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As kids, many of us were caught up in the wonder of SeaWorld, an amusement park that allowed us into the splash zone where we could get close—but not too close—to the incredible animals of the ocean. Shamu is essentially SeaWorld's mascot, a killer whale character played by various orcas all across North America. But there have been times when these killer whales live up to the darker aspect of their names, turning on their trainers. The documentary Blackfish focuses on one instance in particular, and asks whose to blame. Was it the trainer? The whale? Or the cruelty inherent in caging a wild animal? Check out its trailer above or in hi-res at Apple.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, this doc that premiered at Sundance last January centers on the notorious Tilikum, a SeaWorld trained orca who is responsible for the deaths of three humans. Each of the incidents is horrific. The first in 1991 led to the drowning death of a trainer who'd slipped into a tank with three orcas, including Tilikum. The second happened eight years later, when a young man was mysteriously found dead and nude, draped over Tilikum's back. Then, in 2010 Tilikum killed another trainer, Dawn Brancheau, drowning her before an audience at a "Dine with Shamu" performance. Tilikum was once more performing at the park a little more than a year later.
Beyond discussing these tragedies, Blackfish seeks to understand why Tilikum is killing people. It'd be easy to shrug this off as he is a killer whale after all. But as the trailer above suggests, it's less about the nature of this whale and more about the mental abuse SeaWorld employs against its captive creatures. To understand Tilikum's story, the filmmakers go back to his capture and detail what led to him becoming a man-killer. Blackfish asks what SeaWorld may be covering up with the excuse of "trainer error."
Blackfish will be in theaters July 19th, thanks to Magnolia Pictures.