On February 24, 2010, Sea World Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, an orca with a history of harming trainers. The film details the court case about Dawn's death between Sea World and OSHA, as well as a look at the life of Tilikum and other orcas in marine parks. The film features interviews with several former Sea World trainers, all of whom believe that the improper treatment of orcas can lead to aggressive behavior that is rarely seen in the wild.
Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983, and spent several years at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia. Tilikum was in an enclosure that was not large enough to handle him, and the staff was not properly trained to handle orcas. After the park closed as a result of the death of a trainer by Tilikum, the orca was sold to Sea World. Once there, it was obvious that Tilikum was not capable of being used often in shows, so he was used primarily as a breeder. When Tilikum was used in shows, he would sometimes become frustrated, which would lead to him attacking and even killing his trainers. Overall, Tilikum was responsible for the death of three trainers, including Dawn Brancheau.
The film also looks at the life of orcas at other parks, and how orcas there also attacked and killed their trainers. But throughout the film, Sea World is made out to be the villain. It is asserted that Sea World is only interested in high attendance figures and sales of Shamu dolls. Since Sea World refused to be interviewed for the film, there is no answer to these allegations. They are also shown to be uncaring and deceitful when it comes to the well-being of the orcas and the trainers. In the case of Dawn Brancheau, they claim that her death was entirely due to trainer error. This is an opinion that all of the interviewed trainers strongly disagree with.
In the court case, OSHA claimed that Sea World showed disregard in the safety of the trainers, while Sea World said that there was no evidence to support that belief, and that they were unaware that working with orcas in the water is dangerous to it's employees. The film concludes with the judge siding with OSHA, and now trainers are not allowed in the water with orcas during performances, but Sea World was appealing the decision.