'Blackfish' takes a candid, bloody look at SeaWorld

SeaWorld is freaking out. And understandably so.

The images in the new documentary "Blackfish" are downright harrowing.

One trainer is crushed between two killer whales. Another's arm is bitten, fractured to the point it's visibly disfigured. Yet another is nearly drowned. Pent-up whales bloody each other. One dies. And you see the final moments of one trainer's life before a whale ended it.

There you have it, kiddies. Now everyone run to the gift shop for your Shamu dolls!

You can see the problem here — and why SeaWorld took the unusually aggressive step of blasting the film, trying to influence movie critics before the film even arrived in theaters.

It shatters the carefully crafted image that it's all sunshine and smiles in the world of whale captivity.

And that's probably OK.

It also shouldn't be a surprise.

When you mix giant animals with people, bad things are bound to happen.

And when you put creatures used to swimming 100 miles a day inside a concrete tank, they aren't going to live the same normal, healthy lives. Some of them will die. Some will be sick. Some will demonstrate warped behavior.

In fact, the most disturbing message in "Blackfish" doesn't really involve the trainers — who must know there are risks to jumping in the tank with a 10,000-pound mammal whose natural instinct is to chomp sea lions in half.

The more compelling take-away involves the grisly effects of captivity on the whales — the injuries, the sickness, the death, and even the bloody battles between animals forced to live together in small spaces.

Deep down, I think SeaWorld knows it needs to change.

Heck, my sixth-grade son knows this.

On Monday, he spent the day at SeaWorld. On Monday night, I showed him "Blackfish." (No one ever said growing up in my house was easy.)

He watched with wide eyes; mama whales wailing in grief when their babies were taken, and trapped whales fighting, even killing each other because they had no space to swim away.

Afterward, I asked my son what he thought.

"Really, I mainly like riding the roller coasters," he replied. "Maybe they should just do more of that."

They already are. SeaWorld now promotes its thrill rides as much as its animals. Experiences like Journey to Atlantis and the Kraken and Manta coasters aren't just novel additions. They're part of a master plan — an evolution.

And much of what the park has evolved into is very good.