It was SeaWorld that threw the first punch in the battle to put the spin on Blackfish, the documentary that uses the story of Tilikum, the whale who killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 during a show at SeaWorld Orlando, as a platform to discuss the ethics of keeping orcas in captivity. Before it was even released, SeaWorld discredited the movie as animal-rights propaganda, calling it "shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading and scientifically inaccurate." But the filmmakers quickly shot back – in interviews and in the movie, former trainers who once worked with SeaWorld spoke out, calling the marine parks to task for seeming to put profits first and foremost, and in late 2013, CNN aired the movie, making it accessible to a massive TV audience, spurring a debate about the parks that has been raging ever since.
SeaWorld has recently gone on the PR offense, waging a very public campaign to discredit not just the movie, but also those interviewed in it. The parks have taken out full-page ads in national publicans and (most recently) launched a "The Truth About Blackfish" page on the SeaWorld website that tries to take the movie down, point by point. It calls Blackfish "false and emotionally manipulative," and it discredits some of the film's interviewees "animal rights activists masquerading as scientists." The page also contains videos of former and current SeaWorld trainers telling viewers that the movie's premises are untrue and defending SeaWorld's animal husbandry.
A screenshot from The Truth About Blackfish webpage.
But the makers of Blackfish aren't taking the criticism quietly, and this week they teamed up with the makers of The Cove, a documentary released in 2009 that decries the brutal practice of dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan, to challenge SeaWorld to a public debate. Among other things, the filmmakers of both movies question why SeaWorld spends so much time and money challenging Blackfish, rather than engaging with the public over the plight of wild marine mammals in places like Taiji:
It is ironic that SeaWorld launched its latest assault on Blackfish, a film that has brought the question of marine mammal welfare to the center of public debate, at a time when approximately 250 bottlenose dolphins were trapped, killed or sold to aquariums in Taiji, Japan, the town featured in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. While the global community is outraged and condemns this horrific dolphin hunt, SeaWorld has watched from the sidelines. Had SeaWorld added its powerful voice to the efforts to stop this drive hunt of dolphins for use by the captive industry—perhaps many dolphins would have been spared.
The gloves are off:
We challenge SeaWorld to debate these issues with our teams in a public forum, which we will be happy to arrange. Throughout the production and theatrical release of Blackfish, SeaWorld has refused to directly engage with the film or its points in any public way, despite repeated invitations. Instead of releasing more PR spin, written statements and online critiques (which often allow no comments), we encourage SeaWorld’s leaders to step forward and address these issues openly and honestly in public debate. Let the public hear both sides of the argument (as we have always desired) and draw their own conclusions.
We look forward to it.22 January 2014The Filmmakers, Blackfish
Oceanic Preservation Society, makers of The Cove
Blackfish, by the way, did not receive an Oscar nomination, something director Gabriela Cowperthwaite says she was initially disappointed about; now, she says, she's refocusing her efforts on challenging SeaWorld's allegations about her movie.