Film critical of SeaWorld to open in San Diego

'Blackfish' looks at several tragic incidents

SAN DIEGO - A documentary opening in San Diego next week claims to be a hypercritical investigation into how SeaWorld operates.

One reviewer says the film, titled "Blackfish," will ensure you never want to visit SeaWorld again.

One focus of the film is a tragedy that occurred at SeaWorld Orlando that drew many headlines.

In 2010, the killer whale Tilikum dragged trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water, thrashed her about and caused her to drown. It was the third human death linked to Tilikum.

Recently, Team 10 sat down with the film's director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who said, "I think I stumbled on a lot of information that SeaWorld didn't want to have out there. The film is a fact-driven truthful story."

Eight former SeaWorld trainers were interviewed in the film, which takes a critical look at orcas in captivity, beginning with the history of that captivity.

In 2007, Team 10 investigators went to Washington state, where they met the man who hunted the first Shamu -- killing Shamu's mother and other whales -- before selling Shamu to SeaWorld.

"Blackfish" looks at the dozens of incidents involving orcas and trainers over many decades.

Samantha Berg, a trainer for three years in Orlando in the early 1990s, also sat down with 10News.

"How many of the previous incidents were you told about?" asked a Team 10 investigator.

"I wasn't told about any of the previous accidents between trainers and killers whales," said Berg.

Among the accidents with San Diego ties examined by the film is an incident in 1987 in which a trainer in San Diego was crushed between two orcas, leading to partial paralysis.

The film also looked at the death of a trainer in Spain amid training overseen by a San Diego trainer.

In San Diego in 2006, a trainer was dragged underwater several times before escaping.

"Every time I look at it, he looks like he's a hair's breath from being killed," said Cowperthwaite.

Citing a history of such incidents, experts in the film connect the orcas' lack of space and habitat to frustrations and deadly results.

The film opens in San Diego July 26.

SeaWorld issued the following statement in response to Team 10's requests for a comment:

"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."



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