Culture notes

Blackfish and the scandal of caged killer whales

After 25 years in a bathtub, you'd be cranky, too

30 November 2013

9:00 AM

30 November 2013

9:00 AM

If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little bit psychotic? Well, yes, probably. But this is how captive killer whales live. Tilikum is no different from many of these. A 31-year-old orca who was scooped out of the North Atlantic in 1983, aged two, he has spent the remainder of his life in captivity. Over that time, he has grown to weigh five tons, and has been ‘involved’ in the deaths of three humans. He currently lives at SeaWorld in Orlando, and the documentary Blackfish tells his tale.

Much of the video footage in the film speaks for itself; but the interviews that accompany it are equally gripping. From the whale-hunter who is haunted by the sound of mother whales calling for the calves that have been taken from them, to accounts of captive whale behaviour from former trainers.


Caging lions and tigers is one thing. We rarely expect these animals to engage with humans.  Orcas, on the other hand, frequently do. Until 2010, orcas at SeaWorld were expected to perform with their trainers to amuse the paying public. These are highly social creatures, with brains almost as developed as human ones, and close family ties. In the wild, they travel up to 100 miles per day. At SeaWorld, a cement pool does the job. Is it any wonder Tilikum behaves the way that he does? It’s almost impossible not to feel for these highly intelligent creatures who, many argue, are kept solely to fill SeaWorld’s coffers.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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  • Jon

    Hard to disagree with what is written, but what should be done about it? Why is the article afraid to venture into this territory? Will the world end if they suddenly declare those activists fighting for animal rights may have a point, that they should be denigrated no longer, that media should focus much more upon the abuse of animals and their welfare? Might put you in conflict with the government exterminating badgers, refusing to implement 137 marine conservation zones, refusing to ban neonicotinoid pesticides that are wiping out our bumblebees, the latest “biodiversity offsetting” proposals which are a disgrace, or George Osborne’s quotes to pursue development at all costs rather than protect the last remaining nightingale population on a SSSI in Kent? The Tories abominable policies on the environment are why I will never vote Conservative ever again.

    • Sam Wallace

      lets not turn this into a way to bash tories please
      seaworld is evil,keeping animals in captivity is evil.

      signed,a proud right winger

      • Jon

        I am not against right wingers. I am against the policies that are being pursued with no regard whatsoever for wild life, biodiversity or animal welfare. It just so happens that the Tories are responsible for all of them and after voting for these charlatans, I am extremely angry.