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The negative impact of the documentary Blackfish

Laure Boissat was the one who created our Animal Protection Index. She led a study that showed how the documentary helped SeaWorld to end its orca breeding program. This will hopefully open the door for other marine parks to follow her lead.

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Blackfish exposed SeaWorld’s lies

Blackfish was released in 2013. It features Tilikum, an orca that is kept at SeaWorld in the USA. Based on interviews with former marine mammal trainers and conservationists, the documentary shows the various conservation and animal welfare concerns surrounding the use orcas in marine parks like SeaWorld. It also highlights the dangers that animal trainers face, such as Tilikum’s death in 2010.

SeaWorld’s stock price dropped by 33% one year after Blackfish was released. After the documentary was released, the company launched a vigorous marketing campaign that culminated in the 2017 launch of an orca show. This new show aimed at educating the public about conservation. SeaWorld declared in 2016 that it would end its orca breeding program, effectively making the 22 SeaWorld orcas the last ones to be kept captive.

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SeaWorld’s orca breeding program was ended by Blackfish, according to a new study

What could have caused SeaWorld to change its orca breeding policy, its show design and its stock market decline? During my Master’s degree in Biodiversity Conservation and Management, I was inspired to study the impact of Blackfish on the environment. My research on ‘Nature documentaryaries as catalysts of change: Mapping the ‘Blackfish Effect” has been published in People and Nature, a journal from the British Ecological Society.

To find out what happened, 26 key stakeholders were interviewed. They had a variety of skills in media communication, marine conservation, and marine mammal welfare. SeaWorld leadership declined to participate in my study. My research revealed that Blackfish caused negative publicity for SeaWorld, and altered the perception of marine mammal captiveship. The park saw a decrease in attendance and its market value dropped.

Three main factors explained why Blackfish was so popular were revealed in interviews. First, Blackfish was broadcast by major distribution channels such as CNN and Netflix. This allowed Blackfish to reach a wider audience. Blackfish was also able to bring awareness to the suffering of marine mammal entertainment. Blackfish was released at a suitable time. It had been waiting for a perfect storm to build up, creating a cultural environment that would allow it to be released in 2013. The documentary was able to reach a broad audience thanks to a combination of factors that were fueled by animal welfare activism and rights advocacy. SeaWorld’s credibility was also eroded by dismissing the documentary and their response was slow and inept.

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My research shows that documentaries can be very powerful change agents. The “Blackfish Effect” is long-lasting and will hopefully open the door for other marine parks to end their animal breeding programs and allow their animals to be retired into sanctuaries.

Another evidence that marine mammals belong in nature is the blackfish

Although Blackfish was released in 2013, the issue is still relevant today. There are more than 3,000 dolphins and whales being held captive in zoos. Orcas are one of the strongest predators in the world and the largest dolphins in the world. Orcas shouldn’t be kept in captivity as they are 200,000 times smaller than their natural habitat. Dolphins in captivity will not be able express their natural behaviors.

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Despite legislative improvements in Australia and Belgium this year, marine mammal entertainment and captivity are still permitted in many countries around the globe. We must end the cruelty and inhumanity of marine mammal captivery. This is beyond just allowing zoos to be accredited. World Animal Protection is currently asking Expedia Group for leadership in the travel industry and to stop selling tickets to captive dolphin entertainment venues. Join the Pod to help us save dolphins from being held captive.


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