Samples Nature Who’s Afraid of the Big Black Fish?

Who’s Afraid of the Big Black Fish?

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Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish argues that it is immoral for humans to force whales to perform in captivity. She uses interviews with individuals who have worked closely with killer whales to demonstrate that those who are kept in captivity are less healthy and less happy in than those who live in the wild (Cowperthwaite, Oteyza and Despres).
One of reasons Blackfish is compelling is that it appeals to the logos of its audience. For instance, in one interview, an expert tells the audience that while SeaWorld tells its visitors that killer whales typically live only about 25-30 years, this is only true of whales in captivity. Whales in the wild, he suggests, can live up to 100 years. Reason tells the viewer that if whales lives are significantly shortened by their capture, captivity is harming them greatly. Cowperthwaite appeals to the audience’s reason again when she shows interviews with trainers who suggest that they were not informed about the dangerous nature of the animals they worked with. They were told that whales like Tilikum were safe, when, in fact, they had been involved in the deaths of other trainers. By showing audiences that Tilikum had been aggressive on several occasions and by reasoning that if Tilikum was aggressive, that all of the whales born from his sperm could potentially exhibit the same aggression, Cowperthwaite gives the audience a strong reason to believe that allowing humans to interact with SeaWorld’s whales is inherently dangerous. She makes a very good case for ending the captivity of whales – or at least, prohibiting trainers to work with them without operating behind a barrier. (Cowperthwaite, Oteyza and Despres). She also gives the audience reason to doubt the word of SeaWorld and to view it as a deceptive and highly unethical company.

Blackfish is also appealing because of its ethos. Those interviewed include whale trainers who, having ridden on the backs of whales, trained them, fed them and even kissed them, undoubtedly know the whales more intimately than most other people. If these people oppose allowing trainers to continue to work closely with whales, it is hard not to take arguments against captivity seriously (Cowperthwaite, Oteyza and Despres).

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Pathos
The director’s use of pathos to appeal to audiences is also extremely effective. In the opening scene, the director draws the audience in by playing the 9-1-1 calls that occurred during and after the whale attack on trainer Dawn Brancheau. During the second call, the man who reports that “a whale has eaten one of the trainers” is clearly shaken. His voice trembles. The audience can feel his horror. (Cowperthwaite, Oteyza and Despres).

The film is also effective at invoking sadness in its audiences. It features interviews with whale catchers, wo describe – in detail – the ways in which mother whales called for their babies when they were captured. It explains how whales often operate as families and how they work together to capture prey. It suggests that they speak their own languages, have their own cultures and feel great loss when they are separated. It shows how they will all choose to die together when one whale is beached. After establishing that whales have such a great sense of community and togetherness, it shows how devastating separation can be to these communities. The film exposes audiences to the sound of whales crying, overtop images of them joining together to mourn the loss of their babies as these babies are tied up and hauled away. It also shows the great lengthy whales will go to try to protect their babies and how intelligently they try to evade capture. Yet they are captured anyway. These scenes are emotionally traumatic.

Another very moving part of the film is the clip in which one trainer tells the story of two of the whales he worked with – an adult and a baby. He tells the audience that when the baby was taken away, the other whale attempted to call her back with long-range vocalizations. A second trainer talks about SeaWorld’s decision to separate one of the baby Shamu’s from its mother. Her claim that the mother sat in the corner of her habitat shaking and crying after her daughter was taken is very emotionally compelling (Cowperthwaite, Oteyza and Despres).

Equally moving are the testimonies of the wife and mother of slain trainer Alex Martinez. Martinez was killed as he worked with a whale at Loro Parque in Spain. The whale was trained by SeaWorld, but SeaWorld denied having any responsibility for him. Meanwhile, Loro Parque claimed the attack was an accident. Both women, through tears, tell the audiences about the trainer’s skill and the park’s carelessness. The women’s tears, along with their description of the horrific manner of their beloved’s death are hard to watch. Their anger at Martinez’s bosses, both for failing to keep the trainer safe and for telling them that he was fine when they knew he was dying are catching.

So, too, is the indignation one coworker of slain trainer Dawn Brancheau expresses when he claims that the company wrongfully blamed Brancheau for the attack that killed her. He asks how the company can blame her when she isn’t even alive to defend herself. As he speaks, he chokes up. His raw emotions are very compelling (Cowperthwaite, Oteyza and Despres).

Blackfish is a tremendously appealing and convincing film, which makes strong logical and emotional arguments and benefits from the credence of experts and trainers, who arguably know killer whales more intimately than anyone else on earth.

    References
  • Cowperthwaite, Gabriela, Manuel V. Oteyza, Eli Despres, Jonathan Ingalls, Chris Towey, and Jeff Beal. Blackfish. , 2013.

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