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The Blackfish Documentary Analysis and Plot

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In the beginning there was an orca named Tilikum. He and his family were swimming near Iceland but on November of 1983 he was taken from his family pod with a couple of his brother and sisters. He was only 2 years old and was forever he was torn away from the ocean. In the documentary Blackfish, the filmmakers try to persuade everyone that SeaWorld needs to end in its thesis by interviewing people who were there, giving us real footage, sound, and the story of Tilikum.

The documentary distresses the captivity of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three people, and the costs of having orcas in captivity. The reporting of Tilikum includes his capture in 1983 off the coast of Iceland and his unsupported irritation by fellow captive orcas at Sealand of the Pacific. Cowperthwaite claims these events added to the orca’s violence.

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The documentary consists of a testimonial from Lori Marino, director of science with the Nonhuman Rights Project. Cowperthwaite also focuses on SeaWorld’s statements that lifespans of orcas in captivity are similar to those in the wild, typically 30 years for males and 50 years for females, a statement the documentary says is untrue. Other people interviewed include former SeaWorld trainers, such as John Hargrove, who define their involvements with Tilikum and other captive whales.

The documentary accounts that the whales have experienced great trauma when their offspring were captured in the wild or when separated after breeding at water parks. The documentary shows footage of attacks on trainers by Tilikum and other captive whales as well as interviews with witnesses.

My first rhetorical figure I’d like to analyze is the choice of people to interview in the documentary Blackfish. For example, Blackfish uses aural signifiers when Tilikum is mentioned, this creates an association for the audience regarding the whale, causing us to feel a mixture of fear/anxiety. The most effective appeal to ethos in the film is through the testimony of previous Orca trainers at Sea World. This makes the audience trust what they have to say about the correlation of captivity and aggression in killer whales. This usage of diegetic sound encourages the viewer to believe that the information is reliable. Another example, they interviewed the men that caught the whales. How they rounded them up with boats and pinning them in a cove using nets. They would take the young ones because of transport reason. In their interview they hated what they did and one fisher men cried while doing it. Having that interview made me feel so sad for the animals. Taking them away from there family’s never to see them again. Even some of them died while being captured.

My second rhetorical figure I’d like to analyze is the footage they used in the documentary. For example, showed footage of them capturing the whales from the ocean and how sad it was. The footage showed them putting nets around them pulling the babies out of the water and setting them on the boats. As they were doing this the sat there crying out to them and not leaving them. I felt so bad for the whales, having this footage made me want to change what we did and go back but what is done is done. Another example of footatge one of the attacks on the trainer. One of thee trainers was playing with one of the whales without a spotter. In the film she was tapping one of the orcas with her foot but then the whale grabs her foot and drags her in. the people that filmed it were tourists at the park. She was drug down then brought up. Luckily one of the trainers heard her scream can came to help and knew what to do. She came out of the water with a u shape arm fractured in a couple of spots. Having this footage showed what the whales could do giving us reasons why we should not be messing with them and they should e in the wild.

My last rhetorical figure I’d like to analyze is the story and life of the orca Tilikum. For example, the documentary goes through his life from the horrible beginning and sad endings. When he was just 2 years old, Tilikum was captured from his family and ocean home near Iceland in 1983. He has never seen his family since then. This was the beginning of his terrible life. After his capture, the whale was kept in a cement holding tank for nearly a year at Hafnarfjörður Marine Zoo in Iceland to wait for relocation to a marine park. Held captive against his will, all he could do was swim in small circles and float aimlessly at the surface of the water, far from the expansive ocean in which he had swum every day alongside his family members. Finally, Tilikum was transferred to the rundown marine park, Sealand of the Pacific, in British Columbia, Canada. A barren 100-foot-by-50-foot poo just 35 feet deep was his sad new home. Food was withheld from Tilikum as a training technique, and he regularly endured painful attacks by two dominant female orcas, Haida and Nootka. He was forced to perform every hour on the hour, eight times a day, seven days a week. The constant stress and exhaustion gave him stomach ulcers.

When the park closed at the end of each day, the three incompatible orcas were crammed into a tiny round metal-sided module for more than 14 hours until the park reopened the next morning. On February 21, 1991, Sealand trainer Keltie Byrne fell into the pool containing all three orcas. She was pulled to the bottom of the enclosure by Tilikum, tossed around among the three orcas, and eventually drowned. It took Sealand employees two hours to recover her body from the orcas. She was the first of three people to be killed because of Tilikum’s captivity, stress, and frustration. Shortly after Byrne’s death, Sealand closed its doors for good and put Tilikum up for sale as though he were nothing more than a commodity. SeaWorld officials quickly purchased Tilikum for the marine park’s breeding program, apparently giving little thought to his reputation for aggression and killing. Tilikum’s sperm was used to build a collection of orcas, and now, 54 percent of SeaWorld’s orcas have his genes. He has now been at SeaWorld for over 21 years and has 11 living children and four grandchildren. The stress of captivity drove Tilikum to exhibit abnormal repetitive behavior and has also caused him to continue to exhibit aggression toward humans, costing two more lives—those of Daniel P. Dukes in 1999 and Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Tilikum scalped and dismembered Brancheau as well as breaking bones throughout her body before drowning her. After a year in virtual isolation, Tilikum was returned to performing.

The story of Tilikum is so heart retching. The things he did to the trainers were also sad because they loved what they did and loved the animals. The trainers never wanted to see the animals hurt. We feel so much from his story, the pain and the suffering he went through. Also the pain of losing people to something that we could have stopped. To watch his sad story we got closer to him and gained a likability to have him happy and all other animals that are in his state. Through that we start making reasons in or minds why this should have ever happened to him and ways it could of stopped but were to late.

In end the documentary Blackfish helps us understand why SeaWorld needs to end because documentary gave us good interviewers to listen to, real footage to see, and the sad story of the lonely orca. After Tilikum killed Dawn, the show was over. Overnight, SeaWorld’s impressive bull orca was forced into isolation. Relegated to a back pool to be alone. In March of 2016 Tilikums health was deteriorating, and it was thought he had a lung infection due to bacterial pneumonia, a common cause of death in captive and wild whales and dolphins. On Januray 6, 2017, SeaWorld announced that Tilikum had died. The last person interviewed on the documentary said, “In 50 years well look back and go my god what a barbaric time.”  

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