‘Blackfish’ premieres on television Thursday

“Blackfish,” a documentary film about killer whales in captivity, will be shown on television Thursday at both 6 and 9 p.m. on CNN, the cable news network.

Host Jane Velez-Mitchell will hold discussions about the movie on her program each evening on HLN, sometimes called CNN Headline News. Her series “Beyond Blackfish” begins tonight and continues through Friday at 4 p.m. each day.

I’ve been looking forward to viewing this film, which has generated a great deal of controversy for its criticism of SeaWorld and its practices — including the public-relations surrounding the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. Brancheau was killed in 2010 at SeaWorld Orlando by an orca named Tillikum, who dragged her into his pool and kept her under water.

Film critic Jeff Nesbit of U.S. World and News Report predicts that “Blackfish” will win the Academy Award for best documentary of the year. But he also warns of “several intense, graphic and gut-wrenching depictions of incidents captured on video of killer whales attacking trainers.”

SeaWorld officials refused to contribute to the movie “Blackfish” and have since declined face-to-face interviews, although they did release a written statement that calls the movie “inaccurate and misleading.” To read the statement along with a written question-and-answer between CNN and SeaWorld, go to CNN’s website.

Howard Garrett of Orca Network told me that he expects the CNN showing to contribute to the film’s profound influence on how people feel about keeping whales in captivity.

“This is catapulting awareness far and wide into the mainstream,” Howie said. “It is carrying the message about what captivity does to orcas. We have known since the mid-90s that captivity is lethally stressful to orcas. This film demonstrates the disrespect and misunderstanding of them.”

Howie, who keeps track of killer whale movements in Puget Sound, appears onscreen in “Blackfish,” where he explains the history of the Puget Sound captures and talks about the unique culture and language of various orca groups.

If the movie “Free Willie” helped connect people to the intelligence and social nature of orcas, then “Blackfish” shows the darker side of human intervention, he says.

“If you are going to speak up for orcas,” Garrett said, “then you can’t be complacent about captivity.”

Howie hopes the movie will help people see the need to bring Lolita back home. Lolita, an orca held in a tank at Miami’s Seaquarium, is the only killer whale still alive after being captured and removed from Puget Sound.

“She was raised as a member of a family and community in Puget Sound,” he said. “She still has the language and cultural traditions in her memory.”

According to Garrett, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director/writer/producer of “Blackfish,” has expressed more than a passing interest in Lolita’s story, and he hopes Gabriela will tackle the issue with an upcoming movie project. For more about Lolita, go to Orca Network”s Lolita page.

If you have already seen “Blackfish,” please let me know what you think about the film and whether you believe it will have an effect on SeaWorld and other marine parks, such as Miami Seaquarium.

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