Review: Blackfish

Blackfish is an old, colloquial fishermen’s name for the orca or killer whale. Gabriela Cowperthwaite slowly reveals in this gripping and torturous docufilm that the ‘killer’ is not the monochrome whale himself, but in fact the humans that keep them.

By Gordon2448 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gordon2448 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The back story of Seaworld, renown for its physically intensive performances with large marine mammals, unfolds with a killer whale named ‘Tilikum’ in centre stage. This highly emotionally intelligent animal undergoes a series of traumatic events which are thought to have provoked him into the events that followed in later life.

Torn form his wild pod at a young age, Tilikum is forced to live with bullying violent females in a run-down poorly-managed ‘Sealand’, before an assault on a trainer causes the park to close and the whale to be transferred to Seaworld. In his new environment, the orca is trained well but accident after accident leaves one questioning the animal’s secret intentions.

Blackfish interviews many of the trainers featuring in Tilikum’s life, who speak of tragedies that occurred in the industry across the world’s parks. Graphic footage and teary re-calls repeatedly raise the question as to why Seaworld remains open today. New regulations instigated after the death of a beloved and experienced trainer have all but protected those interacting with the animals, rather than the animals themselves. But the moving and thrilling Blackfish (2013) leaves hope that with greater publicity, a different stance might be taken on this evil and violent industry.