"Blackfish" a documentary by filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite tells the story of Tilikum a 12,000-pound orca living in captivity at SeaWorld, Orlando. In February 2010 a senior killer whale trainer named Dawn Brancheau was killed when Tilikum grabbed her and dragged her into his tank.

The words heartbreaking, riveting, breathtaking and inspirational do not begin to describe the emotional roller coaster that is "Blackfish." Dawn Brancheau's death was tragic in a number of ways not only because she lost her life but also because her death could have been avoided had trainers known Tilikum's history.

The film is told from the perspective of anti-captivity activists. Most of the people interviewed in "Blackfish" are former SeaWorld trainers and marine scientists. To the credit of the filmmakers they did try repeatedly to get SeaWorld to go on the record for "Blackfish" but the company refused.

"Blackfish" is shot in typical documentary style, with experts and activists explaining their views, experiences and issues with the captive orca industry. The film also uses animations to recreate courtroom scenes during the post death OSHA hearings over safety at SeaWorld.

At 12,000-pounds Tilikum is the largest killer whale in captivity. He was captured at age two by whalers off the coast of Iceland. Tilikum was then taken to a marine park in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. There, Tilikum was placed in a small pen to learn tricks and please the crowd.

His pen mates were two older larger females that often bullied and beat up on Tilikum. A former trainer from Sealand of the Pacific featured in "Blackfish" said Tilikum and the two females were stored in modules at night that were only about 20 feet long by 30 feet deep. In the mornings Tilikum would almost always have fresh cuts and rake marks from the females attacking him at night.

Killer whales make rake marks; using their teeth the female whales would assert their dominance over Tilikum by racking their teeth across his back. In the wild orca pods or families are matriarchal societies. The film says male killer whales are often regulated to the outside of the pod, but never leave their mother.

In captivity male orcas have no place to run when females are dominating them. They are cramped into a small space and forced to interact. "Blackfish" mentions that SeaWorld will often tell visitors their orcas live in happy families in their tanks.

Footage and expert interviews in "Blackfish" express the opposite. With no clear matriarch females will fight for dominance and rake and attack each other. In one example "Blackfish" showed footage of a SeaWorld killer whale slowly bleeding to death as a result of a failed attempt to dominate another Orca.

The female rammed the male dislocating her jaw, causing a hemorrhage. In the video footage the female whale swims in a pool of blood as she blows a stream of blood out of blowhole.

While living at Sealand of the Pacific Tilikum and the other orcas were taught behaviors using a punishment system. If Tilikum the young inexperienced whale, fresh from the ocean got a behavior wrong all of the whales were punished by not being feed.

This practice increased the tension between the whales since the other females figured out Tilikum was the reason they were not being fed. Thus their bullying of him continued. Tilikum and his pen mates' frustration with their human caretakers reached a critical mass and resulted in Tilikum's first fatality.

On February 21, 1990 part-time Sealand worker 20-year-old Keltie Byrne slipped, losing her balance and her foot ended up in the whale tank. One of the whales, some say it was Tilikum who instigated, others say he joined in later grabbed Byrne's foot yanking her into the water.

A terrified Byrne screamed for help as the whales repeatedly pulled her under the water and blocked her attempts at escape or rescue. Byrne eventually drowned. Following this event Sealand of the Pacific closed and Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld Orlando.

Trainers at SeaWorld, according to "Blackfish" were told the incident in Canada involving Tilikum was not his fault and it was the other whales that killed Byrne. The officials at SeaWorld told trainers they had nothing to worry about, but formers trainers featured in the film said their actions contradicted their words.

Trainers were told never to go in the water with Tilikum. One trainer was yelled at for walking near Tilikum with her wet suit unzipped. It seemed officials were afraid the bull orca would lunge at her and take her into the water.

The "Blackfish" documentary chronicles the life of Tilikum and even shows footage of his capture from Iceland. The capture scenes show just how intelligent these animals are. You can't help but hold your breath as a young orca is pulled from his mother and loaded onto a boat.

The whales devised a plan so that the adults would lead the whaling ships away while the females and the babies took off in another direction.

Unfortunately for the whales this plan did not work. The capture crews had aircrafts that would spot for the babies. As the orcas were corralled the whalers would grab the little ones, loosening the nets so the adults could leave. What surprised the whalers was the adults refusing to leave the babies, even after they were loaded onto the boats.

