Writer shows bleak view of SeaWorld

“I am impressed,” Tim Zimmermann said. “This is the biggest audience I’ve seen for a ‘Blackfish’ talk.”

UVM students and community members came together to hear Zimmermann, co-producer and writer of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, speak Nov. 11 in the Grand Maple Ballroom.

Tim Zimmerman comes to UVM to speak about documentary Blackfish
Tim Zimmerman comes to UVM to speak about documentary Blackfish PHOTO BY DAYNA WYCKOFF

Zimmermann’s presentation first explored the impact the film had in the years following  its release and then examined the overarching theme of human-animal relationships.

“How do you feel about the phasing out of the killer whale displays on the West Coast?” junior Marion Christensen asked.

“This is the first time that SeaWorld is acknowledging that public pressure is turning against captivity,” Zimmermann said.

“What I think is happening, is that SeaWorld is buying time; for them, the key is to go overseas,” he said.  

“They’re in discussions now to open a park in the Middle East.”

“Blackfish” focuses on the orcas at Seaworld, specifically an orca named Tilikum who was taken from his mother at the age of two and has been kept in captivity for over 20 years.

Tilikum has killed three people, according to SeaWorld of Hurt, PETA’s campaign against SeaWorld.

Before “Blackfish,” Zimmermann wrote a print story on the death of Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer, in Outside Magazine in 2010.

“I wanted to answer the question of why Tilikum, a killer whale, might end up killing a trainer with whom he had a very close, trusting relationship,” Zimmermann said.

“Cruelty has led the frustrated orca Tilikum to wear his teeth to the nubs from chewing on the underwater bars of his cement prison,” according to SeaWorld of Hurt.

After hearing about how Tilikum and other killer whales had been captured, Zimmerman said that became the basis for the story, both in print and onscreen.

“I am very passionate about animal conservation and this subject particularly interested me after watching [“Blackfish”],” first-year Kate McCullough said.

“As a kid I had been to SeaWorld, seen the shows and thought it was really cool,” first-year Kaitlyn Sutter said.  “But watching the documentary revealed the harm and dangers to [the animals] which made me want to learn more from Tim Zimmermann.”

SeaWorld defends its practices and has maintained “Blackfish” as inaccurate.

“All of the falsehoods and misleading techniques in “Blackfish” are employed in the service of the film’s obvious bias  … claims that all killer whales in captivity are ‘emotionally destroyed,’ and ‘ticking time bombs,’”  according to SeaWorldCares, SeaWorld’s website regarding animal cruelty concerns.

“These are not the words of science, and indeed, there is not a shred of scientific support for them,” according to the site.