Orca Conservancy wants to express our sincere condolences to the family of John Crowe on his passing on Monday. As many of you know, John was a former diver who worked with SeaWorld during the deadly orca roundup at Penn Cove, WA in August 1970, which included the capture of Lolita. John’s courageous testimony was critical in the State of Washington reaching a settlement with SeaWorld in 1976 that stopped orca captures in the United States.
After over 20 years of seclusion, John finally agreed to break his silence on the matter, granting his first-ever interview in 1999 for the nationally syndicated youth special, “Baby Wild Films Presents: The Killer Whale People,” produced, written and edited by Michael Harris and hosted and narrated by Hall of Fame rocker Nancy Wilson of Heart. Besides this exclusive and heart-wrenching interview with John, the special also included the first-ever broadcast of the powerful 16mm film of the Penn Cove capture, the rights of which were won by Michael as part of a settlement of a pending lawsuit with KING Television (he now owns the copyright to the material in the U.S. Library of Congress) and was painstakingly restored by him for the show. “The Killer Whale People” reached millions of people worldwide and won an Emmy Award that year. Press the ‘play button for the link:
It should also be noted that the filmmakers of “Blackfish” pirated this restored and copyrighted material for their own segment on the Penn Cove capture, not even bothering to ask Michael for permission. And despite director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s assertion, her film wasn’t the first to interview John on his role in the Penn Cove roundup. “The Killer Whale People” preceded “Blackfish” by about a decade-and-a-half.
In fact, Michael’s interview was actually conducted at a Free Lolita event held by Howard Garrett, who appears prominently and basically narrates the “Blackfish” segment as a “researcher.” It’s inconceivable that Cowperthwaite wouldn’t be aware of this previous work. And for those of you familiar with “Blackfish,” take a good look at the two segments back-to-back — they are shockingly similar. Even some of the edits are the same, down to the exact frame. As it is, Michael was completely blown off by the producers of “Blackfish” when he raised the serious issue of copyright infringement and plagiarism, and has been challenged by their team of attorneys to take the matter to court, an expensive proposition for anyone.
Orca Conservancy has a long history of opposing the capture and captivity of all cetacea, and of course we founded the campaign to bring Lolita home. We support some of the messages of “Blackfish” and are kindred spirits in raising concerns about the cruelty and perils of keeping magnificent creatures like orcas in concrete tanks. Few organizations have done as much as we have for the cause. But we’re also champions of the truth, and sadly “Blackfish” falls short here on many counts. Mainly in dealing truthfully and respectfully with fellow orca advocates and colleague filmmakers and journalists.
The truth always wins out, as John proved in his heroic testimony that winter of 1975/76. Anything less diminishes his memory and contributions to orca freedom.
Shari Tarantino, President, Orca Conservancy, 206 379-0331
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