More Blackfish.

Constructive criticism is a good and useful tool, it makes a good thing better.
Destructive criticism, however doesn’t do the opposite. It simply destroys.
Take the latest outpourings from Bridgette Pirtle as a prime example of destructive criticism. She is a one-woman weapon of crass destruction. There is nothing sacred from her flow of bitter venom. Her latest skirmish in her efforts to remain in the spotlight involves an interview with somebody called “Micechat.com” where she single-handedly shows her support for SeaWorld and attempts to blacken the name of Blackfish and Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
There is no love lost between myself and Pirtle, twice (at least) she has made false accusations against me, for which I am still waiting for an official apology, and I consider her to be….well, let’s just say she’s not on the Christmas card list.

To begin with, “Micechat.com” is a theme park advice/information website. So very pro-cap then.
micechat 3

Micechat are bedfellows with The Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast, the pro-cap site that even pro-caps love to hate.  micechat 4

Unsurprisingly, the Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast has absolutely NO affiliation with SeaWorld but at least has the intelligence to admit it.unoffical seaworld podcast

 

So, these are the players in the game. A bunch of SeaWorld groupies and an ex-trainer who claims to be an animal rights advocate. Note, she doesn’t go as far as calling herself an anti-captivity advocate, that would clearly be a step too far…

The article reads like an advert for SeaWorld, which is exactly what it is, with the added “bonus” of Pirtle making nasty swipes  all over Blackfish.

It begins with a potted history of how little Bridgette visited SeaWorld and immediately wanted to become a trainer when she grew up. There is nothing wrong with having a dream, but I’d much rather one that involved a tu-tu or space helmet rather than one that includes humiliation of another species. Still, each to their own, I suppose.

Bridgette Pirtle first visited SeaWorld when she was 3 years old, and immediately became obsessed with whales.  In 2000, Bridgette was accepted into the killer whale apprentice program at SeaWorld San Antonio and began working with sea lions, otters and bottlenose dolphins, which lead to 10 years of experience with killer whales and eventually becoming a Sr. Trainer.

On February 24, 2010, Bridgette and the other trainers were all called in by management and informed that there had been an incident in Orlando, and that it had resulted in the death of Sr. Trainer Dawn Brancheau.  Bridgette was devastated by this news. Dawn was her hero, a person whom she looked up to.   In the days and weeks after this incident, Bridgette’s parents and grandparents would tearfully plead with her to stop working with whales out of fear that what happened to Dawn could happen to her.  In the end, Bridgette decided to leave SeaWorld in March 2011.

So, after 13 months Bridgette decided to leave SeaWorld and her dream job, because Dawn Brancheau was tragically killed.

 

Sorry? What? The article clearly implies that Pirtle quit due to Dawn’s death and the obvious ramifications of that. There is no need to mention Dawn otherwise. But no, it appears that an orca and a broken camera and a fair amount of frustration at SeaWorld’s lack of maintenance sealed the deal. Even though Halyn died in 2008? So it took a further 3 years and 2 deaths for the “epiphany” to manifest itself into a resignation letter. Too harsh? Well, maybe, but it’s clear that the tears and pleadings from family members didn’t hold much sway. I have never read anything that says she left SeaWorld due to Dawn’s death. Let’s blame Micechat for that.

In September 2012, Bridgette began to look for ways that she could share her love for the animals that she worked with at SeaWorld, and this is when she discovered “Voices of the Orcas,” which is run by four ex-SeaWorld Trainers, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray, Jeffery Ventre and John Jett.  When Bridgette initially spoke to the trainers, they told her that there was a movie in production about Dawn and Tilikum and that they were going to tell the truth.

Well, she could have used the pictures that she took of the crumbling concrete and missing chunks of wall. Instead of pictures of her “glory days”. Not quite a “smoking gun” but so much better than the interminable shot after shot of Ms Pirtle draped over some orca or another.

When I asked Bridgette what that “truth” was, she explained: “The truth is that it wasn’t Dawn’s fault.  And that was the most important thing to me.”

Blackfish doesn’t blame Dawn. SeaWorld blames Dawn.

