Blackfish director responds to SeaWorld trainer interview

SAN DIEGO - An interview with a SeaWorld trainer posted on YouTube is sparking more debate in the ongoing public relations battle over the film "Blackfish."

In the video, an unnamed SeaWorld San Diego trainer addresses the documentary, which is critical of keeping orcas in captivity. (Watch the video below)

The three-minute video was posted by the theme park website Behindthethrills.com, and in the footage, the trainer stands in a near-empty arena and urges people to look at animals as a whole.

"Whether it's killer whales or sea lions, let's not differentiate based on their size or their intelligence," the trainer said in the video.

It's a statement former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg, interviewed for "Blackfish," finds disturbing.

Berg, who has a degree in animal science from Cornell University, said "What the scientific evidence shows is that the more intelligent the animal is, the more complicated their social structure is, the more they suffer in captivity."

In the footage, the trainer talks about why she believes the orcas are happy.

"If my animals are happy, they'll breed. They eat, they interact and that's what we observe with these animals," said the trainer.

"I think that statement is a little outrageous," said "Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. "The trainer is parroting age-old SeaWorld spin."

Cowperthwaite and Berg contend doing tricks to be fed doesn't mean happiness compared to life in the wild.

"They swim 80-100 miles per day. They never sit still, which is very different in captivity. Once you see them in the wild, you realize they're nothing like they are in captivity," said Berg.

Another point made in the video -- pollution and overfishing are endangering orcas in Puget Sound.

"By working with these animals, we can solve those issues in Puget Sound. Then we're helping the species to survive," said the trainer.

Berg points out that it was SeaWorld's capture of orcas in the 1960s and 1970s that endangered that population, leading Washington state to ban SeaWorld from its waters.

"SeaWorld is specifically responsible for this population of whales being endangered, and it's amusing to me that this trainer isn't aware of the fact," said Berg.

In a statement, a SeaWorld spokesperson said:

"We stand behind our trainer. She has cared for dolphins, killer whales and other marine animals for more than 25 years. The opinions she offers in this informal interview are consistent with SeaWorld's positions on these subjects. Our trainers are very passionate about the animals in their care and when talking [to] guests, often relate how happy and healthy they are. Working intimately with our animals every day and from five decades of experience, we know they are content and in excellent physical and mental condition. There is no organization more passionately committed to the physical, mental and social care and well-being of its animals, including killer whales, than SeaWorld. Regardless of size or intelligence, they all receive the same world-class care.

SeaWorld has issued a written rebuttal to the film Blackfish: http://bit.ly/1eVybAZ

Watch the interview with the SeaWorld trainer (Mobile users: http://bit.ly/MMmWAl):

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