‘Blackfish’ Director Talks About the Power of Film to Effect Change


Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the controversial “Blackfish” — about the dangers, not to mention the cruelty, of keeping orcas in captivity at marine parks like SeaWorld — outlined how films like hers can affect change at a luncheon celebrating the documentary at Hinoki and the Bird, David Myers’ restaurant in Century City.

Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson and, most recently, Cheap Trick, have cancelled their appearances at SeaWorld in Florida, and Joan Jett asked the amusement park franchise to stop using “I Love Rock & Roll” as part of their shows, Cowperthwaite told the assembled who feasted on vegan fare.

Among those in attendance were actress Kate Mara, an advocate of the film who was there with actor/boyfriend Max Minghella, producer Manuel Oteyza, and fellow documentarians Louis Psihoyas (“The Cove”) and Mark Jonathan Harris (“The Long Way Home”).

She also used the opportunity to defend herself from certain allegations by SeaWorld, which did not participate in her film but has criticized it publically.

“What Sea World is doing now is they are saying ‘wow, a small group of activists are coming out against the zoological industry’; we’re actually not,” Cowperthwaite told Variety. She cited places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is solely dedicated to education, as a viable business model, “and there’s not a cetacean in sight.”

“The best way is to have a sanctuary model, which is what you do for retired circus animals — animals who can’t survive in the wilds,” she added. “So you build them an environment that replicates their own environment as closely as possible. So for a killer whale it would be a sea sanctuary where you cordon off a cove and you retire animals to the natural rhythms of the ocean.

“And you could charge admission. Seeing a killer whale being a killer is so much more magnificent than actually seeing one doing tricks in a pool.”

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  1. BrittRic says:

    Growing up, my childhood dream was to become a marine biologist at SeaWorld. That didn’t happen. Yet, a small part of me always wondered how life might have been if I had followed my true passion to work with the marine mammals that I loved and respected so deeply.

    That sense of longing for what could have been vanished forever, when I saw BLACKFISH. So, I decided to write a blog about it. We must continue to spread the awareness !

    Hopefully, this is only the beginning of the end for SeaWorld…..


  2. tlclove says:

    She did ask for Sea World’s input. They wouldn’t give it. There are plenty of articles with Sea World talking about treating the killer whale’s teeth due to them being ruined by chewing on pool gates, the fact that they swim in circles in a pool and not in the ocean, aren’t with their family groups like they would be in the wild for their lifetime. In the wild the killer whales swim miles and miles, live with their family for life, play with their prey and throw it up in the air sometimes before killing it and can swim faster than any human can possibly swim in a pool. They are left to swim in circles and make splashes in a pool for dead fish. Does anyone think that might get old for them sometimes and they might just want to hunt or do something different and maybe play with or kill that person that is in the water making them do tricks and think they can actually control a 12,000 lb. wild animal in a pool? Come on. If you truly cared about the killer whales, wouldn’t you think to yourself something is wrong with groups of killer whales who aren’t family being put together and beat up on each other and whose echolocation bounces off the walls of pools agitating them further and how would you like to swim in circles day in and out and look at stupid humans through windows? They aren’t endangered and would do better in the wild and just stop the captive killer whale program in theme parks please for their sake. I think everyone can make money and live without this being done to killer whales.

  3. ann deininger says:

    Ok everyone I watched blackfish with my daughter (21). I agree that it was a good film. However,I also believe it was a very one-sided and narrow focused film that concentrated on only one issue. This film reminded me of many of those conspiracy theory films that give just some truth and the rest fluff but enough to make everyone believe every single word. I’m not saying that SeaWorld is perfect NOBODY is! But SeaWorld definitely has done tremendous amounts of great things for our oceans and the creatures in it, but that wasn’t mentioned. How many animals are brought to SeaWorld injured or sick such as manatees and sea turtles that are rehabilitated and released on a regular basis but nobody is talking about that or the many other great things that they have done. But people are taking things out of context in the film it even tells you that SeaWorld was not responsible for the capture of Tillikum but another park up north, and that SeaWorld has not taken a whale from the ocean since the 70’s. As for the dolphin slaughters that take place in the cove, again SeaWorld has their own dolphins that reproduce. I have been going to SeaWorld since I was a child and now have been taking my children since they were very young. Since age 4 when i took my daughter (now 21) she has always wanted to be a marine biologist so that she could work and help the animals. And she chose that because of SeaWorld not to be a trainer, but because she stopped anyone that worked there and asked about the animals. After the BP spill and SeaWorld was the to help rehabilitate the animals she enrolled in college and is almost done with specialty in rescue and rehab. And i am proud to say that she works for SeaWorld!!

    • Jessica says:

      You do realize that Seaworld was approached for the film and for various other interviews and have declined to speak. You are correct in saying that Seaworld has not taken a whale from the wild in years only because they hit the jackpot when they got Tilikum. They use him as a breeder. You are correct as well in saying that they did not capture Tilikum themselves but they sure did not treat him well. He was put in a tank with to dominate female whales and Killer Whales have a matriarchal social structure. Seaworld has repeatedly done NOTHING to make the habitats better for their animals. They have Tilikum in a tank with no/limited contact with other whales and humans. Also it is notable to mention that they tell their visitors facts about Killer Whales they knowingly LIE to them. I’m not trying to discredit the good that they have done but they have a LONG way to go.

  4. 4afinewhine says:

    Let’s hope the Clearwater Marine Aquarium … Seewinter.com is taking notes here. Dolphin Tale was a huge boost to our local tourism here on the beach. Now filming Dolphin Tale 2. Just approved all new 165 million aquarium….. But think the dolphins would love to frolic in clearwater harbor vs a tank. For Winter to return to wild won’t ever happen as small when lost tail in crab trap…but to be able to swim in a huge netted off section of bay…awesome….and good reason for Dolphin Tale 3. Harold the sea turtle will be huge after DT2 but I can’t disclose why.

  5. Howiet1971 says:

    Blackfish is an incredible documentary and whilst of course it is clear the documentary makers are against places like Sea World, I didn’t feel they were completely biased. It felt factual, and what they were saying made complete sense. This is an important documentary and I hope that those who have been affected by it, stand by their words and do not visit these places; I for one never will. Whlst it is impressive that these beautiful animals can be taught tricks, I would rather see them in their natural habitat.
    Truly commendable film.

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