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Ethos and Pathos in Blackfish and Exposing the Maltreatment of Marine Animals

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The issue of animal captivity to serve human pleasure has been one that has existed for centuries, but has reached a peak with the rapid industrialization that has normalized the abuse of animals in many industries. Blackfish, a documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, exposes the maltreatment of marine animals in particular, orcas, and makes the claim that killer whales should be freed from their captive enclosures in entertainment facilities due to the danger they pose towards humans and themselves. In the documentary, it retells the story of Tilikum, a captive killer whale that has taken the lives of several people while being kept in captivity in SeaWorld and it compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews in order to explore the species’ cruel treatment, it’s extraordinary nature as well as the lives and losses of the trainers. This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story can challenge the audience to consider a human relationship to nature and reaches into their emotions with pathos by relying on an anthropomorphic tendencies through visual and verbal aids to persuade her viewers to believe that cruelty is being enforced along with a strong sense of extrinsic and intrinsic ethos to argue against Seaworld’s claims.

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Since the documentary Blackfish was released, it became the center of controversy and lead to massive amounts of hatred towards Seaworld and their treatment towards these animals that are being held in captivity. The main reason as to why such large audiences agree with the argument happens as a result of the credibility that the writer generates within. As Cowperthwaite uses an extrinsic form of ethos in the film, it allows the audience to believe that the storyline of it is based off of the speakers skills and knowledge. A former Seaworld trainer, Samantha Berg has mentioned in an interview that “ [the trainers] are there because [they] want to train killer whales and that is [their] goal” (Blackfish). Along with Samantha, many other ex employees of Seaworld have spoke out against the heinous treatment that these whales endure daily which helps the audience assume that these professionals know what they are stating and are able to trust their allegations because of the firsthand experience they have. The documentary uses ethos to get the public involved as animal rights advocates, environmentalists and government regulators possess an interest based off of the immoral and unethical nature associated. Due to these issues concerning ethics, “the Occupational Safety and Health Administration got involved and sued the Seaworld of Florida” (Blackfish) as their job entails the mission to help employers and employees reduce job injuries, illnesses and deaths, which proves the directors selected cast, trustworthy of their information. Blackfish also creates effective intrinsic ethos through the manner the information in the film is presented. First, Cowperthwaite does not just viciously start attacking SeaWorld, instead, she goes back in history and supports her arguments using real news reports and found violent footage to display that the mistreatment of captive whales has lead to the deaths of trainers long before SeaWorld. By getting this view into the past, the audience is able to see that this issue has been happening much longer than expected and that Seaworld is outwardly putting their employees and animals in danger despite their previous knowledge. Examples can simply be found in the first ten minutes of the documentary which at that time in the film, the workers trap a family of orcas using aircrafts, bombs, giant nets and boats. Overall proving that the ethos used in the film from former employees and news reports, justifies the unknown truth in the industry to the public.

In captivity, the killer whales are deprived of their freedom and are often left isolated in compact spaces which creates an emotional appeal to the intended audience, focusing on their morals and beliefs about the scenario. Cowperthwaite includes numerous personal and heartbreaking stories of former employees of Seaworld who have been affected through the violent outbursts of the orcas against the training staff as a revenge for being poorly treated by the industry. Despite the trainers being very close and attached to these whales, “the stress of captivity can drive orcas and other marine mammals to display neurotic behaviors that, understandably enough, can lead to tragic consequences” (Blackfish). For this reason, the whales neurotic behavior caused an unexpected 911 call which reveals the trainers frantic voice after an attack. With the bone chilling screams and cries, the caller makes it very difficult for the audience to not sympathize with the whale as well as the tragic death of a trainer. This allows the viewers to feel pathos and connect emotionally with what the whales and their trainers have endured. One of the most powerful visual examples portrayed in the film was when they had taken a young orca from her mother and transferred her to a new resort. This scene was very touching because the mother orca “generally is not a vocal whale, but after the baby was removed her mom stayed at the corner of the pool shaking, screeching, and crying” (Blackfish), proving how captivity has detrimental effects on the lives of animals. The emotion was what hooked the audience into this documentary, possibly because most of the audience’s mothers can view that perspective and how destructive they would feel if it were them. Blackfish also logically claims that the separation of orca families and the living conditions that they are put into result in mental stress and aggravation as they suffer the emotional repercussions of separation, much like humans do. Essentially meaning the whales anthropomorphic tendencies cause humans to empathise more in their situations.

In conclusion, Blackfish, a documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, was essentially used to expose the maltreatment of marine animals to the audience by using rhetorical devices such as ethos and pathos. As well as to make the claim that killer whales should be freed from their captive enclosures in entertainment facilities due to the danger they pose towards humans and themselves.

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