It all started with a magazine story about a killer whale named Tilikum.

In 2010, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite read an article about the 12,000-pound orca tied to three deaths at wild animal parks, including two at SeaWorld. She decided to investigate.

What resulted was “Blackfish,” a documentary millions of Americans watched on CNN and Netflix – and serious blowback for SeaWorld, a publicly traded company that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next month.

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The film, which argues killer whales don’t belong in captivity, raises both moral and economic questions about one of our region’s major tourist attractions.

Are SeaWorld’s killer whales truly suffering in confinement and if so, what responsibility do we have to push for change? What is SeaWorld’s economic impact on our region in the first place, and how is the continuing movement associated with “Blackfish” affecting its bottom line? What does SeaWorld give back to our community, and what local policies and developments has the company pushed in the last five decades?

I’ll try to answer some of these questions in coming weeks, and I hope you’ll join me as I embark on this quest.

I want to zero in on SeaWorld San Diego’s role in our region as both a tourism engine, as well as the impact of the critical documentary that’s sparked an international conversation about killer whales in captivity.

This topic ignites passionate responses from animal-rights activists, and many media outlets have focused on this angle.

But there are also moral and economic questions specific to San Diego. I hope to guide you on a fact-finding journey about SeaWorld’s influence in our region, and how “Blackfish” could shift it.

That’s my plan for now. How I move forward will largely depend on what I uncover, and on what matters most to you.

How has “Blackfish” colored your view of SeaWorld? Would you take your children there or recommend the attraction to out-of-town visitors? What would you like to know about SeaWorld’s history in San Diego?

Please add your thoughts in the comment section or email me directly at

Check out our first post in the Quest: SeaWorld series – SeaWorld’s Whale of a Problem: Required Reading – and our wrap-up of the quest – What We Learned About SeaWorld.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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