The Truth Behind Blackfish

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Former Killer Whale Trainer Says “Blackfish is a lie”

 

Blackfish

**It is highly recommended that you watch the video in addition to reading this article.**

The sensationalism of Blackfish has created a major divide. There are those who believe killer whales at SeaWorld are mistreated and should be sent into the ocean, and those who know that all animals at SeaWorld have incredible, enriching, and healthy lives.

As a former Senior killer whale trainer at SeaWorld Orlando, I am asked about Blackfish on an almost daily basis. Most people are very considerate when asking me about the validity of the film. However, many people are hateful. Of course, these people are usually hiding behind social media.

I can say with certainty that the animals at SeaWorld are some of the luckiest animals in the world. They have access to a world class vet staff, plenty of food, and are cared for by passionate and talented trainers. The lies told in Blackfish are just that, lies. The whales are never withheld food, never forced to do anything, and have incredible relationships with their trainers. I have never described any animal I’ve made a relationship with as “sad,” or “angry.”

If I had watched Blackfish without ever working at SeaWorld, I would probably have believed the film to be true. Why wouldn’t I? The film promotes itself as a “documentary,” interviews actual former trainers, and provides chilling footage. It appears legitimate.

Understand, that is the power of Hollywood – making you feel a certain way, regardless of the truth.

Would Blackfish be as successful if it presented an unbiased, balanced, two sided argument? Of course, not.

Blackfish Could Have Changed Lives

I wish Blackfish tackled a real issue. Imagine the profound impact they could have made? Instead of attacking SeaWorld, who treats their animals with the best care, they could have gone after zoos and aquariums that actually mistreat animals. There are facilities (many abroad) that have animals in small cages and provide limited vet care (if any). Why are those institutions not being exposed? It is shameful that animals who need help go unnoticed, while thousands of people spend time and energy trying to “save” killer whales that don’t need saving. However, again, that would not have made as good of a movie. SeaWorld is a brand that is recognizable, therefore, a much better platform to set a movie around.

What We Can Learn

My biggest takeaway from Blackfish is this: what else have I read or seen that I believed to be true, but wasn’t? How many times have I felt angry after reading an article, not knowing that the article was false? How many times have I watched a segment on the news and felt sad, blinded by music and suggestive editing? Too many, I’m sure.

You must do your research. Real research. There is a misconception that becoming a marine mammal trainer is as easy as submitting an application. One of the reasons I created this website is to provide information for aspiring marine mammal trainers. They need to know how to prepare for this rewarding, yet competitive field.

Watching a movie is not doing research. Neither is reading an article. You have to dig deeper. You have to hear both sides and you have to check the facts. When you feel you have all the facts, then you can make an informed decision. Even then, you must admit you don’t have all the information.

seaworld-trainer-blackfish

I worked with the whales. Not just any whales. I worked with the same whales being discussed in Blackfish. So, when a movie states or implies trainers are interacting with the whales contrary to how I interacted with the whales, I know it is a lie. Nobody can argue with that.

Why Blackfish is Good

What is awesome about Blackfish is that it inspired passionate people to take a stand – even if it was an unnecessary one. This gives me hope. Imagine if all us took this energy and passion surrounding a movie and put it to use. What good could we do? How many lives could we change? More than you can imagine. My hope is one day, we are all united by a cause worth fighting for.

 

Other Reading:

Blackfish Analysis: A full breakdown of the misleading and/or inaccurate content.

CNN: CNN.com posted an article titled, “‘Blackfish’ film ignores SeaWorld’s benefits to conservation, research.” (Blackfish is a member of CNN Films)

The Legal Roller Coaster: An attorney dives deep into the legal aspects of Blackfish.

Blackfish Exposed: Eric Davis from micechat.com shares his interview with cast members of the film.

 IRateFilms: Author, Rick Swift, shares his insight on SeaWorld and Blackfish after speaking with trainers who currently work at SeaWorld.

