Is the Blackfish Trailer “Stupid”?


It should come as no surprise that captivity supporters are drawn to negative opinions about “Blackfish.” One piece which has been circulating for weeks now is “The Stupidity of the Blackfish Trailer.” This post was written by blogger, Melissa Smith, who readily admits that she has not seen the film, but is simply reviewing the trailer for “Blackfish” (which now has over 1,000,000 views!) Her post sums up the opinions that many captivity supporters hold about the “Blackfish” trailer.


At first, Melissa claims that the focus of “Blackfish” is the critique of killer whale captivity and zoological facilities.  A few sentences later she changes her tune, claiming that the emphasis of this film and other anti-captivity fare is actually on “the danger of the animals, moreso than animal welfare.”

The most popular anti-captivity films such as: “Frontline: A Whale of a Business,” “Lolita: Slave to Entertainment“, or “A Fall from Freedom“, all put much more emphasis on animal welfare than on the danger of the animals. Newer anti-captivity media such as David Kirby’s “Death at SeaWorld” and “Blackfish”, discuss Dawn’s Brancheau’s death and use the topic of animal aggression as a springboard to other questions and critiques about animal welfare.  “Blackfish” in particular, is the true story of Tilikum. Elements of this story branch off into questions of both animal welfare and the danger the animals pose to trainers in captivity.

Melissa then adds that anti-captivity activists have employed tactics of horror and fear in order to sway the unaware public. The truth is: using horror and fear is completely unnecessary. A simple mention of tooth drilling or mother/calf separation is enough to make people cringe. That is their natural reaction – no sensationalism required.

The author moves on to criticize the “stupid parts” of the “Blackfish” trailer. She expresses her distaste for horror movies and points out the trailer’s “horror movie editing” and dramatic music. This editing style is not unique to the “Blackfish” trailer. If you look at trailer’s for today’s most popular documentaries such as “Food Inc. “, “Supersize Me“, or “Inside Job“, you’ll see that they also feature “horror movie editing” and dramatic music. Whether or not one likes or dislikes a particular editing style is entirely subjective. It does not mean the film is inaccurate or objectively “stupid.”

I do have to applaud Melissa for remaining open-minded in regards to whether or not captive whales (Tilikum in particular) are affected by psychosis, and for pointing out that the incorporation of humans into the killer whale’s social structure is unnatural. She does say, however, that it makes sense that attacks would be less in the wild than in captivity because there is more human/whale contact in captivity than in the wild.

There have been hundreds of reported attacks and aggressive incidents by captive killer whales on their human trainers in the past 50 years, which averages out to at least two attacks each year, (though the numbers are probably far greater.) It is true that most interactions with wild killer whales happen from the safety of a vessel, but not all of them do. With tourists flocking to Norway to snorkel with wild killer whales, countless people surfing and swimming in waters frequented by killer whales, and Dr. Ingrid Visser regularly swimming with the New Zealand pod for the past several years…you would think that there would exist at least a few incidents with wild killer whales. But there have been none.

Melissa then goes on to address Dr. Lori Marino with a slew of illogical, ad hominem arguments. She condemns Dr. Marino as an animal rights activist who campaigns for “human rights for cetaceans.” In fact, Dr. Marino does not want to give cetaceans human rights. She does campaign for the Non-Human Rights Project, which works to bring non-human animals simple rights such as bodily integrity and legal recognition as individuals, rather than mere things or possessions. It DOES NOT seek to give non-human animals human rights, it seeks to give non-human animals rights in general. Furthermore, Dr. Marino’s philosophical worldview and dietary preferences hold no bearing on whether or not her claims regarding comparative psychology are scientifically sound.

The author continues, now implying that the psychosis of captive killer whales could not be that severe. After all, most of the animals never attack, and those that do only attack once every couple of years. A quick look at SeaWorld’s incident reports reveals a different story: Of the 20 documents provided, 16 have had reported aggressive incidents or attacks. Those that have not attacked trainers (such as Sakari, Nalani, and Trua), are still young and have shown displacement toward the other whales.

Melissa wraps up her review with a little enthusiasm and states that she looks forward to seeing the movie. At the beginning of her review, though she stated that viewing the movie would be an “unfortunate task.” It seems the author’s attitude toward viewing the film herself is a little contradictory.

“Blackfish” has received hundreds of rave reviews from film critics worldwide. Negative reviews of the film (or the trailer) are few and far between, but they are sought after by captivity supporters who, at this point, are a bit desperate to find objective folks who agree with them.

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7 thoughts on “Is the Blackfish Trailer “Stupid”?

  1. I only had two major problems with “Blackfish”–and both of them involved unnecessary falsehoods within the film.

    One was in the assertion that violence doesn’t happen between whales in the wild, and that it’s a reaction to being in captivity–the reality is, raking is NOT a strictly captive action, and nobody has done ANY studies to examine the physical damage of wild orcas’ bodies enough to make that assumption. I’ve seen numerous wild orca videos where their skin has bite marks, scrapes and scars (even missing parts of pectorals and dorsal fins). How many of these injuries may have come from sharks and other predators, and how many of them came from angry behaviors against one another, is up for contention. So that was one thing about the film that made me go, “What, seriously?” It’s an unfounded assumption that wild orcas never harm one another and live together in absolute peace and harmony.

