Nature documentaries as catalysts for change: Mapping out the ‘Blackfish Effect’ (2021) Boissat et al., People and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10221
Wildlife documentaries generally have the best of intentions, but our ability to determine their actual impact is limited at best. There have been attempts to analyse a documentary’s content or impact before, but they’re few and far between (outside of financial success).
Blackfish is a 2013 documentary which brought to light the poor treatment of orcas at SeaWorld, in particular the whale Tilikum, who killed three people while in captivity. Blackfish received widespread publicity, and in the years following its release, SeaWorld saw an enormous drop in attendance. They also saw a huge drop in stock price, redesigned their orca show to focus on conservation, and ceased their orca breeding program.
Today’s researchers wanted to investigate how closely the release of Blackfish was linked to the negative impacts and subsequent revamp that SeaWorld’s orca program underwent.
The thought of an orca playing with its food – a cute seal – can be a grim one. But is it useful to project our ideas of morality and emotion onto other species? (Image Credit: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Guest post by Mary Shuttleworth
Scene: A lone seal on a piece of ice, surrounded by an expanse of deep and frosted blue. The scene would be romantic, except the water is rippling. Every now and then dark fins with streaks of white emerge, jostling the ice. It is an orca, and it is in training. Members of its family, or pod, are nearby, watching it as it practices how to take down its prey. The seal is in distress, stress resonating throughout its body. If they have noticed, the orcas take no notice. They are learning how to hunt. More than that, it appears that they could even be playing.
A young orca from the southern population chasing its dinner. (Image Credit: JC Winkler, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Long-distance migration of prey synchronizes demographic rates of top predators across broad spatial scales (2016) Ward et al, Ecosphere, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1276
Populations that experience some kind of connection are classified as “meta-populations”, as they are all interconnected in some way and can influence one another. Although these populations may be geographically and reproductively isolated, meaning that they are in different places and the organisms from the different populations don’t breed with one another, certain environmental factors may cause these populations to grow or shrink in similar ways.
The key to understanding how this synchrony between the varying populations happens is understanding what connects them. Killer whale (orca) populations in the northeast Pacific Ocean inhabit three distinct areas, with orcas from the northern and southern populations never coming into contact with one another. They do, however, feed on the same salmon populations that migrate from where the southern population lives to the where the northern lives. The authors wanted to find out if this connection via a food source could result in the demographic rates of these distant populations syncing up.