Imagine you’re wrenched away from your mother at two years of age, transported thousands of miles away, put in the care of strangers then kept day and night in a small, cramped, dark space. You’re forced to do tricks for food.
But eventually you've grown to a weight of about 12,000 pounds, and finally see your chance to get even. So you take it.
For decades, a visit to Florida's SeaWorld to watch killer whales perform has been a rite of passage for many tourists. But a new documentary film hitting theaters nationwide today suggests that those same orcas are little more than ticking time bombs.
With the use of harrowing footage of SeaWorld trainers under attack by performing whales, "Blackfish" questions whether captive killer orcas have any place in a theme park.
Right before the movie was set for national release, SeaWorld fired off a press release to about 50 national film critics, calling the movie "dishonest, deliberately misleading and scientifically inaccurate."
Although our news partner, the Miami Herald, was among the media outlets to receive the e-mail, SeaWorld officials would not respond to our requests for comment.
Since most companies accused of wrongdoing by filmmakers usually wait until after a movie's release to launch countermeasures, SeaWorld's response is widely considered unusual. Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez says SeaWorld's approach strikes him as "too little, too late."
"I can't remember any instance of a major corporation complaining about how they were depicted in a film prior to release," says Rodriguez. 'They had plenty of opportunities to be interviewed for the movie, which they turned down," he says.
"Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite says she stands behind her two-years' worth of research for the documentary.
"We're confident in this fact-driven film, says Cowperthwaite. “In fact, I've had people come forward -- veterinarians, trainers and so forth -- saying 'You barely scratched the surface. If you only knew the stories WE know, that place would be shut down.’ "
After trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, federal safety officials demanded that trainers remain out of the water and behind physical barriers when interacting with killer whales during performances.
SeaWorld is appealing that decision.
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Running time: 83 minutes
Opens: Friday, Aug. 2
Miami-Dade: Regal South Beach Stadium 18; O Cinema Wynwood; AMC Aventura
Boca Raton: Living Room Theaters (FAU)