Get our issue, highlights, free stuff and more.  

It’s on! Makers of ‘Blackfish’ challenge SeaWorld to a public debate

January 23, 2014


It was SeaWorld that threw the first punch in the battle to put the spin on Blackfish, the documentary that uses the story of Tilikum, the whale who killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 during a show at SeaWorld Orlando, as a platform to discuss the ethics of keeping orcas in captivity. Before it was even released, SeaWorld discredited the movie as animal-rights propaganda, calling it “shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading and scientifically inaccurate.” But the filmmakers quickly shot back – in interviews and in the movie, former trainers who once worked with SeaWorld spoke out, calling the marine parks to task for seeming to put profits first and foremost, and in late 2013, CNN aired the movie, making it accessible to a massive TV audience, spurring a debate about the parks that has been raging ever since.

SeaWorld has recently gone on the PR offense, waging a very public campaign to discredit not just the movie, but also those interviewed in it. The parks have taken out full-page ads in national publicans and (most recently) launched a “The Truth About Blackfish” page on the SeaWorld website that tries to take the movie down, point by point. It calls Blackfish “false and emotionally manipulative,” and it discredits some of the film’s interviewees “animal rights activists masquerading as scientists.” The page also contains videos of former and current SeaWorld trainers telling viewers that the movie’s premises are untrue and defending SeaWorld’s animal husbandry.

A screenshot from The Truth About Blackfish webpage.

A screenshot from The Truth About Blackfish webpage.

But the makers of Blackfish aren’t taking the criticism quietly, and this week they teamed up with the makers of The Cove, a documentary released in 2009 that decries the brutal practice of dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan, to challenge SeaWorld to a public debate. Among other things, the filmmakers of both movies question why SeaWorld spends so much time and money challenging Blackfish, rather than engaging with the public over the plight of wild marine mammals in places like Taiji:

It is ironic that SeaWorld launched its latest assault on Blackfish, a film that has brought the question of marine mammal welfare to the center of public debate, at a time when approximately 250 bottlenose dolphins were trapped, killed or sold to aquariums in Taiji, Japan, the town featured in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. While the global community is outraged and condemns this horrific dolphin hunt, SeaWorld has watched from the sidelines. Had SeaWorld added its powerful voice to the efforts to stop this drive hunt of dolphins for use by the captive industry—perhaps many dolphins would have been spared.

The gloves are off:

We challenge SeaWorld to debate these issues with our teams in a public forum, which we will be happy to arrange. Throughout the production and theatrical release of Blackfish, SeaWorld has refused to directly engage with the film or its points in any public way, despite repeated invitations. Instead of releasing more PR spin, written statements and online critiques (which often allow no comments), we encourage SeaWorld’s leaders to step forward and address these issues openly and honestly in public debate. Let the public hear both sides of the argument (as we have always desired) and draw their own conclusions.

We look forward to it.

22 January 2014
The Filmmakers, Blackfish
Oceanic Preservation Society, makers of The Cove

Blackfish, by the way, did not receive an Oscar nomination, something director Gabriela Cowperthwaite says she was initially disappointed about; now, she says, she’s refocusing her efforts on challenging SeaWorld’s allegations about her movie.


Tags: , , , ,

  • Cherrie French

    SeaWorld you make me sick. Watched the clip and I don’t care who jumped on the killer whales back – the fact is it shouldn’t happen – they are not there for our entertainment and the fact the you have one of your so called expert trainers stating how wonderful it was again shows that you still have no care for the welfare of killer whales – Nothing you say SeaWorld will change the fact that containment of killer whales is morally reprehensible on every level – We don’t want to see killer whales in tanks we want to see them in their natural environment and YOU took this from them – it’s now time to stop this barbaric treatment.

  • Penny Darlene Prosick

    it wont let me see the clip? why not?

  • ashley

    Just please make sure that it is recorded so the public can see it with their own two eyes.

  • ashley

    If you go on youtube and watch the whole Believe show there is a part in the movie where there are 8 or more trainers riding the whale at once and they say the whales love it. Um no they don’t hell if that was me I would be made and act out too. There is also a part in the show where they are pushing a whale in the water and they call that play too. I am not a whale but if that happened to me I would be unhappy too

  • cjb

    SeaWorld will never accept this challenge,especially if those throwing it down offer to arrange it. It doesn’t sound neutral. A third party should make all the arrangements. SeaWorld has proven time and again that they’d rather whitewash the whole deal than directly address it.

