I pulled together some of the best ones to help you catch up on the controversy.
Let’s begin with the magazine story that partly inspired the movie.
• In 2010, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite read an Outside magazine piece that introduced readers to Tilikum, a six-ton SeaWorld orca tied to three deaths. The story by correspondent Tim Zimmermann also outlined the history of killer whales at marine parks and documented a handful of dangerous encounters between trainers and orcas. This post triggered Cowperthwaite’s interest in killer whales held in captivity and Zimmermann went on to help produce “Blackfish.” Many of the experts and former trainers he interviewed for the 2010 story also appeared in the movie.
• Cowperthwaite wrote a CNN op-ed explaining why she made the documentary and what she learned after two years of research and interviews. Her bottom line: Orcas don’t belong in captivity.
• Not all former SeaWorld trainers agree with Cowperhwaite’s approach to the film. Theme-park blog MiceChat interviewed ex-trainer Bridgette Pirtle, who initially helped with the documentary but said she backed out after she realized the director was sensationalizing the story and leaving out important facts.
• BuzzFeed quickly explains the headaches SeaWorld has faced since “Blackfish” premiered at Sundance Film Festival last January.
• SeaWorld bought full-page ads in eight of the nation’s biggest newspapers in December after months of relative silence about the film. SeaWorld President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison told the Orlando Sentinel the company decided to respond after some high-profile entertainers backed out of performing at its parks. SeaWorld has since launched a more elaborate campaign, as detailed in the San Antonio Express-News.
• Last month, SeaWorld reported record attendance and revenue in 2013 but Daily Finance noted the increased profits in the third quarter appeared to be tied to an increase in admission prices and in-park spending. The financial news serve also speculated about ticket discounts in the fourth quarter.
• Two years ago, we assembled a reader’s guide to the debate over SeaWorld trainers’ interactions with killer whales and whether orcas should be held in captivity in the first place. At the time, SeaWorld had spent significant cash on safety upgrades to protect trainers but the company’s attempt to appeal a judge’s ruling barring close encounters with orcas during shows was rejected.
• Last November, SeaWorld asked a federal court to overturn the 2012 judge’s ruling. Reuters spotlighted a provocative argument from SeaWorld’s attorney, who likened the Labor Department’s order limiting trainer-whale interactions at SeaWorld to the government barring close contact during NFL games for safety reasons. The decision on the case is still pending.