As a travel writer, I have to cover SeaWorld from time to time. I wrote this in the New York Post in January 2009, 13 months before Dawn Brancheau was eaten by Tilikum at SeaWorld:
“At SeaWorld, daily shows by Shamu the killer whale titillate you with the dangerous possibility that the star will suddenly remember its place on the food chain and gulp down a trainer.”
And I just posted this on Twitter:
This about sums up what is left unsaid—loudly unsaid—in Blackfish.
Let’s not be disingenuous about this. Orcas are wild, seagoing carnivores. They do not belong in tanks. People go to watch a creature the size of a school bus submit to a puny human. Yet the movie includes clips of trainers registering shock that their bosses never warned them that, gee, killer whales were so dangerous.
There’s a lot of armchair psychology going on, a whole lot of anthropomorphization, and some justified excoriation of amusement practices (albeit for its first hour, ones that haven’t been employed in decades by the respected parks).
It is human nature to gawp at power and, perhaps in further worship of power, to make animals dance. It is also human nature to be cruel.
And it’s the nature of animals to act like animals.
It’s not SeaWorld. It’s us.
I like this tweet, too, although it wasn’t mine:
Blackfish leaves out the fact that we go to SeaWorld, to circuses, and to many zoos because the animals are dangerous, and it teases our latent anxieties to wonder if our power over them is about to crumble.
Not to justify or excuse any of it—but Blackfish lets all tourists off the hook.
(Also, shouldn’t it be called Blackmammal?)