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In 2014, a year of record tourism in the state of Florida, SeaWorld saw a drop of one million visitors to its theme park in Orlando. The decline followed Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s 2013 documentary film Blackfish, which presented the circumstances of orcas, or “killer whales,” held in captivity at parks like SeaWorld as cruel to the animals and dangerous to their trainers. In 2016, SeaWorld announced it will stop breeding orcas, and phase out its orca theatrical shows by 2019, a move widely attributed in the press to the impact of Cowperthwaite’s film. This article examines the film Blackfish as a rhetorical alignment of the symbolic functions of theme parks and documentaries, analyzing the work of the film’s discourse to influence audiences and challenge to SeaWorld’s use of captive orcas to entertain tourists.

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Journal of Florida Studies