Tilikum – not all black and white


The second day of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (US) Annual Conference.

I am in my hotel room in Spokane, WA in the USA, watching an amazing documentary on CNN called Blackfish. It’s about orcas (killer whales) in captivity at places such as Sea World. It documents incidents in which whales have attacked trainers, sometimes fatally. Many former trainers are interviewed. Many of them say they did not know what was going on, and they were taught to repeat untruths to the public. In one facility, punishment, food deprivation and social isolation was common as part of training. Even at Sea World, conditions were described as environmental deprivation. The animals lived in concrete pools, in closely confined groups that were brought together from different places and language groups, but wrongly described as a “family”. Frustration led some animals, one male in particular, to become aggressive. Sea World repeatedly attributed attacks to trainer error or simply tried to explain them away as accidents. In 2012, following legal action by OSHA, Sea World was ordered to have trainers work behind protective barriers.

What appalls me is the ideology that presents marine mammal training as purely positive reinforcement, which might be true in a narrow sense, but is meaningless when the living conditions of these sensitive, intelligent social animals is nothing short of abusive. It is time dog trainers stopped putting these institutions on a pedestal, and considered the whole picture.

The documentary film Blackfish was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

In the debate between reward-based trainers and trainers using correction and physical force, a common mantra has been “if you are training a killer whale, you can’t put a chain around the animal’s neck and jerk it to get compliance. You have to gain the animal’s willing  co-operation.”

Blackfish has driven a truck through the credibility of that argument – a truck big enough to carry the Orca Tilikum himself.

As a professional dog trainer, as well as an animal lover, this hurts.


Last night I watched Blackfish again. Here is a trailer shown on YouTube. Blackfish – Official Trailer (HD) Documentary, Orca – YouTube
By joblomovienetwork · 2 min · 1,333,493 views · Added Jun 03, 2013
http://www.joblo.com/ – “Blackfish” – Official Trailer (HD) Documentary, Orca Shocking, never before seen footage and riveting interviews with trainers and …

I wrote this on Facebook – as I recall, I wrote a pretty long article, but now I can’t access the rest of it. Frustrating.


About transformational1

I have many interests and I have had a varied career. I am a semi-retired professional dog trainer, specialising in the use of positive reinforcement. I do some consultations, I run instructor workshops and I am setting up a Dogs and Psychotherapy Research Project. I have a law degree from Melbourne University (but have never practiced) and I am passionate about Human Rights. My first degree was in Sociology. I worked as a social researcher on issues such as low income housing, women's refuges and women in the workforce. I live in an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia, and I have a German Shepherd called Chance.
This entry was posted in Aggression, Animal intelligence, animal training, Behavioural science, food rewards, Human-animal bond, killer whales, Learning theory, marine mammal training, orcas, Social and legal issues, Training methods, Training theories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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