44 comments

  • What do you have to say about the deaths causes by whales though? Do you agree that Sea World should not be allowed to have trainers swim in the water with the whales? I’m interested, because while you may have firsthand experience with the whales, it’s hard for me to agree that these performances should be allowed.

    • I’m just a nobody, but my take on it is the same thing as people who own or work with tigers, lions, or even horses, or drive race cars, or skydive. It’s their choice, it’s their life being endangered, and they know that when they get into it. If they are not putting other (unwilling) lives in the risk zone, and the animals won’t be harmed or put down if they cause a human injury or death, I see no problem with it.

      • Well said Frida!

      • I LOVE what you have to say here, it goes perfectly with my own ideas on the subject! Coincidentally, I show horses and my brother drives a race car so I relate to what you said a lot. I risk my life every time I ride my horse, he could easily kill me – accident or not. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world because the bond that I have with him is irreplaceable and my dream is to establish the same bond with marine mammals.
        So thank you for sharing your thoughts, you said it perfectly.

      • I disagree. When we bring our children to Sea World, we are deliberately showing them a fantasy sea world, where the animals are always our friends, it’s OK to pet them, swim with them, etc. We have raised generations of adults who saw this as children and have believed the fantasy that Sea World perpetrates. The truth is very different.

        It is true that Sea World is doing so many things right- the care of the animals is the very best, the parks are clean, the staff awesome. But these large mammals are simply not intended to be captured. It’s so obvious when their fins are flopped over like that. It is wrong, no matter how you try to candy coat it.

        I don’t want to teach my children by taking them there that what they see in the shows is the reality and that the animals are not adversely effected by their captivity. This is the 2000s. Figure out a different way to show us these awesome animals!!!

        • So don’t. Teach your children that this is special and that out in the ocean things are dangerous and you always need to respect the power of nature.

          You can’t explain the circumstances to your kids?

        • If you go to Sea World and you talk to your children how those animals are in the wild, they will not get the wrong idea that they are pets. People that will never be able to pay to see these (and others, either marine or not) animals in their natural habitat can learn a lot by seeing them live. I don´t agree when animals are mistreated, but the issue here seems to be to blame Sea World for the death of the trainers. As someone else said, people that work as wild animal trainers know the risk and accept it, just as people that do other risky occupations, like car racing.

    • Not allowing SeaWorld to interact with the whales is like saying you can’t own a dog. They are all wild animals, we can’t speak their language or read their minds, we can only work with them and try to understand. Any animal, just like humans can snap or misinterpret something, it’s the risk people take working with any kind of animals. So are you saying there shouldn’t be any families who own dogs? Dogs have been known to cause deaths too.

      • Dogs are not wild. If you were to return them to their natural habitat where would you put them? They were especially bred to be domestic. There are plenty of feral dogs that are dying, but manage to stay alive by scavenging scraps of trash. Dogs are especially good with humans as it just happens to turn out. It’s actually probably why they spent so long breeding and domesticating them. Unfortunately it’s not the same with other animals. Even cats are sometimes not good with humans. Why is the only thing we can do for orcas is to try and understand them? Why would we need to understand them? They have a place in this world and it’s the ocean. Hopefully we can understand that.

        • Emily Wheelwright

          Dogs are wolves and coyotes too. Some Dog are just domesticated. Dogs used too have a place in the wild and they still do…wild dogs are every where where I live. Are you saying that because “dogs are domesticated” that they can’t live in the wild. Its the same with marine mammals…they are being treated just as good/or maybe even better than a lot of domesticated dogs.

          • My pomeranians wouldn’t survive in the wild. Dogs are not orcas. Orcas are not dogs. Silly to try to draw comparisons.

          • Manish: Neither would these captive orcas. Most animals born and raised in captivity will not make it in the wild. A dog is not an orca, an orca is not a dog, but both are predators and can be quite dangerous. The reason why orcas tend to be more so is their size and environment.

