A Northwest View of the Film Blackfish
By: Bruce Stedman, Director, Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance
Last week I attended a screening of the powerful documentary Blackfish, a much-needed investigation of SeaWorld’s treatment of Orca whales made captive for human entertainment. As well as appreciation for the courageous exposure of “behind the window” realities of marine mammal exhibits, I left the theater with a gut-wrenching set of images and anger about there even being captive Orca.
But I also thought there should be a Blackfish2: a sequel that faces head-on the many other ways we as humans threaten these extraordinary creatures.
At the end of Blackfish, former Orca (“killer whale”) trainers go out on the Washington state waters near San Juan Island to see Orca in the wild – and they see the Southern Residents of Puget Sound. Unfortunately, Blackfish does not mention that these Orca are listed as Endangered, and not recovering. A Blackfish2 could describe their struggle with periods of depleted food supply (since the Orca diet relies almost entirely on another human-endangered species, Chinook salmon), high loads of toxic human pollutants, and the almost constant din of noise from commercial whale-watching boats and the private vessels those watch boats attract.
A Blackfish2 could demonstrate how these factors serve to prevent the recovery of, or even accelerate the decline, of these same Puget Sound resident Orca pods. These factors may even hasten the day when they (by themselves or combined with an inevitable oil spill or disease outbreak) push these unique Southern Residents to extinction.
Capturing Orca from Puget Sound was banned in the early 1970s. Blackfish is the welcome start of an overdue examination of the price of commercializing marine mammals for entertainment.
Still, it would be tragically ironic if an enhanced public conversation about Orca, thanks to the broad success of Blackfish, promoted only an awareness of Orca in captivity, while failing to highlight the harm we are causing the Southern Resident Orca – our still-wild neighbors, and an icon of our region – in their native habitat.