Blackfish! Tonight, 10/24/13!

Click picture to go to the Blackfish movie site
Click picture to go to the Blackfish movie site

Tonight, October 24th, 2013, on CNN at 6 P.M. Pacific is a documentary on captive orca whales that you won’t want to miss. Howard Garrett of the Orca Network, is also going to be interviewed on CNN today.

As a Christian I believe that God tasked us with caring for His creatures and have strong feelings about intelligent animals with their own language and culture, orcas, being captured and used for entertainment. They are wild animals who need space and freedom. I believe that we should even treat the animals we eat with respect and kindness, as living beings who feel pain and have feelings, rather than as inanimate objects.

Many of you have read my rants about Lolita (Tokitae), who’s been trapped at the Miami Seaquarium in a substandard tank for decades. There is a plan to bring her back to Washington State to live in a sea pen near her home pod. She was originally captured near Whidbey Island in a travesty that tore apart orca families and left some of these amazing creatures dead. Evidently this will be discussed on CNN today too (update: her case was not).

Below is a summary of Blackfish straight from the Orca Network website. Feel free to click on the Lolita icon on the right sidebar or search my blog for more information on this topic.

While it’s usually not prudent to return captive animals to the wild, and I might not agree with everything in Blackfish, I am ecstatic that millions of more people might be educated about the plight of orcas because of this programming. It is an issue near and dear to many of us Washingtonians, especially those who live near the Salish Sea and Puget Sound.

This award-winning documentary has been shown at film festivals and in theaters across the country and beyond, and features interviews with Orca Network’s Howard Garrett, talking about the traumatic 1970s orca captures and the orcas’ astounding natural history, languages and family bonds. 

Since mid-July the SeaWorld stock price has dropped about 25%, reflecting dropping attendance. This film is exposing the severe stresses captive orcas endure, resulting in public awareness that is devastating the $2 Billion industry. 

The film also significantly advances the prospects of Lolita – the L pod orca captured in Penn Cove in 1970 – returning to Washington to retire in her home waters…


Update, 10/24/13: I just watched Blackfish and the Anderson Cooper special after the show. The movie could have gone into much more depth about the treatment of captive orcas in general, but I also understand why they focused on Tilikum. That poor whale has been through hell and the “relief” he’s given by his handlers is being isolated in a back tank where he floats listlessly.

Jack Hanna, Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the Animal Welfare Institute’s Dr. Naomi Rose, and another man who’d worked with whales for 25 years but was also a former president of some marine parks association were interviewed in annoyingly brief sound bites on Cooper’s show.

Predictably, the latter discussed how the movie distorted reality and disparaged the work being done by people in his circles. Cowperthwaite related how she didn’t set out to make a movie that concluded captivity was bad for orcas but did. Rose stuck to the point, talking about animal welfare and what’s best for the whales. And then here comes animal biologist Jack Hanna pinch-hitting on behalf of SeaWorld!

I expected a man who appears to make his living educating others about animals to exercise at least some degree of empathy towards captive orcas. I saw none. He didn’t address any of the issues having to do with their treatment head on. He said nothing about the whales being taken into captivity, calves being torn from their mothers and sold to other parks, the whales’ medical and behavioral problems, the profiteers who run shabby marine parks in other countries… Instead, he might as well been a wealthy marine park CEO, indignantly dodging the animal welfare issue and defending the machine.

Hanna’s arguments focused on orca captivity being good for humans and the only way we can really get people to learn about and appreciate them. His blind defense was appalling (but I remind myself that he’s a showman who likes to drag animals onto stages under bright spotlights on talk shows with loud crowds).

I take great offense to Hanna’s comments. I grew up by the Puget Sound. And the first rule of living by the water is that you coexist with and appreciate wildlife. Many people who live in the Pacific Northwest have a deep appreciation for our native animals and enjoy seeing them in their natural environment. Seeing animals functioning in their natural habitat as God intended them to creates the deepest respect of all.

Yes, we also have our drunk crazies with their cigarette boats who treat the water like their personal racetrack and bar all rolled into one. We also have a lot of transplants who think seeing wildlife in their yard is cause to call the cops. But we like to believe that they’re all from California and just need to be educated. Thankfully there are many groups like the Orca Network, the Sarvey Wildlife Center, and PAWS who are devoted to helping humans understand their furry, feathered, and finned neighbors.

