“Blackfish” a recent documentary making its television debut tonight on CNN, is both psychologically thrilling and possibly an excellent teaching tool about the dangers of keeping large animals in captivity.  As to be expected, the film has caused somewhat of a national debate on the ethicality of bringing our little ones to SeaWorld and similar places, which is especially interesting considering SeaWorld’s decision to allow children in for free during their “Spooktacular” Halloween weekends.

“Blackfish” tells the story of the 2010 killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, a 12,000 pound orca.The film brings up serious concerns about not only the safety of raising killer whales in captivity, but the humaneness of it as well. In addition to showing numerous chilling scenes of orcas attacking their human caretakers, there is an interview with a former SeaWorld trainer John Jett that I felt was especially telling:

“I am not at all interested in having my daughter who is 3-and-a-half grow up thinking that it’s normalized to have these intelligent, highly evolved animals in concrete pools. I don’t want her to think that’s how we treat the kin that we find ourselves around on this planet. I think it’s atrocious.”

Personally, my family has long chosen not to go to places like SeaWorld or the circus where the ethical treatment of animals is in question. Maybe I’m a spoil sport, but even if the admission is free I don’t feel comfortable bringing my kids to see what amounts to torture of a helpless animal, some of which you can see in “Blackfish”.

Do I judge people who go to these places? I try not to. I think most people are unaware of just how abusive they can be, which makes films like “Blackfish” so vital. I think the people who would openly condone animal abuse are few and far between and most people simply don’t know.

Conservation is an important lesson that I wish to impart on my children. It teaches them to care about beings less powerful or intelligent as them and I believe that it will teach them to be compassionate and caring.

Of course, not everyone agrees with my viewpoint. Janis Brett Elspas, a Los Angeles mother of four told CNN that while she “feels bad when whales are captured or born into captivity” that she feels they aren’t safe in the wild either and that places like SeaWorld can protect them:

“I think a lot of the anti-whale-in-captivity people are thinking that people are using them for entertainment value and for their own selfish purposes, but I think it’s really important from the educational aspect.”

Yes, because making orcas do jumps and tricks in front of crowds of children is vital for conservation purposes.

Seriously though, I get the argument that SeaWorld does some good. They are known for doing conservation work. The question is, at what cost? I’m sure a lot of that conservation work is funded by the money that comes from the shows they put (like the ones featured in “Blackfish”). And if they were to stop these shows, what could they put in its place that’s not also abusive to damaging to the animals and dangerous to the trainers. These are questions I can’t answer.

What I do know is that, after watching “Blackfish” is that something has to change. The joy of seeing these majestic creatures in action so that our kids will be interested in conserving them isn’t worth the loss of a trainer’s life or the physical and psychological damage that the animals go through. There’s got to be another way.