  • april

    It is a screenshot, there is a link that will lead you to SeaWorld’s website page “The truth about Black”. The video is there available to watch.

  • Charlotte Mouser

    can this event please be recorded?? I would like to see this debate in action!

  • Phillip Bell

    What is there to debate? There is some emotional overstretch in the film (for instance, trainers are anthropomorphising the whales and assigning them very human emotions), but most of it is presented as factual with eyewitness accounts to back it up. Will Sea World simply deny the videos and eyewitness testimony? Sea World has no factual information that can be third-party verified that disputes any of what is in the Blackfish movie. If they did, they would have already presented it. Sea World only wants to discredit the movie so they can do business as usual and rake in profit by harming and exploiting the very animals they claim to admire.

  • Jaye Webb

    How ironic that on SeaWorld’s page there is no option for comments !! Scared that the public won’t support you. So you should be !

  • Linda Otto

    What is really the most important point for me is why, indeed, has an institution like SeaWorld, who claims to be pro conservation etc, NOT standing up and speaking out again Taiji…that in itself is extremely disturbing.

  • Gabi

    So far Sea World’s response has been along the lines of “Sshhhh it’s not true they’re lying. Believe us because just believe us.”

  • Teresa Carroll

    If there’s enough public outcry to stop these ridiculous carnival acts they will soon be seen as the horse diving off the bridge in Coney Island in the early 1900s.

  • Patrick Schäfer

    Seaworld, fuckyou! You suport dolphin killing you sick bastards, i hope this bitch on the picture get raped.

  • Patrick Schäfer

    JAPAN is tethering in fear with the 4th generator in FUKUSHIMA nuclear plant in danger of blowing up….and yet these people are hopelessly abominable in their slaughter of dolphins. It is NOT A TRADITION. It is a profitable practice of CAPTIVE SELECTION. herding dolphins to zoos and pleasure animal parks all over the globe fetches roughly $150,000 per dolphin in 2009…the rest is for slaughter and food. And yet dolphins have a high mercury content as compared to other ceataceans. Perhaps that will be the revenge of the dolphins. Mercury contamination
    This must end. It’s time for change. Japan’s lack of response and care regarding this matter is appalling. We used to let children work in mines too. This is not a matter of tradition or simple little fishing village. This has everything to do with greed and this being a big business for Taiji. End the dolphin capture and slaughter your cockroaches, the world is watching.
    Shame on you Japan for allowing this! Mother nature will destroy you since you will not learn to respect it. Tsunami, earthquake and your own stupid radioactive waste will kill you in the end! Don’t you get it????
    I know that many japanese people dont agree with what is hapening in taiji, all my anger is for those who direct act or in any way support the barbaric acts. I have japanese friends and i love them! For me someone that do what they are doing in taiji in fact are not a cockroache, they are worst. I think i would have an orgasm if i could put a knife in the troath of each fishermen, sorry if you dont agree but dolphins are being murdered every day by those primitive barbaric. Actually they are not fishermen, dolphins are not fish, they are inteligent and defensless mamals! So those piece of shit are not fishermen they are murderers. I really wish from the bottom of my heart they all die in a very slow agony and a lot of pain. And i dont care if they have families, the dolphins have families and the killers laugh while butcher them.

    “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”

  • NikkiB

    Where do you think their dolphins come from?

  • schusterjoey

    wrong… try again. There are zero dolphins in the US from Japan

  • NikkiB

    Seaworld don’t ONLY operate in US

  • schusterjoey

    maybe you have some different information then I am aware of but SeaWorld only has parks in the US. There is a “Sea World” (not SeaWorld) in Australia however this is a separate company then SeaWorld Entertainment.

    These documentaries are created to make an emotional response instead of an educated one. Get educated. Since 1993 there have been no permits issued to facilities in the United States to import dolphins acquired through drive hunt methods… also to Linda… they have stood up against it. Here is an exact quote from SeaWorld: “SeaWorld opposes the dolphin hunts documented in The Cove. We do not purchase any animals from these hunts. More than 80 percent of the marine mammals in our care were born in our parks. We haven’t collected a dolphin from the wild in decades.”

