Portrait of a Pathological Killer


Classic PTSD in an orca (killer whale)

Gabriela Cowperthwaite (2013)

Film Review

Blackfish is a psychological study of a 33 year old orca whale who performs at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.

Despite their fearsome nickname (“killer whales”), orcas don’t eat people. They have diverse diets, with individual populations preferring fish, marine mammals and even other whale species.

In the wild they have a reputation for approaching human beings with friendliness and curiosity. Even in captivity, their demeanor towards their trainers is generally docile and friendly.

Over the course of 20 years, Tilikum has killed three people, two trainers and a member of the public who sneaked into his pen after hours. As Blackfish documents, this is on top of several near death incidents in which trainers were seriously injured. Viewers will be particularly impressed that the murders were premeditated. Tilikum exhibits clear planning and malicious cunning in all of his attacks. If he were human, he would be charged with first degree murder.

The film offers an accurate and convincing account of the severe psychological trauma Tilikum and other orcas endure in captivity, where their lifespan is foreshortened by 75 years. The film combines testimonials from whale hunters and researchers, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) experts and lawyers and SeaWorld executives to give a glimpse of the close net clan groupings orcas form in the wild and the severe trauma they experience when they are captured to perform at SeaWorld.

There are three particularly heart wrenching scenes where SeaWorld management forcibly separates orca mothers from their calves – against the advice of their trainers.

I have always strongly suspected orcas were more intelligent than human beings. Based on the events described in this documentary, they are clearly more intelligent than the people who run SeaWorld.

OSHA’s successful prosecution of SeaWorld in 2011 resulted in a $75,000 fine and a ruling requiring SeaWorld to install physical barriers between orcas and their trainers. Unbelievably SeaWorld appealed the ruling, fearing their ticket take would suffer if trainers ceased to interact with the orcas in the water.

In April 2014, the Court of Appeals upheld the OSHA ban.

At present, there is an international campaign to pressure SeaWorld to allow Tilikum to participate in a stepwise ocean release program. You can sign the petition here: http://www.freetillynow.org/


6 thoughts on “Portrait of a Pathological Killer

  1. I watched this film with my kids. Orcas are used to roaming up to 100 miles per day. Confining them to a tank goes against their natures.


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