The Blackfish Effect

Three years after it hit theaters, Blackfish continues to resonate well beyond the movies. In response to public pressure catalyzed by the film, SeaWorld announced an end to its orca breeding program and a plan to transition the whales to a more natural, yet still captive, environment.

PR Collaborative is proud to have played a role in changing attitudes toward SeaWorld. We handled the Washington, DC press campaign for Magnolia Pictures in addition to spearheading the grassroots outreach to animal conservation organizations such as PETA and the Oceanic Preservation Society. 

Establishing early relationships with top animal welfare organizations and ocean conservation groups proved essential to building the film’s theatrical audience while simultaneously activating a community to agitate for reform. The stellar press reception coupled with the grassroots support helped make Blackfish one of the top-grossing documentaries of 2013 and scored a ratings coup for CNN.

SeaWorld has suffered since the release of Blackfish in 2013; its profits fell 84 percent in 2015 and attendance dropped by 100,000 visitors. Additionally, the “Blackfish effect” has echoed beyond the sea-park industry. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is retiring its iconic elephants in May, citing a “mood shift” in customers’ attitudes towards performing animals.

Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing orca that killed several people while in captivity. Filmmaker Gabriella Cowperthwaite created an unforgettable portrait of these highly intelligent animals and the trauma they endure living under the whip of a multi-billion dollar entertainment giant. Cowperthwaite, in a recent interview with NPR, called SeaWorld’s new policies a “defining moment.”

Watch the trailer