'Blackfish' Documentary Ignites Debate Over Keeping Killer Whales in Captivity

"Blackfish," a documentary which focuses on the practices of capturing and training killer whales, has been the catalyst behind a debate surrounding SeaWorld and its use of the animals.

The film tells the story of a killer whale named Tilikum. In 1983, the whale was captured off the coast of Iceland and then moved to the theme park and was trained to perform. Tilikum killed three people between 1991 and 2010.

The 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau inspired Gabriela Cowperthwaite to question the practice of keeping orcas in captivity. Through her film, Cowperthwaite hopes to raise awareness about the danger and inhumanity of using the whales as a form of entertainment.

However, the Blackfish documentary was condemned by SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, saying that it exploits the tragedy of the trainer's death and is filled with inaccuracies.

"Instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues," the statement was released by SeaWorld stated.

The documentary focused on the unanswered questions from when Tilikum dragged Brancheau into the water after a performance in February 2010.

The incident killed the trainer and was described as the third human death related to the 22-foot, 12,000-pound orca.

The documentary has angered those in SeaWorld, as it seems to assert that the three deaths could have been prevented if SeaWorld and other similar marine parks stopped keeping the whales in captivity.

The documentary, which is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, seems to imply that keeping the whales in captivity causes them to behave in more extreme ways.

"I think SeaWorld is just looking to sow a seed of doubt because they have to. There were so many things I didn't include because they took us away from Tilikum, but they were very disturbing and could have easily loaded the film and turned it into a piece of activism - which was never my intent," Cowperthwaite responded.

Following Brancheau's death, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered SeaWorld to keep trainers behind barriers due to the risks they were facing.

SeaWorld is appealing that ruling, claiming that the OSHA has a "fundamental misunderstanding of how to properly and safely care for and work around these animals."