In its latest move to contain the controversy unleashed by the anti-captivity documentary “Blackfish,” SeaWorld refused a challenge proposed by the filmmakers behind the documentary that would have called for a public debate.
“Blackfish” examines the violent and lethal history of the killer whale Tilikum, providing a emotionally compelling case against the captivity of such large, intelligent creatures.
The filmmaker’s challenge came in response to SeaWorld’s new webpage “The Truth About Blackfish,” which uses testimony from several killer whale trainers to debunk the documentary as one-sided propaganda. Bridgette Pirtle — one of the trainers — recently voiced her discontent with the idea of a public debate.
“It is a predictable activist move to challenge SeaWorld to a public debate forum, one that (would) undoubtedly allow the anti-captivity speakers to further push their radical agendas,” Pirtle said.
While “Blackfish” could certainly be biased in bending the facts to push an agenda (don’t all documentaries do this?), it still has mobilized public opinion against orca captivity. To sidestep the conversation about this issue in favor of disparaging the “Blackfish” filmmakers as radical activists not only reflects badly on SeaWorld, but gives the ominous impression that SeaWorld wants to keep the debate one-sided.
One of SeaWorld’s biggest criticisms of “Blackfish” is that it lacks objectivity and multiple points-of-view. Yet wasn’t SeaWorld responsible for this failing? Looking at the developmental history of “Blackfish,” it’s important to note that SeaWorld was offered several times to contribute to the documentary, yet they declined all of them.
I assume the reason why SeaWorld didn’t offer any input was because it didn’t want the issue of orca captivity — its most lucrative and iconic feature — brought to public attention.
Even “The Truth About Blackfish” webpage seems to sweep the orca captivity issue under the rug. The webpage accuses “Blackfish” of many things, from conveying falsehoods to being emotionally manipulative, but not once does it address the documentary’s principal point that orca captivity for the purpose of entertainment is morally wrong.
What’s more troubling is SeaWorld’s recent ad campaign. The theme park would rather spend a fortune purchasing full-page advertisements in many major newspapers than engage in a two-way conversation for free. Moreover, newspaper ads are fundamentally one-sided, making it hypocritical of SeaWorld to call “Blackfish” a one-sided propaganda piece when they themselves are against public discourse.
Ultimately, it’s up to society to decide whether the captivity of killer whales sits right with their conscience. Although “Blackfish” might contain many falsities regarding the captive orca and their violent history, it at least opened the door for conversation.
By not publicly addressing the issue and by keeping the conversation one-sided, SeaWorld reveals a profit-motivated narrow-mindedness that is against the tide of progress.
Reach the columnist at Alexander.Elder@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @ALEXxElder