Take a young orca from its mother, keep it isolated in a pool and make it turn tricks for fish. The end result is a killer whale.
That's the message of a gripping new documentary on orcas at SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., an aquatic park chain where orcas are trained to bounce balls and cuddle with their human trainers. "Blackfish," by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is lacerating in its indictment of SeaWorld.
Captive Animals That Attacked: Photos
The documentary focuses on Tilikum, a 12,000-pound stud that has apparently killed three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
Tilikum was two years old when he was captured in 1983 in the North Atlantic. Early in the film, Cowperthwaite talks to a man who helped companies capture orcas in Puget Sound in 1970. The man, clearly haunted by his memories, likens his actions to kidnapping a kid away from a mother.
The theme of separation repeats in the film as SeaWorld is shown removing two other young orcas from their mothers. In one sequence, Kasatka, a female with a documented history of aggression, is separated from daughter Takara, who is sent to a theme park in Florida. Kasatka spends an entire night shaking in a corner of the enclosure and emitting high pitched cries that have not been observed before in captivity.