“Tilikum is not an aggressive killer whale…the only thing that lead to this event was a mistake made by Ms Brancheau.” ~ Jeff Andrews, SeaWorld expert witness.

It was after this call that Bridgette was introduced to Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of Blackfish. Here’s Bridgett’s account of what Gabriela told her the film would be about:

“I thought she was making a movie that was going to be more respectable to the memory of Dawn, more understanding of the unique lives of killer whale trainers, the unique circumstances under which killer whale training is conducted now, and the loss that the current trainers felt and currently feel.  I thought it would give some sort of closure; that it would give some sort of answer, create harmony, and it didn’t.”


This isn’t what Gabriela said though, is it? This is Bridgette’s interpretation of how Blackfish ended up. Quite clearly that this is Tilikum’s story. HIS timeline. It’s probably got a lot to do with how the movie got its name. Not a lesson in how training strategies have changed or interviews with people who most probably would have been fired from SeaWorld’s employ by talking in a movie that is less than sympathetic to SeaWorld and their business.

We then asked Bridgette what her contributions to the film were. She responded: “I contributed footage and insight into the recent context of killer whale training at SeaWorld. I was invited by the executive producer, Tim Zimmerman, to attend the film’s premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Although I was asked by the director if I could provide an interview for the film, I declined due to time constraints and an uncertainty about the path I was going to tread in this unknown and foreign territory. I did take part in a few ‘Q&As’ and agreed to hold off on sharing my own story and experiences until later, once a distributor had been obtained.”

Thank goodness somebody had foresight.

In January 2013, Bridgette traveled to Park City, Utah, where she would meet with the others involved in the film – John Jett, Jeffery Ventre, Carol Ray, John Hargrove and Samantha Berg.  While they were getting ready for a question and answer session, Samantha Berg said to Bridgette, “They are going to choose you to be our spokesperson, because you are pretty and you look like Dawn.”  This immediately did not set well with Bridgette, who still mourns the loss of her hero, Dawn Brancheau.”

carol ray

Carol Ray. She’s lovely.

Sorry, but what? Have you seen a picture of Carol Ray? She’s lovely.  She was actually in Blackfish too, and therefore far  more readily identifiable than someone who wasn’t. I’m not saying this conversation didn’t take place, I’d just be very surprised if it did.

According to Bridgette, before the first screening of the film, Dawn’s family requested that they be allowed to view the movie in the privacy of their own home. When Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite refused their request, Dawn’s family then asked if they were going to like the movie, to which her response was, “No.”” 

Well what on earth do you expect her to say? It’s hardly got a happy ending has it? This is her family for Pete’s sake!

Bridgette still had high hopes for the film before her first screening. She shared:“It seemed to me, with the information that was given at the time, that maybe there was someone capable of telling Dawn’s story and defending her in a compassionate and respectful manner.”

But it isn’t Dawn’s story. It’s Tilikum’s story. Dawn is a character in the book of Tilikum’s life. As is Daniel Dukes and Keltie Byrne and Christopher Porter and everybody else who has worked or even seen him. Dawn may well have taken centre stage for a while, but it isn’t her story. Perhaps, given an earlier comment, Ms Pirtle is angling for the part of Dawn in the inevitable and deeply distasteful “Dawn Brancheau TV Movie”? Either way, Blackfish treats Dawn with the utmost respect and doesn’t blame her for her own death. Unlike her shady employers.

However, after her first screening of the film at Sundance, Bridgette had a different reaction

Never saw that coming. At all.

One of the most disappointing things included in the film was Jeff and Sam’s critiquing of Dawn’s last session. There are quite a few double standards that are entwined within and around the film that became apparent to me as I began to ask the right questions and ultimately trust in my own beliefs and my own experiences. This one sat wrong with me from the first viewing. Seeing a veteran of 16 years be criticized by individuals unaware of Tilikum’s history, people unaware of Dawn’s relationship with Tilikum, and people who hadn’t a clue of the context of the current state of killer whale training – much less the context of that session – was disgusting and disrespectful.

