Photo: Blackfish

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School’s out and parents know what that means. 

“I’m bored!” will be ringing in their ears if they don’t figure out how to keep the little munchkins entertained.

For those of us who can scrounge up some dime to take the crew somewhere fun (happy kids = happy parents), a marine park of some kind may be on the itinerary.

Or not.

How many of us were cheerfully piled into the family car and whisked off to see animals in some kind of captivity? It’s a bit of a family ritual that dates back since the first parks and zoos opened decades ago. And while awareness around animal rights has come a long way, crowds continue to flock to see majestic animals captured and caged.

Blackfish, a 2013 film currently playing on Netflix, will make you rethink any summer plans involving an orca, aka killer whale.

Inspired by an investigative article in a sporting magazine about the conditions that led to the death of a popular SeaWorld trainer in 2010, the filmmakers of this documentary have netted a story that is both horrific and sadly typical of our profits-at-all-costs world.

Combining original interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, scientists, hunters and archival news and amateur footage, Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Manny Oteyza, piece together the story of Tilikum; a killer whale responsible for the death of several people during his long and sad career performing for rapt audiences.

The film mounts a compelling case against marine captivity. We learn about the dismal conditions the killer whales are often kept in; tanks so small that agitated whales rake each other — literally using their teeth to cause the others’ skin to bleed. For beasts meant to roam the world’s oceans, their lives become unbearable, argue animal experts, which leads them to act bizarrely, sometimes killing their human captors.

But that reality isn’t one park operators want the public to know. After all, the multi-billion dollar industry is built on the image of killer whales as being friendly, compliant and entertaining.

Perhaps if more of us knew how the whales are captured, and the conditions in which they are kept, we’d be less likely to support the practice and more vocal in calling for change.

That being said, there have been attempts made to pass legislation banning the live capture and trade of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Libby Davies (NDP MP) has been championing the issue for over a decade. The issue recently made headlines when Vancouver’s mayor called on the city’s aquarium to phase out its exhibitions of the marine mammals (the aquarium stopped holding orcas in 2001).

“Long gone are the days that we put animals or mammals in confined spaces so that we can educate ourselves. I just don’t think that people find that acceptable … there’s many other ways to learn about our natural habitat, our natural world,” Davies said in a CBC interview last spring.

The national animal protection charity, Zoocheck Canada, lists information on its website about both Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium’s inventory of marine mammals. Those are currently the only two Canadian facilities displaying whales and dolphins. However, the charity notes that proposals to open new parks in other locations are regularly brought forward.

Films like Blackfish will only raise awareness about a summer pastime that is, to put it mildly, outdated.

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Blackfish is available on iTunes and on Netflix. To suggest films for review, email [email protected] or tweet her at @AmiraElghawaby

Amira Elghawaby

Amira Elghawaby

Amira Elghawaby is a journalist and human rights advocate living in Ottawa. Her work has appeared in various publications and online including the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Her stories have...