SeaWorld would no doubt prefer that the public forget about
The film, which opened to overwhelmingly positive reviews, traces Tilikum's early life, when he was captured as a juvenile in the wild, his mother shrieking nearby, then kept in a second-rate whale park with a too-small pool and a cruelly undersized tank for securing the whales at night. He was one of three whales involved in the death of a trainer there before being moved to SeaWorld's Florida park. The filmmaker interviews experts and former marine park trainers who have their own interpretations and regrets involving Tilikum in particular and killer whale shows generally. In the end, though, the reasons why Tilikum or any captive killer whale acts as it does are all conjecture, as are the claims by some trainers that they enjoyed a close bond with the whales. Maybe the humans feel the love, but who knows what's going on in the mind of the whale, which might see the whole relationship as simply a front-flip-for-food transaction?
The subtext of the film is more important than whether SeaWorld trainers have enough expertise or whether Tilikum understood that he was killing Brancheau. We know far more about killer whales now than we did when the 1977 horror film "Orca" was released, in which a killer whale terrorizes a fishing village a la "Jaws." Killer whales form close-knit, lifelong family groups, each group distinct in various ways from all others. They travel long distances in a day and are extremely intelligent. There are no known cases of a killer whale killing a human in the wild.