As filmmakers and celebrities prepare to flock to the south of France for this year’s Cannes Film Festival (May 16-27th), among the films to make their debut at the 65th annual 12-day event is ‘Rust and Bone.’ The film is an adaptation of ‘Rocket Ride,’ one of the stories found within Craig Davidson’s 2005 short-story anthology, also titled ‘Rust and Bones’. In the story a young man loses his leg to the orca he performs with and tries to rebuild his life through amputee-support groups and other therapy, ‘Rust and Bone’s’ storyline unfortunately is closer to fact than fiction and serves as a reminder of the unfortunate risks inherent to holding these huge, socially complex marine mammals in captivity.
Although WDCS is unable to review the film prior to the festival’s opening, the film’s general storyline as reported in the media involves a female orca trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in a horrific accident involving the whales. Scenes for the movies were filmed at Marineland Antibes (France), a captive facility currently holding five orcas, including one wild orca captured in 1982 from Iceland. Another Marineland orca, Shouka, remains isolated and alone at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California. We expect this film to stir public emotion and generate comparisons and renewed attention to the tragic and violent deaths of Dawn Brancheau and Alexis Martinez that occurred just over two years ago. Both trainers were killed by the orcas they worked with at SeaWorld Florida and Loro Parque on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, respectively, within just a few months of each other. Although I am not certain how the trainer and her relationship with the orcas is depicted within the film, if it is anything like ‘real life’, the job of a trainer will be portrayed as glamorous, dazzling, and exciting, suggesting trainers benefit from a privileged and reciprocal relationship with these huge, attractive and awesome animals.
Or, perhaps the silver screen will reflect the truer image of this profession, telling a different story where trainers can be injured or killed, and where ruined lives, both human and orca, are the real drama behind the shows. Whether it intends to or not, this film serves to further highlight the uncomfortable realities associated with the capture, confinement and exploitation of these magnificent creatures for our entertainment. Because regardless of the nature of the event causing injury and death, whether from orcas attacking their trainers or loss of limb during performances or other accidents, all result from the unnatural confinement of these large, intelligent and powerful animals. This practice is dangerous and deadly to both the orcas and the humans working with them. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has even found this to be true, citing and fining SeaWorld in August 2010 for knowingly and irresponsibly exposing its trainers to known safety hazards (orcas) that could result in injury or death.
As WDCS awaits the judge’s decision in the OSHA vs. SeaWorld hearing that concluded in November 2011 where SeaWorld contested OSHA’s citation, ‘Rust and Bone’ is an unfortunate reminder of the true costs of captivity to both humans and whales. Irrespective of this film, and considering the sordid realities of captivity and the more recent tragedies that have unfolded, it is difficult to understand how anyone can have a clear conscience about captivity. WDCS opposes the confinement of whales and dolphins in captivity, and is committed to exposing and sharing the truth. If you care about whales and dolphins, question the culture of captivity and take the pledge not to buy a ticket to zoos, aquaria or marine parks that profit from the exploitation of whales and dolphins.