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SeaWorld: Stranded whale video and 'Blackfish' documentary attract attention

SeaWorld: Stranded whale video goes viral, raising concerns about SeaWorld's whales just as a new documentary questions SeaWorld's treatment of orcas (killer whales).

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A birthday trip to SeaWorld turned disturbing when a young pilot whale beached itself and then apparently couldn't get back into the water. Video footage of the "stranded" whale has gone viral, though SeaWorld officials say the whale's behavior was normal.

On the heels of the stranded whale video comes "Blackfish," a documentary that may do for killer whales at marine parks what the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary "The Cove" did for dolphin slaughter in Japan.

Like the viral video, "Blackfish" began with a family trip to SeaWorld. The documentary explores what may have caused Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca, to kill three people, including veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

News of Ms. Brancheau's death during a show at SeaWorld in Orlando inspired director Gabriela Cowperthwaite to explore what happened. SeaWorld first claimed that the trainer had slipped and fallen; later, it said Tilikum had been spooked by Brancheau's ponytail.

"Tilikum did not attack Dawn," SeaWorld said in a written response to the film. "All evidence indicates that Tilikum became interested in the novelty of Dawn's ponytail in his environment and, as a result, he grabbed it and pulled her into the water."

The director, who has made documentaries for ESPN, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and the Discovery and History channels, said it took two years to make the film. She procured footage from local and national newscasts, people's personal archives, and through the Freedom of Information Act.

"It was just perseverance when it came to getting footage," she said in an interview. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Once you see that, you can't unsee it. In my mind. that gave me my directive. Now that I know the truth, I have to tell the truth. I didn't imagine that I was going to be making this film. I thought I was gonna be making a completely different film about relationships with our animal counterparts. So it was really learning through interviews and stuff and seeing footage."

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