Returning to Jack Hanna, who just lost a tremendous amount of credibility with me and certainly others, follow the money. Same with the other male guest. Follow the money. Ask the ancient question I always ask: qui bono? Who benefits? That type profits greatly from captive animals and money is the reason these marine parks won’t let tortured creatures like Tilikum and Lolita/Tokitae go free. They don’t care about what’s best for the animal. If they did there wouldn’t be any Blackfish story to tell.

I was also disgusted to hear the critics of Blackfish attempt to paint people who oppose orca captivity as more black and white than they are. No one is disputing whether the current orca trainers truly care for their charges or saying anyone who runs a marine park is evil. Many of these people are well-intentioned, just like the former trainers who were interviewed in the movie. We’re not a movement that says to throw all captive orcas back into the ocean to let them fend for themselves either. We want what’s best for these magnificent mammals and nobody I know is going to profit from that.

Of course there is value to some captive animal breeding programs and preserving some species in captivity. But the more you delve into the sometimes barbaric practices of these marine parks, how can it be argued that this is best for predators ripped from their families and native habitats, forced to do unnatural tricks in swimming pools for food, and subjected to all sorts of alien stressors? Really? As I’ve said about Lolita/Tokitae, let’s cut all of your social ties, throw you in a small bathroom for 40 years, and throw you food when you dance for it. And you’re smart enough to know it isn’t right.

Hopefully people who watched Blackfish, regardless of their feelings on the show, will want to know more about captive orcas. I’ve only scratched the surface of the documentation and witness accounts out there since I started blogging on this issue but am still horrified by some things I’ve learned. Thankfully more and more credible information is going online and can be found at sites like Orca Network and The Orca Project.

These efforts contradict a lot of the misinformation that marine parks have tossed into the ring about trainer injuries and deaths, basic facts about orcas, and the treatment of orcas in general. In Blackfish, for example, marine park employees were videotaped telling people that orcas live about 25 to 35 years, but longer in captivity. I wanted to jump out of my chair!

Even schoolchildren in Washington State know that orcas can live as long as humans in the wild. Orcas have abnormally short lives in captivity; some have even killed themselves. Lolita/Tokitae’s (the orca at the Miami Seaquarium) mother still lives in our waters and she’s over 90. Female orcas can even live to 100. But the machine– the entities that profit from the capture, confinement, and breeding of orcas– seems happy to tell people that captivity is good for the species!

My advice to anyone who listened to Jack Hanna’s tripe or is questioning where they stand on this issue is– do more research. Read materials put out by both sides of the issue. Ask what either side has to gain from their efforts. Follow the money. Don’t be distracted when people try to stereotype anti-captivity folks  as extremists or radical ecofreaks. Both conservatives (right here!) and liberals exist in the anti-cap camp; this is a common sense issue requiring rational action in the best interest of living creatures.

And hey East Coast and other marine parks– we Washingtonians want our orcas back. There’s a reason we named one of our newest ferries the M/V Tokitae.

In conclusion, one of the most striking statements in Blackfish came at the end when a former trainer was observing orcas in the wild. He said that it was amazing to see a group of orcas with upright dorsal fins swimming in straight lines. I had to think about that for a second; “why wouldn’t they be swimming in straight lines?” Captive orcas can’t— for more than a couple seconds.

Feel free to visit the Orca Network’s Lolita page to learn more about the nightmarish bloodbath that got the captive orca industry started and how you can help bring the longest surviving orca in captivity home to a Washington State sea pen.

From Some Northwest tribes believe their ancestors inhabit orcas’ bodies.


Update 1/14/14: Check out this short video clip from Discovery News discussing how captivity affects orcas’ brains.


The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. –Gandhi


©2013 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

2 thoughts on “Blackfish! Tonight, 10/24/13!

    1. Thanks. It was very well done. While we can’t just release captive orcas back into the wild– they might die because they depend on people– there are viable plans to have them live in sea pens and then transition to the sea later if they have a good chance of survival.

      And the marine parks could be doing a lot more to ensure humane treatment of these animals– can the performances, give them better habitats, and don’t put animals that don’t belong together in the same tank, like male and female orcas. Blackfish had a lot to say about Tilikum being cut up from head to toe by his female cellmates (orcas have matriarchal societies). The fact that these tragedies even happen is proof of their ignorance and greed.


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