    The other problem that I had was the substitution of video footage that was Trua for Tillikum. There with NO acknowledgment (either through narration or by graphics) that you were seeing two different whales. The footage of Trua as a calf sticking his tongue out and playing with one of the trainers is not acknowledged during that segment of “Blackfish” to be another whale; Tillikum is shown moments before, and the dialogue overlaps Trua’s footage. Of all the existing footage of Tillikum there is, there was absolutely no need to substitute his grandson’s image and not clarify the difference in doing so.

    Both elements gave me pause… as in, what else might not be as it seems in this “documentary”? The goal was to raise awareness and point out how orcas should not be captive, but it should not be done at the expense of at least TRYING to present things in as truthful a manner as possible.

    • The claim in the documentary was that orca’s have never harmed humans in the wild, which is true. The second problem you have I did not even know and that is a bit manipulative, but just because it has a flaw or two, does not undue the very important message of the film as a whole.

  2. “At first, Melissa claims that the focus of “Blackfish” is the critique of killer whale captivity and zoological facilities. A few sentences later she changes her tune, claiming that the emphasis of this film and other anti-captivity fare is actually on ”the danger of the animals, moreso than animal welfare.””

    Let me explain what I mean by this–I have noticed a recent trend of ‘anti-captivity’ activists resorting to trying to scare the public to ban many forms of animal captivity (not just killer whales) instead of sticking to claims about poor animal welfare (such as in a Fall from Freedom, which is a decent movie). When I first saw the trailer and was motivated to write that article, it was due to a lot of irritation as I find it disingenuous for people to pretend to care about the public safety aspect of this debate.

    In my experience, many people of this mindset often cheer on the deaths of people associated with captive animals…sometimes even when it happens in the wild! (they excitedly insist the animal is out for ‘revenge’, and that is the theme I think that is being pushed by the Blackfish trailer) I just find it dishonest, and I often wonder if Seaworld is committing any offenses that are unique to tiger tamers, elephant handlers, ect. The killer whales attract heaps of publicity. I think I would like to see more comparisons on your attack findings toward other professions, both animal-related and not.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe there is only one ‘attack’ recorded by pilot whales against a human. Had that never happened, pilot whales would also be viewed as harmless in the wild. I just believe that swimming with wild orcas would insure that the animals would be allowing it in the first place, as they are somewhat elusive and can easily move away from human presence. Our first documented orca attack can happen tomorrow…or never. I think it’s chance and bad luck really. I think anyone swimming with them is putting themselves at risk…a small one..but it’s silly to say they will never attack. You can bet that many ignorant people would yell ‘revenge’ for ‘destroying the Earth’ if Visser was the first recipient. No matter how rare an attack by a certain animal is, the news is so exciting that it makes people say and do irrational things (for instance, the outrage against all snake owners over the one death per year ratio).

    As for Marino, yes, your write up on that is basically what I meant, ‘human rights’ which apply to the animals (obviously they cannot vote). I just tried to simplify that for readers who haven’t investigated it. I feel, given Marino’s philosophical views, that she is heavily prone to bias. Sure, this may be the case for everyone, but what I find very dishonest is her being utilized as a ‘neutral scientist’. As an exotic pet advocate, I’m sure you would find it annoying if I were a scientist that just ‘happened’ to have research that heavily focused on supporting exotic pet owners in every scenario, yet my background and agenda were omitted from documentaries that featured me…yes?

    Not expecting anyone to have seen that quickly written article, I could have gone into a little more depth with it, but I plan to extrapolate more after seeing Blackfish, although I doubt it will receive the same attention.

    • You and I must have had some vastly different experiences then. I have never heard anyone cheer on the deaths of people attacked by wild animals. I think the main argument of Blackfish is not that Tilikum is out for “revenge”, but that he has been abused and psychologically traumatized. It has actually been proven in elephants and in humans that severing the vital maternal bond can disrupt development and lead toward hyper aggression and a predisposition toward violent behavior in the future. It’s plausible that Tilikum has suffered from something like this, as well as other killer whales who have been separated from their mothers and families at young ages. This may explain why killer whales seem to be far more aggressive in captivity.

      • it would be wrong of me to say that it isn’t feasible.

        I find it so strange that only I seem to be seeing people have ‘anti-human’ sentiment with these subjects in comment sections for various things. Things to the tune of ‘that’s what they get for messing with nature!’, ect.

  3. I read her “review” and pretty much scoffed my way through it. In my opinion, her reviewing the trailer alone is enough to show how desperate she is to get her opinion across.
    Frankly I don’t see how anyone could make a valid argument condoning the captivity of these animals.

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