In 1995, Tilikum had been at SeaWorld, Orlando for four years. One-morning trainers arrived to find a naked man draped across the animal's back. The man died of hypothermia but the medical examiners report, which was featured in "Blackfish" noted bumps and contusions as well as other evidence suggesting at least one of the whales tossed him around pretty good.

Daniel P. Dukes was the second victim on Tilikum's fatality list. He was a homeless man who managed to stay in the park after closing and jumped into the tank with Tilikum.

Fifteen years later in February 2010 almost 20-years to the day since the death of Keltie Byrne, Tilikum claimed a third life in what can only be described as a devastating attack on trainer Dawn Brancheau.

Tilikum and Dawn were entertaining the diners at a Dine with Shamu show. To the naked eye the show seemed flawless whale and trainer were in sync, or so it seemed. The former trainers in "Blackfish" said a few things had gone wrong and Tilikum missed a cue.

At the end of the show Dawn laid down on a platform for a close, bonding interaction to please the awe inspired crowd. At that moment an audience member decided he captured enough on his camera and did not film what happened next.

Tilikum takes Dawn into his pool and in a brutal, almost raged filled attack, mutilated Dawn Brancheau. The horrific details of the killing were kept out of the media.

"Blackfish" got hold of a police interview with a trainer who witnessed Dawn's death. Tilikum repeatedly rammed Dawn, even scalping her at one point. What the trainer says next will stay with you for the entire film, even after. Dawn Brancheau lost an arm in the attack. When police asked how the trainers retrieved the severed arm from Tilikum, the trainer responded with "We didn't, he swallowed it."

"Blackfish" is a must see film for animal lovers. It is emotional and intense and will have you asking questions about what we consider humane treatment of animals. Following the death of Dawn Brancheau, OSHA took SeaWorld to court and a judge ruled human interactions with orca whales during shows was prohibited. SeaWorld is in the process of appealing this decision.

The director of the film, Gabriela Cowperthwaite has said in multiple interviews she does not want to see SeaWorld close its doors but would rather seem them shift focus from entertainment to education and conservation. SeaWorld responded to "Blackfish" film critics with a statement saying,

The accusation that SeaWorld trainers were not adequately informed about Tilikum. From the time Tilikum first arrived at SeaWorld, all trainers were warned-both as part of their training and in writing-that they were not allowed in the water with him. In fact, as was widely reported and covered at length in the OSHA proceedings, Tilikum has always had his own set of training protocols and only the most experienced trainers have been allowed to work with him.

The accusation that SeaWorld tried to "spin" the story of Dawn Brancheau's death, changing its story several times and blaming her for the tragedy. As the movie itself shows, it was local law enforcement-not SeaWorld-that issued the initial report that Dawn had accidentally fallen into the water. SeaWorld's account of what happened-that Tilikum had grabbed Dawn's ponytail and pulled her in-never varied. And the company has never blamed Dawn for what happened.

The assertion that Tilikum attacked and killed Dawn Brancheau because he was driven crazy by his years in captivity. Tilikum did not attack Dawn. All evidence indicates that Tilikum became interested in the novelty of Dawn's ponytail in his environment and, as a result, he grabbed it and pulled her into the water.

As you can see SeaWorld has claimed that Tilikum killed Dawn by grabbing her ponytail, but the evidence seen in "Blackfish" including the footage taken moments before the attack and other attacks by different whales on SeaWorld trainers suggest the exact opposite.

The theories proposed in the wake of Brancheau's death suggest Tilikum and the whales at SeaWorld have developed a psychosis from prolonged captivity.

Dawn Brancheau, Daniel P. Dukes and Keltie Byrne were all killed by Tilikum. Across the world on Spain's Canary Islands at an aquarium called Loro Parque a killer whale on loan from SeaWorld attacked and killed trainer Alexis Martinez. On December 24, 2009 exactly two months before the death of Dawn Brancheau Martinez was killed by Keto a 15-year-old orca.

The official story from SeaWorld was that a routine exercise resulted in a tragic accident and was not caused by aggression on the part of Keto. An official investigation and details about the extent of Martinez's injuries from his family suggest that his death was a result of aggression and not an accident.

"Blackfish" should be seen by anyone who is thinking about taking their family to SeaWorld. One of the former trainers featured in the film said he would not allow his three-year-old daughter to grow up thinking orca captivity is a normal thing.

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