        • In the video he clearly states that the orcas you see at seaworld orlando are bred and raised in captivity. they are domesticated animals who have never been in the wild.

          • Even born in captivity they all have a natural instinct to travel, to hunt, to breed like they have been for hundreds of years now. I think of it this way if it was me circling that tank day after day, year after year. Even with the best vet care and all the food I could eat, I would be depressed and at some point I would go crazy and I think that is what happened

      • Dogs are domesticated animals, they are intended to be “man’s best friend.” Orca whales,on the other hand, are one of the largest predators of the ocean, they are meant to live with their families, traveling hundreds of miles and exploring the ocean together in their pod. The way these animals are captured and torn from their families is disgusting. Orcas should be left alone, only for us to admire their beauty from afar and in the wild.

    • What d oyou have to say about the deaths cause by pit bulls though> Do you agree that dog owners should not be allwoed to have any pit bull or any aggressive animal be near any kids? I’m interested, because while you may saw you think you know everything, it’s hard for me to agree that these kind of dogs should be allowed.

  • Wonderful to have your input on the issues at hand. The “trainers” in the movie apparently do have “animal rights” agendas, and are not unbiased as they claim.
    A big criticism of Sea World is that they supposedly did not do anything to protect trainers from danger by hiding previous incidents from them. Can you comment on that? I read on Legal Rollercoaster that the timeline was falsely presented, but would love your input.
    Also, what about comparison of lifespans in the wild as compared with a lifespan at Sea World, another big point in the movie. I know based on Marineland’s “Nellie”, a bottlenose dolphin who was born at Marineland and is 60 years old and still going strong while wild dolphins usually live maybe half that long, that lifespans of captive animals can be reflective of their good care and general well-being.
    Finally, a last point as a dog person and an officer for the California Federation of Dog Clubs, about your closing statement. Please do not fall into the trap of the humaniac crusade to tar farmers and dog breeders. Just as Sea World has been the target of animal extremists campaign to smear their good name and reputation, so too have they smeared the reputations of hobby dog breeders by denigrating them as “puppy mills”. This is an undefined and nonsensical term designed only to slur anyone who breeds dogs and it should never be used by anyone who is aware of the threats posed to all animal owners by these fanatic extremist groups. They are using that phrase to push for laws in all states and even on the federal level to legislate dog breeders out of existence. The radical animal rights groups have targeted high profile entities like Ringling Bros and Sea World to incrementally implement more and more laws that restrict our freedoms to own, breed and interact with animals.

    • Orcas really do live shorter lives in captivity. It was something I had heard and read about many times before that documentary was made. I’ve never heard anything about dolphins though. I have no idea about that.

      • Actually, there is inclusive data on the life span of Killer whales in the wild. The reason for this is the pods move so much that they are not able to get a solid track of data. So that statement isn’t exactly accurate. How can you compare data that isn’t there or complete?

      • They do live slightly shorter lives, but the information in Blackfish is way off. It has taken many years for researchers to develop an estimated lifespan because they move a lot and spend their lives in an environment that humans can’t be a part of- the ocean. Given this though, they have projected an age, NOAA has said this:
        Whales live UP TO 50-90 years:
        males typically live for about 30 years, but can live as long as 50-60 years;
        females typically live about 50 years, but can live as long as 80-90 years
        *this is copied straight from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
        Link=
        http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/killerwhale.htm

        SeaWorld currently has 5 animals older than 30 and Corky who is close to 50.

  • the trainer is right sea world animals are treated great!

  • Hi Kyle,
    I’ve lived ( literally ) behind Seaworld Orlando for nearly 15 years and have attended the park for all of them – I’ve probably seen you several times during a show. I just found your video online and watched it all. I have to say, it’s kinda obvious that the “Blackfish” creators wanted something sensational, although, sure, there’s always ethical issues about keeping ANY animals in a zoo environment.

    It looks like they’re install the “fast rising floor” in the tank ( there are cranes there and it’s what I’ve heard ) so indicents like Dawn’s should never happen again.

