Blackfish: A Masterpiece…in Film Tricks and Fact Manipulation by Michael Christopher

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Image Courtesy of SeaWorld

This article represents the views of the author and in no way represents the views of any organizations they are affiliated with. I think this a great article that needs to be shared with the world! I want to thank the guest author Michael for sending it to us to publish!

By: Michael Christopher

One day, back in 2013, the movie Blackfish premiered on CNN…I ended up missing it and recording it on my DVR, but not because I was busy, it was because I had no interest in watching a movie that revolved around the death of a trainer that I once met. I did not know Dawn Brancheau personally, but I did meet her along with a couple other Whale Trainers at Sea World Orlando during an Event that I attended. The trainers showed passion and love to all of their animals. They always had smiles on their faces, even backstage. To shed some light on my background, I’m a Theme Park enthusiast, I represent a group called American Coaster Enthusiast, I have a small background in film making and an even larger background in Common Sense. The movie aired on television and I spent about 2 months replying to friends and fellow members asking for my comment about Blackfish that I could not respond to. After some time, I finally sat down and watched it from my DVR.

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Image Courtesy of SeaWorld

I was appalled…but not at Sea World. As soon as I finished the movie, I immediately did some research and found a lot of things shocking to me. But first, I want to talk about some points in the movie. It was awkward to watch and I picked out a lot of tricks that I was taught during a filming class to keep your audience intrigued and how to turn opinions into facts in the viewers’ eyes. They created false experts with false credibility by not providing all of the facts and only letting the viewer see what they wanted you to see. They used terms like “Former” and “Expert” and “Researcher” to point out key points that they wanted the viewer to recognize and agree with. They also used trick edits to make the viewer think they were watching one event, while listening to audio from another source. This gave the viewer a false understanding of the actual event. They also manipulated public court testimonies and 911 calls to make the viewer become bias and one‐sided against one company, Sea World.

The film spoke of multiple events, the first two that I remember watching didn’t even happen under the Sea World name. They happened at Sealand of the Pacific in British Colombia and at Loro Parque in Spain. Sealand is closed today and the film shows the horrible conditions that the whales lived in; this had nothing to do with Sea World. Loro Parque received four whales “on loan” from Sea World in 2006. Now, when I watched Blackfish, it kept my interest at the beginning and I was expecting to be blown away with facts that I was not aware of. As the movie progressed, it kept dropping my trust with the amount of doubt I was seeing with their so‐called “facts.” The movie completely lost my respect during one of the interviews about the Loro Parque incident. The interview was with Suzanne Allee who was a Former Video Supervisor for Loro Parque, a title that has neither credibility nor expertise about Whales or Park Operations. She stated that the four whales were sent to a park that wasn’t ready (Loro Parque), the owner of the park (Loro Parque) didn’t want to repair pools, BUT because those were Sea World’s whales, Sea World needs to take responsibility for the whale’s actions. This lost all respect I had for this film; they edited her interview with footage from the park showing poor conditions and placed blame on Sea World for the aggression and accident caused by one of the whales. This is like saying I have a well behaved, well cared for, happy dog at my home; the dog had puppies and I end up selling them to another person. This person now lives in poor conditions and does not train or treat the puppy well and the puppy ends up biting the new owner; then you place the blame on my dog for the bite. Now, I know they stated the whales were leased instead of owned, but there really is no difference, if you lease a car, you are still responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the car, not the dealership. Common sense and a little research should tell you that Loro Parque built their Orca Whale exhibit and went on the market to purchase whales. They could not afford to purchase any so they ended up leasing some with Sea World. Sea World did provide trainers and veterinarians to assist with training, but it was ultimately up to Loro Parque to care for the whales and provide the living conditions.

Even though I hated the way they did their editing to misdirect and mislead the viewer, I still continued to watch the movie all the way to the end. I was now happy to have an opinion to share about the movie, but I was reluctant to share it. The truth is in the numbers, I have visited Sea World in Orlando since I was 5 years old. I’ve always loved the shows, the education, the success stories, and…of course…the rides. But putting the rides aside for a moment, Sea World is one of the largest rehabilitation companies in the world for Sea Life. They have dedicated themselves to protecting Sea Turtles, Manatees, Dolphins, and many others. Releasing almost all of the animals brought in on rescue and only housing the ones not fit for release. Sea World has also evolved over the years, learning from captive animals about healthy lifestyles and behaviors that we normally don’t get to see or study in the wild. Yes, the orca whales are in a captive tank, but so are goldfish and other household fish that “normally have an entire ocean to swim in.” We are learning so much from Sea World and the public is starting to understand that.

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Backstage at SeaWorld Orlando. Image – Michael Christopher

Today, the activists are starting to toss around more false facts and I wanted to raise awareness about how I felt about the movie. Sea World did take a dive in attendance because of this awful movie, but since then they have bounced back and are just as popular as before. Sea World also does not hide from anyone who has a question or wants to visit and tour the park. They even offer backstage tours for the public to view how much they care for their animals. The movie claimed that Sea World declined to be interviewed for this film; that is partially untrue. Sea World has proved that they were contacted by the producers and each time, Sea World provided all of the information that the producers would ask for. Sea World never agreed to a face‐to‐face interview because they knew it would be re‐edited to be put against them instead of for them. Even the public record documents were construed in favor of the producers based on edits and omitting of specific, key information.

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Sea World San Antonio. Image – Michael Christopher

I started to watch Blackfish with an open mind, I wanted to see what the movie was all about, and instead of watching a factual documentary, I know I was clearly watching a producer with a complete bias against Sea World. To sum it all up, Blackfish is about a wild orca whale named Tilikum, who was captured by SeaLand (not Sea World) in the wild in 1982 (at the young age of 1 year old), and after a serious accident at SeaLand (again, not Sea World) in 1992, Sea World then took ownership of him. Sea World also disclosed all information about Tilikum to their trainers, and, even from day 1, had safety precautions in place; this includes trainers never swimming in the water with him. The film then takes a side step towards another park (not Sea World) and claims that the actions done by this park is Sea World’s responsibility because they leased a few younger whales to them. Then they go down a guilt trip with the late Dawn Brancheau and completely disrespected and sadly publicized her tragic event for a movie that her family didn’t agree to be a part of. All I can say to those of you who have watched Blackfish and are still against Sea World, please do some research about the park’s history, look for good things instead of bad. Eventually, you will notice how much of a positive impact Sea World has on marine life and if to talk to ANY employee or trainer there, even for just a short conversation, you will notice the passion and pride they have for working and caring for their animals. I hope that eventually, the movie “Blackfish” will fade away in history and eventually be forgotten.

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