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KPBS Midday Edition

What Role Did 'Blackfish' Play In SeaWorld's Decision To Stop Breeding Orcas?

Tillikum, the killer whale at the center of the documentary "Blackfish," is seen in this undated photo.
Magnolia Pictures
Tillikum, the killer whale at the center of the documentary "Blackfish," is seen in this undated photo.
What Role Did 'Blackfish' Play In SeaWorld's Decision To Stop Breeding Orcas?
The Role of 'Blackfish' In SeaWorld’s Decision To Stop Breeding Orcas GUEST: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director, 'Blackfish'

This is KPBS Midday Edition, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. After spending millions denouncing and denying it, the SeaWorld Corporation is ultimately chosen to accept its message, the 2013 the documentary blackfish urged the world to stop reading in captivity stop using the tape. The world is now phasing out its famous shot shows in the next three years at last week, announced the end of the orca breeding program. He was did not mention blackfish or is the parks declining attendance revenues on sliding stock prices as a reason percent of documentary play a large part in changing public attitudes. Joining me is blackfish director and producer Gabrielle. Welcome to the show. What were the first thought that crossed your mind when you heard the role of ending its breeding program. I had to read and print to really wrap my brain around it and I heard it over the phone first. I just was incredibly heartened by that news, the breeding program is central to SeaWorld's business model, if entire culture. They wanted to keep performing Wilson captivity, forever, as far as he understood, and knowing that they're going to stop that, this last group of Wales in captivity at SeaWorld, it's the last way of [Indiscernible], it's a very powerful moment Wendy CEO made the announcement, he didn't mention your documentary. Rather he claimed SeaWorld contributed to the evolving understanding, the public has had about the proper treatment of orca. What your reaction? You know, to me is fine, I think it speaks for itself, is galvanized people in seeing something that they haven't seen before. They are more critical about the choices their making. I didn't necessarily need or want their acknowledgment that all, I think the film just wanted the public to know talk to reconsider this from an entertainment and is is a place where you want to take your kids? For me it's really the reason the declining stock value, and blackfish, the reason was not even that important to me but it's important to enroll public opinion. It was a really bold choice and stopping the program and they did a couple of other things to that are bold and are fantastic. We set forth the applicant set forth, so we're embracing it. We applaud the public for the pressure but ultimately applaud them for the funding Many people might think that you had an agenda about the treatment of orca is when you begin the project. True? I did not. I know it's hard to believe because the film is makes it pretty powerful statement but I can integrate with a different idea of what the film was going to be, about number one, I'm a documentary filmmaker actually a directory but also that mom who took her kids to SeaWorld. I remember going there myself, [Indiscernible] and wanted to understand why the top SeaWorld trainers was killed by a whale. I wanted to explore the relationship what that was all about, but I really didn't understand or know about the will issue, I immediately backed into the whole issue, months after. There are animal activist that were working to raise awareness about the orca is in captivity, well before blackfish. It seemed to take blackfish to get that message out. Why didn't this message struck a chord with the American public? Think part of it was that we -- think part of why the Salina struck a cord was not after I was a modern, who advocated and I was complicit sort of, I think a lot of or most of the people who are interviewed in the film works at SeaWorld, or -- there was one gentleman, who is no longer with us, he captured [Indiscernible] for SeaWorld. Many people in the film were asked actually complicit in the entire industry. In the SeaWorld industry. I think that humility involved with that, coming to the table and say I saw firsthand and I'm here to tell you, I did not like what was happening, I did not like my part in it and the fact that I was delighted for a long time. I think it was important. When you come an issue from the inside, people listen, because they know that you are coming about information honestly so I have to say that there is no blackfish without animal activists, animal advocate, scientific, veterinarians, only love working to get his message out for decades, for 50 years, acted on their shoulders to move this film. I would never have been able to make this if I didn't have all his former trainers, and activists. I would never have been able to pull back the curtain had it not been for all these people. Does this whole position by the world renewed sense of closure for you? I wish I could say that. I think we have to keep pushing, I think we have to keep pushing on some different levels not just the SeaWorld. I think for me just really pushing forward this concept of being humane, what it means to be human, what it means to care about our planet, what it means to [Indiscernible] on the planet, those are philosophies that things I care about. I think changes dynamic, I'm hoping it will always be, there are these whale now that it will be fantastic if they see centric model takes hold, where animals that are not released into the wild can be retired into sanctuaries, which in the orca case it will be the ocean pen, where they could experience retire in the ocean, in a more dignified way for the rest of their lives, sitting for Tigers. The organs have been so lucrative captivity that hopefully that is a conversation [Indiscernible] but really for this moment from a multibillion-dollar industry to say it's going to be ending, how [Indiscernible] and I do want to tell you the knowledge for sure has been a giant step for them. I've been speaking with the director and producer of the documentary blackfish Gabriela. Thank you so much. My pleasure.

When SeaWorld Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby announced last week that SeaWorld was ending its orca breeding program, he said it was due to an “evolving understanding of one of the world’s largest marine mammals.”

But animal activists say the shift was partly due to the documentary "Blackfish."

After the 2013 release of the movie, which was picked up by CNN films and has reportedly been viewed by more than 60 million people, SeaWorld saw revenues and park attendance take a hit.

“I think [the film] galvanized people into seeing something that they hadn't seen before,” Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director and producer of "Blackfish," told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday.

Cowperthwaite credited the trainers and decades of research and animal activism that enabled her to make the “Blackfish.” And she said that even though conversations need to keep pushing the issue, SeaWorld’s decision was a giant step.

“For a multibillion-dollar industry to say it’s going to be ending how it practices its industry is seminal,” Cowperthwaite said.

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