Animal intelligence, science fiction, and the shocking new documentary BLACKFISH

I spent part of my youth in central and southeast Alaska and had the opportunity to observe killer whales in the wild many times. I’ve always been fascinated by these amazing animals and have long imagined that there might be more to them than meets the eye.

As marine biologists have learned, Orca whales are highly evolved and extremely intelligent. Whale families and communities differ greatly—depending on what part of the globe they inhabit and what food they eat. Even their DNA is different.

My curiosity about orca whales was piqued after I read a series of articles on animal intelligence. My curiosity turned into questions—and ultimately into story threads in my new sci-fi thriller, EXODUS 2022. I wondered, is there genius among non-human animals? If so, how would genius manifest itself? And what if a genius of another species tapped into something humans had overlooked, or couldn’t comprehend?

“Blackfish” reminds us how little we really know about other species and other minds.

Having spent the past three years immersed in orca whale and animal intelligence research, I find the new documentary film “Blackfish” brilliant, inspiring and hopeful. I believe everyone should see it.

“Blackfish” has been covered in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, on CNN, NPR, Aljazeera and countless other media outlets. It’s trended as high as #2 on Twitter and is reportedly a contender for “Best Documentary” at the upcoming Academy Awards. But in case you’ve missed the buzz and haven’t seen the film, “Blackfish” tells the story of Tilikum, a performing orca whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite uses shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry.

“Blackfish” challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from (or about) these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.

The protagonist in EXODUS 2022 faces the humbling truth that other species hold secrets, knowledge, and wisdom that human beings have ignored. Or simply cannot see. The story embraces the notion that we would be well served to pay attention to, and show respect for, other sentient life. “Blackfish” embodies a similar message: It’s high time we open our eyes and realize we’re not the only players on this planet.

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