse/

Sorry Seaworld, but after watching Blackfish, your arguments don't hold water !

I Hate Environmental Extremist Activists!

Having said that. Your whales are a commodity. Much the same as the tigers at the circus. I don't need at masters degree in animal behavior to realize that any animal who's natural Territorial range is hundreds of miles of deep water ocean, that is put in a pool will suffer psychological stress and become a ticking time bomb. More importantly you realize that a lot better than I do and continue to lie to the public.

You people are pathetic. I hope that public awareness becomes such that it forces you out of business.

As another poster said; I applaud your help with injured wild animals and returning them to the wild.

It is really interesting to read your responses to the Blackfish movie, SeaWorld. I'm certainly not an animal rights activist. Neither am I against zoos per se (I believe they have a vital role to play in education and conservation).

I think you are doing a fantastic job when it comes to education. Your rehab of injured and sick animals (like the manatee) is terrific.

Having watched the movie I don't really understand why you are now trying to clarify things that were clear in the film.

For example, it is clear in the film that it isn't Sam Berg riding on the back of the orca. You'll see that I've also watched your video rebuttal featuring Holly Byrd (and note that she has a degree in biology and psychology with behavioral analysis)

But I'm concerned that you seem to be missing the point: you have trainers standing on the backs of orcas.

It's not only showing "unnatural" behavior. But given your unique (andI might say, very important) educational and conservation role, this is hardly giving the right message to your guests. Is it?

How would you like to be locked up in a pool for the rest of your life? I think Blackfish makes excellent points. I will never attend SeaWorld again in my life. I would much rather show my children dolphins and whales in their natural environment where they belong. The film is emotional because realizing that three humans died while in or around a tank with killer whales is a very scary thing. Can you imagine? I believe that the killer whales would be agitated and frustrated to be caught and locked up in a cage. Wouldn't you? Just watch the movie, educate yourself, and think with your heart.

I think it definitely appeals to the emotional side. If all were true we'd have to end up banning zoo's safari parks aquariums etc....where would it end. ...no household pets no police dogs no horses hampsters etc. This is just animal rights activists gone mad. I've seen the killer whale show twice and it's good. Every one including the whales are having fun

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