The Rewilding of the Oceans

I can't watch a SeaWorld commercial with the same indifference that I used to after watching the documentary Blackfish. It has  tainted any appreciation I might hold for the SeaWorld park, now or in the future, and I would openly encourage everyone to watch this documentary. The film's premise centers around the SeaWorld killer whale Tilikum that who, if the accounts of the documentary are to believed, is probably a serial killer, attacking and killing several people throughout his lifetime.

Killer whales are amazing creatures. They are probably among some of the largest animals held in captivity, and they are worthy of the sublimity society assigns them. However, the film Blackfish argues, and I believe admirably so, that how we use and 'control' these creatures for our own ends is perhaps an unwise decision. Yes, people's lives might be enriched at some level after seeing killer whale show, but what is the cost associated with this entertainment? Is the entertainment and personal enrichment of the many worth the lives of those lost? Creatures in the wilderness are wild, and it's a fools errand to believe that they are anything but what they are.

Blackfish attempts to explain that because of his subjection to years of substandard living conditions in captivity, Tilikum changed from a originally mild-mannered whale into a sociopathic creature. Ironically, if he was kept in living conditions similar to his natural environment, he would have probably been significantly more stable. It required years of captivity before he became the hyper aggressive animal that he is today. Tilikum wasn't originally as a force acting out against humanity; he was made into one.

Two things strike me odd about this film. On one hand, it seems like the creators of the film wanted to make a statement about the entertainment industry and its (dis)use of animals. From this perspective, it reinforces a conception of Tilikum as a dangerous (perhaps rightly so) animal. In this view, the wildness of the ocean is lashing out against our disrespect of the wilderness and its creatures. We force the wild into civilization, and the nature reinforces it dominance over man by violently resisting our attempted control. However, I find a serious flaw in this perception, as mentioned earlier. While Tilikum is a giant, carnivorous, and potentially dangerous animal, it's unlikely that he was born a sociopath, at least if we believe the premise presented. The film posits that he was made into one after years of captivity and neglect. This view portrays Tilikum not as a wild beast who reacted to the whims of a society that use him as a novelty, but as a mentally disturbed creature who was made so by our own indifference. Instead of nature versus civilization, this view poses civilization against nature. Civilization is a corrupting agent that has tainted the sanctity of the wild.

The film seems to argue that nature cannot be tamed by civilization, but harmony can exist if civilization respects nature. Civilization is not at odds with nature, as long as it doesn't attempt to control it.

Blackfish is available on Netflix, if anyone would like to watch it. It was definitely one of the better documentaries of last year.