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Blackfish

I don't watch a lot of documentaries. One, maybe two a year. Out of a hundred at the movies and God only knows how many at home. I just typically prefer to be told stories in a narrative fashion. This one was important to me.

Pretty well established that I grew up in a small-ish south Texas town. Lotta people. Good food. Nothing really to do. Therefore, my parents often stuffed me in the car and drove us to San Antonio, the big beautiful city that had all sorts of stimulating activities to offer. One of the biggest attractions was Sea World. This was before we even had a Six Flags down there. We went to Sea World A LOT. We even had season passes when I was very little, making the trip every few weeks. When I got older, even if we didn't go to the park that often, our favorite RV campground was right next to Sea World, so we were always around it. There was also the infamous Hanson concert at the park that my parents took me to in junior high. That was one of the defining moments of my teeny-bopper-dom.

I loved Sea World. I \m/ loved it. I had stuffed Shamu's in all sizes: Shamu, Mama Shamu, and (my favorite, of course) baby Shamu. We had plastic cups with the logo that we could refill at the park. One of my first trips, I got a pink shirt with a glow in the dark Shamu. I was so small that the oversized shirt was used as a nightgown until I eventually grew into it. I still have that shirt, wore it on occassion in college, and a couple years ago loaned it out as a costume for one of my actresses in Spelling Bee. I loved all the shows and exhibits. The dolphins, the sea lions which you could hear barking all night from that RV park. I still remember the smell of the penguin exhibit as you stood on the conveyor belt and watched them go by. But the best part, the star of the show, was Shamu. No matter what attractions we were visiting that day, Shamu was always on the schedule. The educational day show and/or the fun night show with the rocking music. How badly I wanted to sit in the splash zone, but Mom and Daddy didn't wanna deal with a wet daughter that smelt of fish. All in all, some incredibly happy childhood memories, and I'm sure there's a stash of VHS tapes full of Sea World footage at the bottom of my Daddy's closet.

Then I watched Blackfish, and it made me question everything. I felt so hurt and betrayed. The documentary shows so many of the same commercials and shows that I ate up when I was little, and then they disprove much of the supposed "facts".

Now, I don't think everything they do is wrong. I'm a little on the fence about some things. Yes, it's abhorrent the way that Tilikum was treated in SeaLand before Sea World. Yes, it wasn't right to steal baby whales like they did back in the day. But they still do some good. There are rescue efforts. They do learn and do research. It's not all as black and white as these beautiful creatures.

I think my biggest problem that I have with Sea World now, from what I've learned in this doc, is the way that they kept their trainers in the dark. You hear story after story about how much they loved these animals and how little they knew. The trainers weren't told these animals histories. They didn't convey all of the dangers of working with these animals, and accident histories. They swept things under the rug, and they were told lies that they then unknowingly precipitated to the crowds. To me, that's what's not cool. Pretending like everything's okay and all about fun without really impressing the real dangers that you're dealing with.

Some other things are questionable, some more gray that others. Separating the babies from their mommies, heart breaking. Keeping the animals locked up without ever rehabilitating them for the wild, sad. I do remember noticing the flopped over dorsal fins on the animals. Sea World says that's normal, but supposedly it's very rare in the wild. Sea World lifespan vs wild lifespan appears to be drastically different from what they claim. All of this is just a game of he said she said. I don't wanna be quick to make any final judgements, but it all certainly makes me think differently. I want to enjoy parks like Sea World. I want to believe they're doing good. But maybe I should ask a few more questions before blindly buying in.
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