Having “killer” looks isn’t going to get you out of this one

Humans truly are social creatures. It’s not just an idea either, research has been put into this idea that humans are social creatures. “The use of deliberate social signals can serve to increase reputation and trust and facilitates teaching. This is likely to be a critical factor in the steep cultural ascent of mankind.” – (Firth, 2009). Our social interactions aren’t limited to just other humans but other inhabitants of our planet, animals.

With humans co-existing with animals it’s no surprise that many people have made connections to animals through either work or just having them as pets. According to the Australian Veterinary Association “Dogs remain the most popular type of pet with almost two in five households (3.6 million) owning a dog”. On top of this “Cats were the next most common type of pet with nearly three in 10 households owning a cat (2.7 million).”. It’s no secret that people love animals, but what happens when an animal is pitted against a human?

A 2013 documentary called “Blackfish” was released and it focused on the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity. This documentary highlights how killer whales have emotions such as happiness, sadness or even anger. The documentary examines the deaths of three individuals who worked closely with the killer whales. With the way the documentary was set up, it made the killer whales appear as the victim while corporate is the villain. This was done through the use of anthropomorphism, the act of giving human traits to an animal.

In the documentary killer whales were separated from families and put into captivity to entertain water park attendees. According to defenders.org:

“Orcas are highly social animals that travel in groups called pods. Pods usually consist of 5 – 30 whales, although some pods may combine to form a group of 100 or more. Orcas establish social hierarchies, and pods are led by females”

So, like humans they too are social animals. With this in mind, the act of taking them away from their families and capturing them for our own entertainment is an act of evil against the killer whales. This in turn gives us reason to dislike the people capturing them in the documentary. Despite this, when a killer whale killed one of the employees the line of morality becomes murky. Yes, the killer whale suffered but when an entertainer was killed as a result of interacting with the killer whale that’s inexcusable as it threatens the safety of the people there. It was not a one off case either as two more died soon after, all done by the same killer whale, Tilikum. People can claim it’s just Tilikum blowing some steam after what’s been done to him but there’s no doubt that he’s dangerous regardless of the circumstances.


Theatrical release poster for Blackfish documentary

Throughout the documentary it’s clear the trainers had a connection with the killer whales which is perfectly fine. However, the documentary presented the killer whales in a way where they were the victim while corporate was the villain. This is true to an extent, but people forget Tilikum took three lives of trainers. While we can make connections with animals, there’s always some form of barrier with communication. This barrier makes it difficult for humans to completely understand what goes in animals’ minds. This barrier was even the downfall of one of Tilikum’s trainers. Tilikum misunderstood the trainer and performed a trick longer than intended and missed the que from the trainer to stop. Tilikum then wasn’t rewarded due to lack of food in the bucket which most likely angered Tilikum


Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando 2009

As social creatures ourselves, it makes sense to want to make connections with both other people and animals. But, with the barrier of communication between humanity and animals being so strong, people tend to forget that animals themselves aren’t always so eager to make friends.


  • Frith, C.F, 2005. The social brain: allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been. 1st ed. London: The Royal Society.

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