Blackfish – review

This documentary about fatal attacks by performing killer whales is as gripping as a serial-killer thriller

The clue is in the name: not cuddler whale, not hugger whale – but killer whale. Yet the irony is that these predators don't want to kill humans in the wild. This documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite is as horribly gripping as a serial-killer thriller, though the real villain is not the ostensible culprit, but its human captors. It's the story of how captive orcas in general, and one in particular, have been effectively driven mad by being used in marine-park attractions, forced to parade around swimming pools with beaming wetsuit-clad trainers on their backs as kids and parents cheer, cooped up in unnatural conditions, bred for other high-earning performers and separated from their young. Chillingly, but all too predictably, they are liable to engage in "incidents": trainers get attacked and killed, and the parks' owners contrive to cover it up.

The whales' dysfunctional behaviour in the happy-smiley amusement park looks like something by JG Ballard, or a parable for celebrity itself. (I now realise that the whale attack in Jacques Audiard's movie Rust and Bone is not a bizarre one-off but a continuing problem.) One whale called Tilikum – in SeaWorld, Florida – is particularly homicidal, but his owners have bred him so that he has many descendants in parks all over the world, likely to have inherited the same tendencies, and certainly kept in comparable conditions, like some Darwinian experiment in perpetuating mayhem. We frown on circus animals and we would be horrified by zoos which featured the keepers riding around on lions' backs or sitting on the shoulders of gorillas. Yet the whale acts are still acceptable. Not for much longer, perhaps.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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