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'Blackfish' Documentary Backlash Prompts SeaWorld to Respond to Accusations of Animal Abuse With New Orca Exercise Equipment

By Julia Lynn Rubin j.rubin@hngn.com | Oct 03, 2013 05:07 PM EDT

Orca Whale
The disturbing documentary "Blackfish" has made an impact on how many people view SeaWorld and keeping orcas in captivity for entertainment. (Photo : Video Still)

In response to the backlash they've received after the premiere of "Blackfish," a 2013 documentary that details the many trainer deaths and alleged animal abuse of orca whales like Tilikum, SeaWorld is installing new exercise equipment for their killer whales, Ecorazzi reports.

"Blackfish" shocked and appalled viewers with its newsroom-style footage and horror film-esque pacing, ultimately leading up to the death of Dawn Brancheau, a beloved and experienced orca trainer at SeaWorld. The film alleges that SeaWorld covered up Brancheau's death, blaming it on a trainer accident, when in reality she was brutally scalped and killed by abused whale Tilikum, an animal with a history of murdering trainers.

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To this day, SeaWorld has denied the allegations made in the film. which includes interviews from former trainers about the abuse that orca whales in captivity, including Tilikum, are often subjected to at theme parks, news segments and disturbing "lost" footage that director Gabriela Cowperthwaite spent years tracking down.

"It was just perseverance when it came to getting footage," Cowperthwaite said in an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in July. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Once you see that, you can't unsee it. In my mind, that gave me my directive. Now that I know the truth, I have to tell the truth. I didn't imagine that I was going to be making this film. I thought I was gonna be making a completely different film about relationships with our animal counterparts. So it was really learning through interviews and stuff and seeing footage."

Since the theme parks' inception back in 1964, SeaWorld's orca whales have spent their days swimming around in giant tubs of water in between performances, activists arguing that the pools do not provide nearly enough stimulation for the animals that, in the wild, have rich and complex social lives.

Presumably in response to the criticism, SeaWorld is now installing exercise machines in the form of "endless wave" pools for their captive orcas, in an attempt to recreate the experience of their natural habitat.

"SeaWorld has been working...to potentially construct what they are calling a Killer Whale Treadmill," a user on MiceChat.com, a theme park fan forum, writes of the new equipment. "[It will] create water flow speeds up to 30 miles per hour, essentially simulating the sensation of endless swimming."

"This is exciting news for the orcas in SeaWorld's care as the park develops new ways to exercise the animals in their care and provide them with enrichment. If this test is successful, we hope to see the technology to be rolled out to all the SeaWorld parks," the user writes.

Animal rights activists may consider it a minor improvement, arguing that orcas should not be forced to live in captivity and perform for the enjoyment of humans, but fans of SeaWorld are likely going to be pleased with the developments.

Click here to learn more about the controversial new film, "Blackfish."


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