"Blackfish," the 2013 documentary about the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity, premiered on CNN Thursday night. SeaWorld responded, calling the program "dishonest."
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who for years took her children to San Diego's Sea World, the film focuses on the killer whale Tilikum, a bull orca captured off Ice Land's coast in the early 1980s that now lives in captivity at Florida's SeaWorld Orlando.
Between 1991 and 1999, Tilikum was involved in the deaths of three individuals, two of whom were trainers. Despite this, Tilikum reportedly remains an attraction at SeaWorld Orlando.
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In an interview with CNN, Cowperthwaite discussed her "Blackfish" documentary
which she says arose in response to the 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old veteran trainer who was drowned by Tilikum in front of some dozen or so patrons immediately following SeaWorld's "Dine with Shamu" show.
"My hope is that we take the "Blackfish" momentum and use it to help evolve us out of animals for entertainment," Cowperthwaite told CNN. "These silly marine park tricks are of no social, educational or conservational value. We advocate, instead, for captive killer whales to be retired into sea sanctuaries where they can live out the rest of their lives in a dignified, sustainable manner."
Cowperthwaite added that returning the orca's to the wild is not possible due to the fact that they, "don't know how to hunt, their teeth are broken from years of stress and biting on metal gates, and they're hopped up on antibiotics and might die in the open ocean."
SeaWorld responded to the 'Blackfish' documentary, which prior to the CNN premiere Thursday had first been seen at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival in January.
In a prepared statement sent to various news outlets, SeaWorld's Vice President of Communications, Fred Jacobs called the 'Blackfish' documentary "shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate."
Jacobs' critique of the 'Blackfish' documentary, which was published on OrlandoWeekly.com
, proceeds to liste what claims are the film's "most egregious and untrue allegations," which include: "SeaWorld stocks its parks with killer whales captured from the wild," "Tilikum [is] routinely bullied by other whales," and "SeaWorld callously breaks up killer whale families," all of which he claims are untrue.
"SeaWorld is proud of its legacy of supporting marine science and environmental awareness in general and the cause of killer whales in particular," Jacobs writes. "We don’t expect this to settle the debate, but rather we hope it will begin one."
Despite Jacobs' issue with the "Blackfish" documentary, critics have thus far largely celebrated the work.
The New York Times described "Blackfish" as a "delicately lacerating documentary,"
while the Hollywood Reporter described the documentary as "trenchant, often harrowing stuff"
and "a damning indictment of the SeaWorld theme park franchise."
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