The documentary focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, a killer whale involved in the deaths of three individuals, and the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity. The coverage of Tilikum includes his capture in 1983 off the coast of Iceland, purported harassment by fellow captive whales at Sealand of the Pacific, incidents that Cowperthwaite argues contributed to the whale’s aggression and includes testimonial from Lori Marino, Director of Science with Nonhuman rights Project. Cowperthwaite also focuses on Seaworld’s claims that lifespan’s of whales in captivity are comparable to those in the wild,typically 30 years for males and 50 years for females, a claim the film argues is false. Interview subjects also include former SeaWorld trainers, such as John Hargrove.
Response from SeaWorld
Seaworld Entertainment refused to take part in the production of Blackfish, and later claimed the film was inaccurate, saying in a statement:
Blackfish … is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy …. The film paints a distorted picture that withholds …key facts about SeaWorld—among them…that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research.
SeaWorld responded further with an open letter rebutting the claims. The Oceanic Preservation Society and The Orca Project, a non-profit focusing on orca in captivity, responded with open letters criticizing SeaWorld’s claims. Marine researcher Debbie Giles also offered rebuttals to SeaWorld, finding its assertions inaccurate.
SeaWorld also created a section of its website titled “Truth About Blackfish,” addressing the claims stated above and highlighting what it considered other problems with the film:
On February 27, 2014, SeaWorld filed a complaint with the U.S department of labour, claiming the Occupational saftety and health administration investigator who investigated Brancheau’s death had behaved unethically by aiding the filmmakers. Cowperthwaite denied claims of improper collaboration.
In March 2014, Cowperthwaite rebutted a number of claims on SeaWorld’s website and challenged SeaWorld officials to a public debate.