SeaWorld has issued a statement calling Magnolia Pictures' killer whale documentary "Blackfish," which opens Friday, "inaccurate and misleading."
The marine park spoke to ABC News, which plans a "Nightline" segment on the controversy Friday night.
Tilikum, has been associated with the deaths of three people, including experienced Sea World Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled into the tank and killed in 2010. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the docu contends that these deaths could have been prevented by not confining the whale in captivity.
"'Blackfish' goes even further than 2008â²s Oscar-winning "The Cove" to launch a direct attack on Sea World and the practice of keeping marine mammals in captivity," said Justin Chang's review in Variety.
"There is no documented case of a killer whale ever killing anybody in the wild. It's only in captivity where these incidents have happened," Cowperthwaite told ABC.
SeaWorld representatives declined to be interviewed in the documentary. "The impression the film leaves is of a deep-pocketed institution that, for all its claims of humane and professional treatment, tolerates practices that are fundamentally at odds with the animals' well-being and refuses to accept any portion of responsibility," said Variety's review.
"'Blackfish' is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues," SeaWorld's statement said.
Tilikum has been associated with three of the four deaths involving killer whales in captivity. Although OSHA investigated after Brancheau's death and began requiring SeaWorld to keep trainers behind barriers, the park has appealed the decision, saying OSHA has a fundamental misunderstanding of how to work around orcas. Tilikum continues to perform at SeaWorld Orlando.
SeaWorld's full statement continued, "To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld - among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research. Perhaps most important, the film fails to mention SeaWorld's commitment to the safety of its team members and guests and to the care and welfare of its animals, as demonstrated by the company's continual refinement and improvement to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau."
Cowperthwaite has called for SeaWorld to take more of an educational role, rather than a operate a "circus-like" environment. Magnolia opens the docu at four locations in New York and Los Angeles Friday.