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Essay on ‘Blackfish’: Story about One Amusement Park

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Tilikum, undoubtedly SeaWorld’s most famous whale, was held in captivity for 33 years of his life. He died in March 2016 due to bacterial pneumonia. His death was a result of the poor treatment and inhumane conditions he was forced to live in for 33 of the 35 years he was alive. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary ‘Blackfish’ exposes the SeaWorld corporation and their efforts to distract their customers from the repeated ‘accidents’ as a result of keeping the orcas in their parks. The question is raises is SeaWorld really an amusement park or is it rather an abusement park.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite is an American filmmaker who has directed, produced, edited and written many documentary and television films. She often deals with social, cultural and environmental issues within society in relation to real life events. Cowperthwaite’s most famous documentary ‘Blackfish’ has been nominated for 39 awards and won 6, both within in America and globally.

We all loved our childhood trips to the local SeaWorld to watch the animal shows and one of the most popular shows where the classic orca killer whale extravaganza. Years ago, orcas were left in the wild untouched, the way it should be. Orcas lived in beautiful blue oceans and migrated from sea to sea. These beautiful creatures of the deep are instead placed in supposedly well-maintained theme parks. However, this is proven to be a false perception and image of SeaWorld’s true environment. Since SeaWorld started to breed and capture orcas, there has been many cases around the issue of animal cruelty brought to the surface.

‘Blackfish’ explores the exquisite deep-sea creatures known as orcas often referred to as killer whales through the use of characterization. However, the word ‘killer’ is just not at all a representation of these beautiful creatures, although SeaWorld continues to push this as their excuse for the negligent decisions they have made. The director chose to express the orcas as victims of SeaWorld’s corrupt practices.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite uses the manipulation of human emotions and plays on the strong societal views which created instant response to the mistreatment of animals. As this is a heavily weighted issue in society and will continue to be until the issue is quashed the documentary instantly became powerful as its target viewers were captivated.

The overwhelming use of facts and interviews of multiple accredited SeaWorld trainers who tell their personal anecdotes and expose the truth of SeaWorld. In particular the interview of a previous orca capturer showing a grown man crying because of the intense memories he recalled of the capture of the orcas from the wild. A relevant cultural assumption is that grown men are seen to be tough and hold in their emotions. So, when this is displayed on the screen the audience is drawn in to sympathize for the man and his pain.

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Another interview which appeals to the viewers visual and audio response is John Hargrove. When he speaks of the one-on-one whale attacks that Tilikum experiences due to the circumstances of his enclosure, pictures and videos of a whale bleeding profusely from the side is shown. The director uses the representation of SeaWorld’s character as a villain. This powerful representation continues to push viewers to see SeaWorld and their efforts to hide the truth on the appalling issue at hand. Instead, they continue to brush the mistreatment under the sand.

The director incorporates interviews and stories, along with police recordings and the OSHA investigations which led to trial cases. These worked well together in succeeding to produce the most negative representation possible. The ingenious idea of creating the ‘invisible’ narrator but instead using many different interviewees sharing their own personal anecdotes and views on the SeaWorld situation, effectively enforced Cowperthwaite’s agenda. The array of experts whose interviews were cleverly picked to be arranged in a way which supported the director’s argument also reinforce the horrifying villain in which SeaWorld is.

The use of amateur footage also coveys the truth about SeaWorld’s agenda. The footage of Dawn Brancheau’s final moments before the fatal attack which lead to her death. Previous footage of Dawn is also showed as a technique to create a connection with the audience to force the viewers to subconsciously take her side in the story. The use of actuality footage showing SeaWorld treating the orcas in a cruel manor continues to sway the audience throughout the documentary.

Throughout the documentary, Gabriela Cowperthwaite utilizes the specific story element of story arc. This clear structure is present within the film and it allows her to create the best effect possible on viewers for the underpinning view she intended.

At the start of the documentary viewers are positioned to have questions and tension fills the room as it introduces the mystery of Dawn Brancheau’s death. The first response, police recording is a key element used to promote the agenda in the beginning of the documentary. The use of dark images along with the suspenseful music creates a sense of panic for the viewer. A total of two police recordings are played and the fear and anxiety overwhelm the audience. Dawn Brancheau’s death can be seen as the climax of the documentary her death is intertwined all the way through the film constantly dropping hints.

The juxtaposition of editing techniques is used in the final scenes where the majestic creatures are seen in the wild in their natural habitats in peace. It drills in the idea to the viewer that the real problem is SeaWorld. The repetitive use of these techniques throughout the documentary positions viewers to develop the intended negative view towards SeaWorld and their practices in terms of orca treatment and captivation. The argument of ‘captivity kills’ is reinforced in these final moments of the film.

‘Blackfish’ puts viewers in a situation in which they are forced to pick a side. Often the human race will side with an animal where there is evidence of clear mistreatment. This is an ethical concept imbedded in one’s moral compass. All the elements within the documentary effectively work together to exploit the unthinkable actions of SeaWorld the ABUSEment park. Several countries including Canada amended their laws in terms of the capturing of wild orcas after ‘Blackfish’ was released in 2013. The documentary’s release sparked public outrage. SeaWorld was also forced to change their policy on whales kept in captivity. Although the director created a fairly one-sided representation of the issue the circumstances presented allow for the only representation to be one which is bias to the animals. The shows that once created so much joy and magic, and created lasting impacts on so many childhoods, now drowning in the disgraceful truth of the real SeaWorld.

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Essay on ‘Blackfish’: Story about One Amusement Park. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
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