Marine park owner says film investigation into death of orca trainer in Orlando is 'inaccurate' and 'exploits tragedy'

The US marine park SeaWorld has denied claims made in a new film that its policy of keeping killer whales in captivity led to the deaths of three people.

Critically acclaimed documentary Blackfish first screened at the Sundance film festival in January and is due to open in US cinemas this weekend. It centres on the orca Tilikum, which it claims has been involved in three fatalities since being captured in 1983 off the coast of Iceland. These include the death of animal trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010 after she slipped or fell into a tank and was mauled. "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," director Gabriela Cowperthwaite told ABC News' Nightline TV news programme.

Representatives for SeaWorld, which has marine parks in Orlando, Florida, San Diego, California and San Antonio, Texas, issued a statement labelling the film "inaccurate and misleading". The statement read: "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."

It 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."

Blackfish is due for a limited release in UK cinemas next week: 26 July. It does not yet have an Australian release date but screened at the Sydney film festival last month. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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