  • schusterjoey

    so let me get this straight… everything Blackfish says is “factual” and SeaWorld has no factual information, yet they want to “discredit” the movie? What are they discrediting it with? answer: factual information with eye witness testimony. Many trainers have come out since the movie to say their experience was much different then presented in the movie… they also did a lot of work to connect SeaWorld to these animals that were commissioned for capture by other companies, who then went out of business and SeaWorld acquired. I am not saying SeaWorld is perfect, but that movie is very one sided and at some points flat out false. They also used a lot of skewed facts like life span… using the longest possible number… not the normal average.

  • NikkiB

    Seaworld may not own parks outright in other places but they certainly own the animals in other parks. Loro Parque is a classic example. And of course Seaworld will say they have nothing to do with it, but even if they don’t now they used to. And blindly copying information from Seaworlds website is no more educated than anyone else, so drop the attitude!

  • schusterjoey

    Yikes feisty… I love a good debate… there were 4 animals in Loro Parque owned by SeaWorld… no secret. Also none of those 4 animals were from the wild… all breed in captivity… SeaWorld does work with many zoos and foundations across the world dedicated to animals… again no secret. In Loro Parque they sent trainers to help with initial training. Are they responsible for another company? No (not in my opinion) As a company, all their business is in the US.

    Your original point is that SeaWorld is somehow benefiting from these dolphin hunts and therefore encouraging them. So far I have heard nothing that backs that up.

    I have researched much more then one place and I have seen The Cove and Blackfish. I grew up in Orlando and grew up going to SeaWorld. When these came out it made me interested in researching about this… so far I have not seen anything that would deem SeaWorld this evil company that these documentaries would have us believe. So far I believe that SeaWorld is the reason people are interested in oceanography and marine biology at the extent it is today. It is zoos and aquariums that spark the interest at a young age and feed research dollars into protecting our oceans and these amazing creatures.

    My point in copying and pasting verbiage from the SeaWorld website is that Linda seems to think that SeaWorld is “NOT standing up and speaking out again Taiji” (her exact words) when in fact they have spoken out against it. Just because she hasn’t heard it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

  • justme

    The manner in which the animals are captured is completely INHUMANE & BARBARIC! These people only care about the almighty $$. My only hope is that money tastes good when there is nothing left in our oceans for them to capture & kill. Our oceans cannot sustain this insanity. Dolphins & whales are very intelligent & social creatures. They are ripped from their protective pods & placed in “fish bowls” , living alone, hungry & having to earn dead frozen fish by performing tricks for human entertainment. They deserve better from the world & it is up to us who KNOW the story to tell to the others who are denying it, ignoring it, or simply don’t know. Stop the insanity now!

  • Calli

    Sea World’s Blackstone Group (the actual owner of Sea World) makes 1.5 Billion each year of captive cetaceans. This inspires marine parks around the world to copy cat and build one in every city. In order to get dolphins, a huge and growing demand, they hunt the dolphins via drive hunt in Japan and ship them to the highest bidder.
    Multiple ‘banger’ boats are finding and chasing the pod. Metal on metal banging creates a disturbing sound to the pod that totally distorts the dolphins sonar system. Under these cruel conditions the completely disoriented and horrified pod is driven into the shallow waters of Taiji Cove, where they are brutally slaughtered except a few pretty ones. Dealers await in the nearby hotel to hash out the price. The mammals are then transported carelessly to the next place, a small pool somewhere, where from now on circus acts must be performed in order to get food, which never ever will consist of live fresh fish again. Some die during the captive selection due to stress, seeing family members brutally slaughtered or being separated from their young.
    No ethics whatsoever apply when metal rods are pounded into the dolphins spine to let the mammal suffer horribly while they bleed to death for a long time before it’s final breath. All this can be witnessed daily from Sept – March on live cam. So how can Sea World say they have no part in this. All dolphins have been caught through drive hunts at some point. A dolphin or whale, that swims hundreds of miles and dives into great depths, meanwhile NOT being exposed to UV as it is the case in marine parks, should never ever be subjected to such tiny enclosures. We need to be responsible towards nature, we owe it to our children.