(Note: when I posted this
in Warin's chain asking for travel suggestions while he and family will be in Florida next month, what I knew of the movie was based on the linked article given at the above.)
Now I have watched the documentary and the keeping of orcas is much worse than I could have believed.
Do you know how long orcas live? If you ask Sea World they are forced to say something like "Our orcas live fulfilled lives of between 25 and 35 years" but in reality we don't know because our tracking of orcas simply isn't long enough. There are some who contend that in the wild
male orcas live between 50 to 70 years while some females may exceed 100--being the apex predator in a matriarchal society has its benefits--so the usual excuse that zoos give (that they extend the lives of their animals) may not apply.
The movie focuses on Tilikum, a male orca who has been
responsible for involved in
the deaths of 3 trainers (so far) and a long list of trainer injuries. The documentary-makers found some of the people who were involved with Tilikum's capture about 30 years ago and the tale they tell is tragic: his pod was being chased by boats into the fjords of British Columbia (I think--back then such captures were allowed in Canada). Apparently the pod arranged a ruse: most of the adults continued forward along one branch on the surface to be chased by the boats while a couple of the adults and all of the juveniles dove down and took another branch. Unfortunately orcas do have to surface and the humans had support aircraft watching for the juveniles. Why juveniles? For ease of transport and training, but one of the interviewees got turned from his job of capturing orcas because he watched the rest of the pod gather as close as they could calling out while the penned juveniles were taken aboard one of the boats.
Tilikum spent his first years in captivity at a cheesy marine park in Victoria, BC, called Sealand of the Pacific. There he was subject to nearly daily abuse from the then-larger females there--remember: matriarchy--because he simply had nowhere to go in the too-small pool in which they kept their orcas. In the wild male pod members sometimes hang around with their pod into their teens, but of course Tilikum was NOT a pod member to those females, so at times the trainers would find that he had been raked (an orca opens his jaws and rakes his teeth on another) almost from nose to tail in the morning. It was at Sealand that Tilikum's first trainer death "happened" (according to the news reports) which eventually led to the closing of Sealand. The owners sold their orcas to Sea World.
The reason why I use such equivocating language in describing the deaths of the trainers is because the sea parks do this, usually using terms which places at least some of the blame on the trainers themselves. When Dawn Brancheau (the third trainer) died in 2010, at first Sea World claimed that she slipped and fell into the orca pool but they quickly had to backtrack because it was contrary to the reports of audience witnesses (Brancheau was lying in a shallow zone next to the deeper water interacting with the orcas when she was pulled in). The official story is that she was grabbed by Tilikum by her ponytail (ah, so who's fault was that? Tsk, tsk: she shouldn't have had that ponytail) but there are witnesses who said that she was dragged in by her arm.
To be sure: it might have helped if the documentary was able to include something from Sea World but they declined to comment.
Recommended, but not something to watch when depressed.