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'Blackfish' has SeaWorld in hot water

The documentary claims that the marine park has made deadly errors with regards to its orca trainers, allegations that the company is disputing.

January 25, 2013|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

In May 2012, a Florida judge ruled that SeaWorld killer whale trainers can no longer get into the water with orcas and must be protected by physical barriers. SeaWorld is appealing. Still, the park doesn't seem to be hurting much: In 2011, attendance at its three locations rose 5.2% to 12.1 million, from 11.5 million in 2010, according to the Themed Entertainment Assn.'s global attractions attendance report.

But other animal activists believe "Blackfish" may reduce attendance at SeaWorld. Louie Psihoyos, the director of the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary "The Cove," said that if his movie about dolphin slaughter in Japan "gave these guys a black eye, hopefully this will be a knockout punch to SeaWorld."

Cowperthwaite and Berg hope that SeaWorld will eliminate its orca shows and replace them with more educational exhibits, such as facilities where sick whales are rehabilitated for eventual release. Another option, they say, is for the company to keep whales in a sea pen — a cordoned-off portion of the ocean where whales can still feel the natural rhythms of the ocean but are not confined to a tank.

"Whales are special because you feel that they recognize you, and that small moment throttles you," said the director. "But we have to be comfortable with the fact that whales may not love us back in that way. I was a mom who took her kids to SeaWorld, lured by the iconic image of Shamu, and didn't feel quite right about it and didn't know why. I hope people who see this and still go to the park are at least making an active decision — throwing down that 100 bucks and knowing the truth — not making a passive decision like I was."

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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