Jeff Ventre was fired for multiple safety violations in the water with killer whales. Sam wasn’t given the opportunity to gain enough experience to begin to critique Dawn’s actions. John Jett felt Tilly was ‘frustrated’ based on poor observations from a poor behaviorist. These trainers were poor with their relationships – if they believed in them at all – and they were poor behaviorally.

Dawn would not have made the decision to continue on with a session if Tilly was behaviorally poor, as these three imply. In the words of Jeff, it is in my ‘humble opinion’ that their disrespectful insight is from inexperienced trainers suffering from ‘trainer-itis’ who did not have the privilege or opportunity to make a connection with the animals they briefly worked with long ago.”

What’s “disgusting and disrespectful” is the way Ms Pirtle continuously attacks and degrades her fellow human beings and drags poor Dawn’s name through the mud. It’s all speculation anyway. The only person who knows exactly what went on that day is sadly no longer with us to tell her side of the story. Additionally, now this may come as a bit of shock, but not everyone actually knows what is involved in training an orca.  Having the expertise of someone who has actually done it and explain it to the audience makes a lot more sense of the clip. I find it extremely interesting that Ms Pirtle doesn’t attack trainers such as Tamaree who was dragged into the water by Orkid due to what appears to be her own fault.
With regard to Mr Ventre’s exit from SeaWorld, I have it on very good authority that he was asking far too many awkward questions regarding trainer safety (or lack of it) and was dismissed for kissing Taima on the tongue, a “banned” activity, although many other trainers carried out the same activity.

 

When asked what she thought SeaWorld could do about the criticisms which were brought up in the film, Bridgette answered:

“In the eyes of the film, there is only one acceptable response: Free them all. This is illogical and irresponsible, and any experienced trainer will agree. Even history tells us that reintroduction has not proven successful in the past. SeaWorld looked into improving the facility with a whale ‘treadmill.’ Seeing the company invest in the animals was something I applauded immediately. This was enrichment. This was exciting and encouraging. And my accolades were heavily criticized by activists who wanted only to mock the action. It’s unfair.”
Unfair? It’s unfair to make false allegations about people too, but that doesn’t seem to matter, does it? SeaWorld doesn’t have a “treadmill”, not does it seem to have any plans what so ever to install one or invest in any form of enrichment programme for their captive orca. Nor does Blackfish call for freedom for all. Blackfish presents the questions and leaves it up to the viewer to decide. At least that is the opinion of……..


“It’s easy to forget about the internal conflict many have in regards to seeing the animals in these small confinements, with “leaning” dorsal fins, exposed pulp cavities and rake marks and scarring over their entire bodies. Blackfish encourages the audience, without coercion, to confront those internal conflicts… and decide for himself or herself whether it is socially or morally acceptable to continue to house these social beings in  sterile, tiny environments, in the name of entertainment.” ~ Bridgette Pirtle (via Voice of the Orca.)

And finally we asked, would you take your children to SeaWorld?

“Whales were such a large part of my life, and these relationships were so important to me, that I cannot imagine not giving that to my children. So, yes, I would take them to SeaWorld.”

Saving the best until last…..a perfect pro-captivity quote. No suggestion of whale-watching, I notice. How typical. No doubt you plan to bring them with you if SeaWorld ever have a “Bring Your Kids To Work Day”, get ’em on the payroll at the same time.

 

 

 

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3 responses to “More Blackfish.

  1. Lindie O'Brien

    Thank you for this matter of fact fall to earth of the Bridgette Pirtle spin machine. It’s astounding how many mad directions this ex-trainer has spun off during the past year. Great to have the record straight again.

  2. Teresa Wagner

    Bravo! Fabulous article! I think this Pirtle woman should turn herself into a Barbie Doll, you know, that awful SeaWorld Barbie Mattel sells and shouldn’t. That way someone will buy her and keep her captive in their closet. And they won’t even have to bother to feed her dead fish because she is PLASTIC.

  3. Christina Hampton

    Sounds like she’s back on SeaWorld’s payroll. Anyone who loves orca as much as she claims to would not want them to be prisoners. If you truly love something or someone you want what’s best for them.

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