    Again, thanks for posting YOUR views regarding the matter – I’m sharing it with some recent armchair activists hoping to get a logical response although I’m not hopeful – it’s and emotional issue and that’s hard for people to get around.

    … and hopefully your video will bring attention to your own ventures beyond Seaworld.

  • Giving an animal food and vet care is not really all that great. Has anyone gone to a Zoo before? Are those animals treated great? Most of them have psychological problems, especially the gorillas. The truth is we can not recreate an animals natural world. If you guys knew anything about an orcas life in the real world you would not think they are doing great in captivity. In the wild orcas are extremely social and emotional animals. Although we cannot fully understand the way their brain works we do know they have an extra development of their limbic system which suggests a greater emotional capacity than humans. Orcas live in huge families called pods. They do not leave these families. They hunt extensive prey as they travel the world through the oceans. Different family pods have adapted to different migration patterns and different prey while actually teaching their young the ways and techniques, like humans or monkeys do. The families of orcas communicate differently and some pods can’t even communicate together because they essentially “speak different languages”. I could go on, but it is better if you guys do the research yourself! You can even do research on the Blackfish documentary. You do not need Kylek to answer these questions.

    Anyways, everyone is free to their own opinion. I just hope that opinion is one you’ve developed yourself and not based on a movie you’ve watched or an article you’ve read.

    • That’s not exactly true. Only resident orcas form pods. Transients do not form these large pods. Instead, they have small groups that are matrilineal, but the young tend to disperse after they reach maturity. Then there’s the offshore groups that we know nothing about. Almost all social information you hear about orcas is about the resident population off the coast of Northwest USA. That’s because they are the only population that has really been studied.

      http://wildwhales.org/killer-whale/

      On the topics of primates and elephants… and well any animal in captivity, would you rather see the elephants hunted down for ivory? How about the gorillas hunted down for meat? Or maybe the gorillas will suffer from a disease contracted from humans, such as ebola. Or just have their home cut down to make way for farmland. The animals that are in captivity are a way of keeping these animals from going extinct. If we released all animals back into the wild, many would die. Poaching would be a huge problem because these animals would be accustomed to people. The predators may suffer from starvation because they haven’t had to hunt before. The social animals could be outcasts and might never find a group to live in… which may lead to their deaths.

      • Mindya Bitness

        Do you not understand the difference between a zoo/aquarium and a theme park that drives its sales based on the PERFORMANCE OF ITS ANIMALS. It would be one thing if people could come and see these animals in a natural environment versus one in which they are doing tricks for entertainment.

        I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been to many zoos in which I was able to see lions or gorillas jumping up and down or waving during choreographed shows, have you??????

  • After watching blackfish I was appalled and genuinely sad. A part of me was pretty irritated with the trainers as they portrayed themselves as ignorant and clearly lacked the passion to research killer whales outside of what seaworld told them (I mean… Seems strange to pursue a career training animals you know nothing about). This is what initially struck me as odd… And I started to wonder if blackfish could be edited in such a way to distort reality. Hysteria… Ever seen the movie gasland? Yep, that’s right I work in the oil and gas industry and that “documentary” is not factual. So I do question the validity of blackfish. I guess what speaks to me most, is that lives (human and orca) were lost. And that is a fact no one can argue.

    if blackfish is even 10% true, my heart breaks for all.

  • Future Trainer!

    Do you think trainers should go back in the water in the shoes?

  • I loved your video, Kyle. I watched Blackfish and while I felt sad at what happened to bring Orcas to the parks, it is clear that captures are no longer practiced in this day and age. In fact, most of SW’s orcas are born and bred at the park and have no knowledge of the open sea, barring the few still alive that were captured from the beginning. I could tell the documentary was incredibly one-sided when I watched it and was designed to yank your heartstrings eight ways over.

    I do think the film brought up a valid point though – the fact that keeping orcas in captivity is a risky business, just as keeping any animal in captivity is risky.

