The new documentary ‘Blackfish’ reveals the inner workings of the multi-billion dollar seapark industry.
As someone who has followed the saga of Tilikum and deceased trainer Dawn Brancheau for years, I was happy to rebut SeaWorld’s various grievances. The inaccuracies, it turns out, are found in spokesman Fred Jacob’s “Dear Film Critic” letter, which was sent out today:
I’m writing to you on behalf of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. You may be aware of a documentary called “Blackfish” that purports to expose SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales (or orcas) and the “truth” behind the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
In the event you are planning to review this film, we thought you should be apprised of the following. Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate. As the late scholar and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
The film’s most egregious and untrue allegations include: The insinuation that SeaWorld stocks its parks with killer whales captured from the wild. In fact, SeaWorld hasn’t collected a killer whale from the wild in more than 35 years; more than 80% of the killer whales at SeaWorld were born there or in other zoological facilities.
First of all, an “insinuation” is not an accusation, and Blackfish does not make this claim. It is worth pointing out, however, that the wild orca Morgan, who was rescued in waters off the Netherlands a few years back, now lives at Loro Parque, Spain; in its SEC filing there, SeaWorld claimed her as one of their own whales, just as they own the other orcas in the park.
The assertion that killer whales in the wild live more than twice as long as those living at SeaWorld. While research suggests that some wild killer whales can live as long as 60 or 70 years, their average lifespan is nowhere near that. Nor is it true that killer whales in captivity live only 25 to 35 years.
Because we’ve been studying killer whales at places like SeaWorld for only 40 years or so, we don’t know what their lifespans might be—though we do know that SeaWorld currently has one killer whale in her late 40s and a number of others in their late 30s.
The research completed to date does not “suggest” average life expectancies and maximum lifespans; it methodically and scientifically documents them, at least among resident killer whales of the Pacific Northwest.
As I reported in Death at SeaWorld: “The average life expectancy for female orcas in the wild has been estimated at 45 to 50 years, with a maximum lifespan of about 90,” and, “the average life expectancy for a wild orca male is approximately 30 years, with an estimated maximum lifespan of about 60.”