There’s one scene in particular that’s just absolutely terrifying. Spoiler alert, by the way. It’s home video of a trainer during a whale performance at Sea World. At one point the whale, not Tilikum, decides to grab the trainer’s foot in its mouth and drag him down to the bottom of the pool. It holds him there for what must have felt like an eternity before surfacing again, never letting go of the man’s foot.
The whole time you can clearly see this guy’s face and look in his eyes as he faces almost certain death. But he never panics. You see him breathing deeply while stroking the whale and whispering to it and then it goes down again, holds him at the bottom and surfaces again.
Same thing. He doesn’t panic. He keeps breathing slowly and stroking the whale, hoping to convince it to let him go and it does. But then it grabs his other foot and pulls him down again.
As this is going on, other trainers have divided the pool in half with a huge net, the idea being that if he could get away long enough to swim over the net, the whale wouldn’t be able to follow, but that was it. That was the best they could do for this guy.
Eventually the whale lets him go and swims away and this guy bolts for the net. You’ve never seen anyone ever swim as fast as he did. Keep in mind this is all real video. As soon as the whale realizes the trainer is about to get away, you just see it make a u-turn and beeline straight after this guy at top speed.
The guy makes it across the top of the net, pulls himself onto a submerged platform at the edge of the pool and stands up to run as far away from the pool as he can. Only, both of his feet were basically destroyed by the whale, so he immediately falls down and starts dragging himself away.
Literally, the second he gets off the platform the whale swims onto it at full speed. Any slower and he would have died. He came that close and he did nothing wrong. That whale just snapped for no reason. Or maybe it was playing a game with him that got out of hand.
Either way, that’s the movie’s point. Keeping whales in captivity and parading them around doing tricks isn’t in anyone’s best interests. Not the trainers who risk their lives around them day in and day out and certainly not the whales themselves.
And that’s just one scene. There are plenty of other nail-biting moments, as well as more than a few that will likely break your heart.
It's agonizing to listen to the trainers as they describe the process of separating moms from their young and the severe, emotional reaction the mothers went through as they searched in vain for their missing offspring.
So yeah. Worth a watch regardless of your politics or feelings about Sea World or zoos. Especially if you can catch it at some time other than the nexus of one and one a.m.