  • carina gerrelli

    Hi, I recently watched Blackfish. I found it so distressing- but I got the fact that is was completely biased. So reading your article was very interesting. I understand your points- but the one thing that haunts me the most was the tiny box they were put into at night! think of the size of them and the long distances they were used to swimming in the wild! I think this is what got me the most!

    • I have been to seaworld they do not put them in small boxes at night they swim in the pools. That was supposedly marineland not seaworld, I have never been their they have all been shut down so I can’t speak to Marine Land.

  • Hi Kyle, I just watched your video on You Tube, the response to Blackfish. It was great, thanks for posting it, I am so guilty of being one of those armchair activists that immediately after watching Blackfish said, NOPE that’s it, will never go again. I was so SAD!

    I grew up going to Sea World, San Diego probably 2-3 times a year until I was 18 then started taking my kids to both SD & Orlando from the time they were old enough to appreciate it as well. I’m sure I’ve seen you perform in Orlando just 2 years ago! So it broke my heart this year to know that we would be taking our annual trip there and that Sea World would be off the agenda, because of 90 minutes I spent watching Blackfish. After watching your video I’m rethinking that now, but I hope you might have a minute to answer just a few questions. You were so right, my life long love of animals comes from growing up and going to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo! It is something that has stayed with me throughout my 47 years! I probably would never feel the way that I do about them had I not had those experiences. And you are so right that it is a movie made to make you feel, and your response to it made me start thinking.

    This year I really wanted to take my family, grown kids and grandson to Discovery Cove and Sea World, but my heart strings scream NO, how could you, you watched Blackfish!!! But I want to see that look in my grandsons eyes, as he touches a dolphin for the 1st time or sees the magnificence of the majestic Orca. Is that selfish? Is that detrimental? Me boycotting Sea World is like one pea escaping from the pot of soup. They will never notice I am gone, i’m not setting anything in motion by not going, I’m not changing the life of the animals kept there. I however do practice in my community what I preach, I volunteer at humane societies, I do beach clean ups, I take in and rehabilitate strays, I actively work in trying to get the puppy mills abolished. I could easily spend every penny I would give to Sea World for 9 hours of entertainment to some very needy causes. But I would miss that time with my family and seeing Owen’s face as he gives a fish to dolphin or touches a ray.

    Can you tell me this…. what would happen to the Orca’s that are in Sea World’s facilities if they were released into the wild? They are honestly the only animals that I have a problem with being in captivity. Wouldn’t SWBG continue to thrive as an entertainment venue without them? Sometimes sacrifices have to be made by the few, for the greater good of all, and for the longest time that is exactly how I have looked at places like the SD Zoo and Sea World and justified spending $1000 a day / weekend on entertainment as going it benefitting the greater good of their species as a whole.

    So would those incredible whales be able to survive now if they were released from captivity? Would they know how to hunt, would they know how to thrive? If not, it would be nothing short of inhumane to release them. I guess it’s fair to say that the whales that are born into captivity don’t know what they are missing – this is life as they know it. But would that be any different than a child lets say being born in a prison? That child would not know that there is an incredible life outside those walls, they are being loved by their mother, their nutrition is met, their medical needs met. Their social skills would not be as diverse but they are there… is there any difference? The are all still in captivity. I agree that open water pens are not the solution, in fact I think that would actually be worse, look… there is where you cannot go…. not to mention all the issues that you brought up in your response.

    I guess I would just like to really hear what the fate of those animals would be and Sea World itself if the “Shamu” show failed to exist. Could the animals be prepared to to be released and be free and couldn’t Sea World still do all they are doing for the conservation of all animals? The polar bear is extremely threatened but you don’t see people jumping up and down about their plight and making documentaries and boycotting over their existence at Sea World. Sea World has incredible exhibits with the Blue Whale but they don’t keep one in a tank, for obvious reasons, who knows maybe they would if they could… I don’t know… Can you provide any insight into my questions at all, so I can really feel like I’m not making my plans this year based on emotion that was contrived for a sensational documentary?

