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Film: Blackfish

Blackfish is a 2013 documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite that investigates the death of a trainer at SeaWorld due to the actions of one of the captive Orca whales, Tilikum. The documentary poses the debate as to whether it is possible or not to keep such creatures like Orcas in captivity due to them being very difficult to control.

Not to be confused with that other Blackfish.

This show provides examples of:

  • American Courts: Scenes involving the OSHA vs. SeaWorld case are animated.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Tilikum grabs his trainer's arm, and is described to have swallowed it.
  • Animal Talk: Discussed at one point, where they mention putting orcas from different parts of the world in a tank together is akin to throwing entirely different species together, as they have their own different behaviours and languages. The last point is drawn out; one interviewee even mentions that modern science doesn't like calling the sounds the orcas make "language", but there's simply no other word for it.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Jane Valez-Mitchell of CNN asks "If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?" as the documentary plays yet another incident.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Several of the trainers describe Tilikum as one of the friendliest orcas they've dealt with, which made his kills even more horrifying.
  • Blame Game: There is discussion about the official report that Dawn, a senior trainer, died due to "trainer error" and how the interviewees disagree with that sentiment.
  • Daylight Horror: Since daytime is when the trainers interact most frequently with the orcas, most of the attacks occur then as well.
  • Dead Guy on Display: The man who sneaked into the park after hours was found the next morning, naked and mutilated, slung across Tilikum's back. There are, justifiably, no images shown.
  • Documentary Of Lies: According to SeaWorld's official statement, this is not a documentary, but rather a propaganda piece. They claim it uses outdated information, Manipulative Editing & the testimony of Animal Rights Activists with no expertise, which the film purports to have authority on the matter of killer whales in captivity.
    • The director of the film has since rebutted these claims and has challenged SeaWorld to a public debate.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: In the Chinook Jargon of the Pacific Northwest, Tilikum means "friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people." In case you haven't noticed, Tilikum is the only captive orca to have successfully killed more than one trainer.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Part of what contributes to Tilikum's problems is implied to be the constant separation from social groups and being kept in solitary confinement.
  • Godzilla Threshold: When an orca is trying to drown its trainer, the other trainers decide to release a larger and more aggressive orca in order to distract the first one. It works.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The title of the documentary itself is the Native American word for Orca.
  • Groin Attack: The homeless man who was found dead in Tilikum's tank was described as having his genitals bitten off. One interviewee states they have no idea if this was pre- or post-mortem.
  • Hellhole Prison: Tilikum and other orcas' captivity is described as one. Notably the fact that animals used to thousands of miles of ocean are sometimes in tanks only thirty feet long, some of which are unlit.
  • Just One Little Mistake: Trainer Dawn Brancheau's death is suggested as being the result of simply getting too close to the whale when he hadn't been co-operating with a performance and when it was in a very dangerous mood.
    • The first worker to be killed by Tilikum, Keltie Byrne. She slipped and fell into the water and was dragged away after only seconds of falling.
  • Manly Tears: Sailer John explains that he started to cry as he helped capture one of the baby whales from its crying family.
  • Matriarchy: The Orca's social structure in the wild. Tilikum, being a male, is repeatedly attacked by females in captivity.
  • Nature Documentary: This is a documentary about animals after all, orcas to be specific — one orca in particular (Tilikum).
  • Nature Is Not Nice: The film seems to make a point to contrast the sugary family-friendly SeaWorld TV commercials with orcas performing tricks and being petted by trainers to the terrifying footage of orcas attacking the trainers and sometimes each other. Although the film also presents the whale's natural environment as being a relatively harmonious one.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The safety of SeaWorld's orca trainers being a Real Life example, with critical contributions from an OSHA inspector.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: This naturally comes up in relation to all the orcas who have attacked people.
  • Oh Crap: About every trainer who finds himself/herself on the receiving end of an attacking killer whale.
  • Old Shame: Sailor John Crowe states that capturing Tilikum was "one of the worst things I've ever done".invoked
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The baby killer whales. When SeaWorld had their first ever newborn orca in captivity, they used its cuteness to draw in a larger crowd. And let's just say that it worked.
  • Rule of Three: It wasn't until after his third kill of a human that people began to realize how truly dangerous Tilikum was. After the incident, trainers no longer swam in the pool with the orcas.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: A certain level of intelligence in the whales is shown by film of whales seemingly toying with their trainers. One incident in particular — where the whale drags the trainer repeatedly down the bottom of the tank — shows that the whale seems to know how long it can submerge it's trainer to torture him without drowning him.
  • Stock Footage: Footage of several of the incidents involving Tilikum and his trainers are shown in the trailers for the documentary as well as the film itself.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The man who snuck into Tilkum's pen in the night and was subsequently killed won a Darwin Award a couple years back.
  • Tortured Monster: Tilkum is not a creature you would want to go swimming with. But it is totally understandable why he has become so aggressive and dangerous.
  • You Bastard: Tends to imply this to anyone who's gone to see the whales at Sea World. One can see why.

Crocodile HunterNature DocumentaryDavid Attenborough

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