October 22nd, 2013
10:55 AM ET

Should Killer Whales be Held in Captivity?

This week, CNN will present the premiere of "Blackfish," a documentary that traces the history of killer whales in captivity leading up to the 2010 killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, an orca previously associated with the death of two other people.

SeaWorld has been critical of the film, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, issuing this statement to CNN:

"Blackfish is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues. To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld - among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, 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. Perhaps most important, the film fails to mention SeaWorld's commitment to the safety of its team members and guests and to the care and welfare of its animals, as demonstrated by the company's continual refinement and improvement to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau."

“SeaWorld turned down our repeated request for interviews but in an op-ed noted its staff has been interacting with captive killer whales for years,” reports CNN’s Martin Savidge.

“The tragedy of Dawn's death cannot and has not been ignored, but neither should the literally millions of safe interactions we have had with killer whales over that span of time,” the op-ed reads.

But according to critics, there have been many documented incidents suggesting otherwise.

“Video clips of captive killer whales gone wild are easily found on the web,” Savidge says.

Meanwhile, killer whales, also called orcas, are not actually whales, but dolphins.

“Animal activists claim they are too intelligent, too socially dependent on their families and just too big for captivity.”

But these animals in captivity has taught scientists more than was known before about them and problems in the ocean.

“One of the ironies in all of this is the fact that prior to parks like SeaWorld, these creatures were considered by many people to be monsters; we knew so little about them,” Savidge says.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite adds:  "There's basically forty years of secrecy... so one question lead to another."


Join the conversation before and during Thursday night's premiere of "Blackfish" on CNN at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Post your thoughts onCNN's live blog starting Thursday at 4 p.m. ET or tweet with the hashtag #blackfish. You can also direct your questions to the filmmaker and a SeaWorld trainer on CNN's Facebook page Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

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