    • SeaWorld Lover

      If these whales weren’t kept at SeaWorld the only alternative is sea pens. There are many potentially fatal problems for orcas in sea pens such as temuratures that the animals aren’t used to, pollution, boat traffic, unfamiliar animals causing stress in some situations, escape, and environmental dangers. We have even had orcas die in sea pens from swallowing rocks. SeaWorld isn’t animal cruelty. It is one if the largest conservation organizations that work in an untraditional way. The use entertainment to teach people about conservation because let’s get real here. Do you think millions of families would go to SeaWorld because they wanted to learn, but while they are there the see things that change them. They fall in love with so many different animals from all over the globe in one day that is impossible to do in the wild.

  • Hello! I just wanted to say what a fantastic article and response video this was. Since you worked in the recent years, I would like to know if you ever worked with Tilikum himself? If so, what was he like? Is he really as awful as the films portrays him to be?

    Obviously, the film is propaganda; however, I am curious about Tilikum. They didn’t really seem to evaluate his personality.

  • I’m guessing I won’t get an answer because you’re busy, but it never hurts to ask. Do you, Kyle, think that Tilikum should have been dealt with differently during and after his time at Sealand? (I think that’s what it was called) I realize that you say not to anthropomorphize, and that we can’t know what the animal is thinking, but do you think that Tilikum specifically may have had/be having psychological problems from that time?

    On another note, I can’t believe how obviously the documentary tried to manipulate emotions. I mean, I learned about playing bad music in the background to sway opinion in the 8th grade. That’s bush league stuff right there. Might as well have picked up Coke as a sponsor and put Pepsi machines in the background whenever the bad music came up…

  • I understand where this guy is coming from, and tried to make good valid points but I believe that these killer whales need to go back into the wild, even the dolphins and everything else. He said that they have a very good vet staff for them, but when in the wild they don’t need this because most of them are healthy, and they live so much longer in the wild. These killer whales are healthier when they can hunt their own food, swim hundreds of miles a day, can STAY with their own REAL family for the rest of their life. After watching the film, it is clear they are very intelligent and emotional, and love their family very much, so we need to let them be. It breaks my heart when they separate them and spend their short life in a tank that is not suitable for them. I hope one day they will be free. And all others animals for that matter. But you gotta start somewhere, so its starting here.

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  • I was at SeaWorld years back and went to watch the show. When the show started, the trainers did not get in the water. The announced that the whale was a little off that day. She was having a bad day!! It was very interesting watching how they calmed her enough to get her into the back pool again. Accidents happen at work! It is sad, but it is a fact of live. I loved this show. My children loved this show. I am hoping my Grandchildren get the same opportunity.

  • Great stuff here! I support SeaWorld!!

  • Anthony S. Clifton

    When I saw the promos for “Blackfish” I decided to avoid it at all costs. It reeked of “agenda,” like fish rotting in a barrel. I’m only interested in balanced documentaries that provide both sides to an argument, and lets the audience make up their own minds. I love documentaries that provide enough factual information from a wide variety of individuals, so much so that you’re left thinking about it for a long time after the lights come back up in the theater.

    Activists will insult you if you don’t see “Blackfish” and learn the “facts” it presents. But if you see it and refute any of the theories it offers, then the activists border on violence and name-calling. That’s never a healthy way to debate an issue. We’ve learned from bogus documentaries like “An Inconvenient Truth” that “facts” can often be lies veiled as facts, and their lies set up to promote a specific agenda.

    And much like “An Inconvenient Truth” has now been dispelled as pure fiction and relegated to fantasy, I sense that over time, many of the “facts” presented in “Blackfish” will be roundly refuted as pure agenda as well.

  • What about all the trainers comments in the film? Are they all lying?

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  • Do you believe they should continue to breed the whales? My biggest concern was the breeding.

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