Blackfish: Myths and Reality

The new trailer for Blackfish has been released!

Just like last summer’s publication of Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish has been met with many questions, speculations, and criticisms by captivity supporters, including a petition to boycott the film. Tim Zimmermann has already written an excellent article addressing one individual’s criticism of Blackfish (you can read the article here). But I would like to highlight and address more of the myths about this film that are making their rounds with the trailer’s release.

Please keep in mind that I have not seen the film itself. My information comes from interviews with the director and cast, and reviews from those who have seen the film.

Myth #1: Footage of Dawn’s death is shown in Blackfish

private footage dawn

     The creator(s) of the film do want to respect Dawn’s family by keeping the death footage private. The tape is not used in the film.

“The footage of Dawn’s death is currently in litigation and the family is trying to keep that from the public, which I support. I don’t see any reason why anyone should ever have to see that footage. Even if it were available to me, it would never have been in my film…” – Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of Blackfish.

Myth #2: Blackfish disrespects and exploits Dawn’s life and memory

new becca

     According to those who have seen the film, Blackfish defends Dawn as a wonderful person and experience professional. There is no evidence to suggest that the film disrespects Dawn in any way. Furthermore, the documentary was not made in an attempt to make money off of Dawn’s death, as documentaries are created to spread awareness and information and generally do not generate much (if any) profit.

Myth #3: Blackfish portrays killer whales as monsters

jenna new

     This film does show attack footage and it examines the death of Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum. The footage is not included to portray killer whales in a harsh manner. In fact, it leaves an impression that paints killer whales as exactly the opposite: helpless victims of human greed. Not only that, but Blackfish features awe-inspiring facts on these animals as intelligent, complex, and magnificent creatures…not monsters.

Myth #4: The name “Blackfish” falsely refers to killer whales as fish

not fish

      No, the title “blackfish” is not racist, it’s not promoting the idea that black = evil, nor is it a clever way to depict killer whales as actual “black fish.” The name “blackfish” was given to killer whales by Native American fishermen at a time when whales were considered fish, and was probably derived from the fact that killer whales are predominantly black in color. The term is still used today, even by scientists, to refer to large dolphins.

Myth #5: The footage used in Blackfish was probably stolen


     Director Gabriela Coperthwaite is an experienced professional in film making. She does not steal footage, but has legally obtained it through fair use, the freedom for information act, and gaining permission from owners. She has explained this further in interviews:

“A lot of the footage is fair use. Anyone who knows documentary film making, knows this is something we sort of invoke; and that is the footage that we use has got to be in context, part of the story and educational to some extent…It took two years to make the movie and a good part of that two years was just waiting for footage to come…Usually it’s not so much getting the footage that takes so long, it’s waiting to figure out who owns it and who to clear it through.”

Myth #6: Blackfish isn’t going to affect SeaWorld

movie wont' do anything

     Some captivity supporters deny that Blackfish will affect SeaWorld, but others who have seen the movie claim that SeaWorld will be doomed after its release. Either way, SeaWorld isn’t taking any chances. When they filed for their Initial Public Offering earlier this year, both Blackfish and Death at SeaWorld were listed as risk-factors that could negatively affect business. Bad publicity and a shifting of public perspective on captivity can lead to fewer people patronizing marine parks and lost patrons means lost money, something that businesses cannot survive without.  Bad publicity and animal activism is, in part, what caused the collapse of the captivity industry in the UK. The notion that Blackfish will affect SeaWorld in a potentially devastating manner is very plausible and should not be denied or ignored.


     Though some captivity supporters refuse to watch the film, many are willing and even excited to see it in theaters on July 19th. One former captivity supporter, Lindsey Kopic watched Blackfish and gives a great review of the film here

If you come from a small town like I do, make sure to contact your local movie theater to request a showing of Blackfish, or search for a showing near you.


5 thoughts on “Blackfish: Myths and Reality

  1. It could have been called “Lords of the Ocean” but instead they chose “Blackfish.” They specifically chose “Blackfish” as the name to say they are out of control and wild.

      • I’m pretty sure they read your article. Their point is that the name has certain qualities, tone and character, that would serve that end (sensationally portraying orcas) well. The name is striking and unique. It is foreboding. The origin is obscure and another name would have come across as less disconcerting. I was perturbed by the fish part until I looked it up. If nothing else, those that hear of the the film already thinking orcas are fish will have that belief reinforced by the name. I can’t say with confidence that misinforming effect would be very significant, but I bet it does occur.

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