How 'Blackfish' helped end SeaWorld's killer whale programs

Thu Mar 17, 2016 4:23pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

(Reuters) - Gabriela Cowperthwaite was a mom who took her twin sons to SeaWorld before the death of a killer whale trainer prompted her to make her 2013 documentary "Blackfish."

She never expected it to help persuade the U.S. theme park operator to stop breeding killer whales and end its signature "Shamu" whale entertainment shows.

"I think 'Blackfish' struck a nerve," the Los Angeles-based director said on Thursday. "I originally came into the film trying to explore the trainer relationship and experience. I thought of myself as a story teller that would pull back the curtain on some things, but I didn't think the documentary would effect change."

Animal activists and others were quick on Thursday to give credit to "Blackfish" for what Cowperthwaite called a "giant step" by SeaWorld both in halting its orca breeding program and investing $50 million to advocate for an end to commercial whaling and seal hunting.

"Huge respect to @blackfishmovie for putting orca captivity at @SeaWorld on the agenda" Greenpeace UK Oceans said on Twitter.

Melissa Silverstein, founder of the website "Women and Hollywood," said SeaWorld's action shows the impact of film.

"If you think a movie can't make a difference, see @blackfishmovie," Silverstein said on Twitter. "Congrats on getting @SeaWorld to change its policies towards Orcas."

"Blackfish" has taken only a meager $2 million at the North American box office, but after screenings on CNN, on demand digital services and in schools, it has been seen by more than 60 million people, Cowperthwaite said.   Continued...

A trainer shows the crowd an orca during a show at the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, March 19, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake