Tracy students take action after watching 'Blackfish'
by Denise Ellen Rizzo
Apr 22, 2014 | 11445 views | 1 1 comments | 60 60 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Young orca activists
Sixth-graders Jalyssa Flores, 12, and Sierra Rodda, 12, shown at Williams Middle School on April 16, initiated a campaign with their classmates to change the way orca whales are treated in captivity. The girls watched a documentary, “Blackfish,” about the captive orcas at Sea World parks and told their teacher they wanted to do something to end cruel treatment of the whales. Denise Ellen Rizzo/Tracy Press
view slideshow (3 images)
A group of Williams Middle School students have started their own grassroots effort to end the captivity of orcas for entertainment purposes after watching the documentary “Blackfish.”

Jalyssa Flores and Sierra Rodda, both 12, ignited the spark in teacher Amanda Lis’ sixth-grade class.

The two girls had relayed their strong feelings about captive orcas to Lis in January after watching the 2013 film on television with their families.

“I remember Jalyssa standing up (in class) and extending her arms, saying, ‘Nobody should go to SeaWorld, ever,’” Lis said. “I was surprised with the passion that came out.”

“Blackfish” is a film about a performing killer whale named Tilikum that killed several people while kept in captivity by organizations linked to SeaWorld.

The two girls spoke passionately in their classroom April 16 about their feelings regarding captive whales.

“I’m not sure what will happen to them in the wild, but I want to give them a chance,” Jalyssa said.

Sierra said she cried while watching the documentary.

“I thought they (orcas) were happy,” she said. “It should stop. They can’t be trained. I told my teacher she needed to see it.”

After seeing the interest the film sparked in her students, reinforced by the arrival of the educational publication Scholastic News in early March on the same subject, Lis began to create an extensive lesson plan.

“I saw this,” she said, holding Scholastic News, “and I said OK, I’ll start with this, and then I saw the movie and I knew I could build a lesson from that.”

Gathering more than 50 pages of information on the subject, Lis said she had students study the whales, write poems and make orca posters to express their feelings.

The highlight of the project was showing the documentary to her class after obtaining permission from students’ parents.

An avid diver, Lis said she had intentionally avoided watching the film, but her students’ passion changed her mind.

“It was nice to see that interest out of them in things outside of video games,” she said.

When asked about their reaction to the film, students described their feelings as “sad” and “mad.”

“It’s not right to keep the whales in captivity,” said one boy, while a girl said she cried watching the film.

“I first thought, it’s so amazing to watch them (perform),” student Alex Gonzalez said of her trip to SeaWorld in San Diego. “Then I saw ‘Blackfish’ and I thought how stupid I was. They are there for our entertainment, and they’re getting bored.”

Another student in the class, Juan Montenegro, said he too was upset with SeaWorld, saying officials lied when they said they hadn’t captured a killer whale in three decades. He said he learned that authorities gave a whale they named Morgan to a water park in Spain within the past five years.

“The poor whales,” Jalyssa said. “I don’t think anyone wants to go (to SeaWorld) now.”

Lis said other sixth-grade teachers at Williams have expressed an interest in teaching her orca program in their classrooms.

In the third week of April, the students sent protest letters regarding orca captivity to SeaWorld officials in Florida, with copies to the USDA Animal Welfare Department in Washington, D.C., and Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who wrote the proposed legislation AB2140 for the protection of orcas in California, titled “Orca Safety and Welfare.”

Lis said the students hoped to get a response to their letters after returning from their spring break vacation next week.

Learn more about the “Blackfish” film at and more about SeaWorld’s response to what it calls propaganda at

• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at or 830-4225.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
April 24, 2014
Good for you, kids! I applaud your efforts on behalf of the orcas and other captive cetaceans.

As you probably know, State legislators in Sacramento are considering a bill, AB 2140, to help the orcas. The bill will be heard before the ASSEMBLY WATER, PARKS & WILDLIFE COMMITTEE sometime next year.

The author of the bill is Assemblymember Richard Bloom.

The chairman of the committee is Assemblymember Anthony Rendon. Other members are Frank Bigelow, Travis Allen, Raul Bocanegra, Brian Dahle, Paul Fong, Jim Frazier, Beth Gaines, Mike Gatto, Jimmy Gomez, Lorena Gonzalez, Adam Gray, Jim Patterson, Freddie Rodriguez and Mariko Yamada.

ALL LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA 95814. Let them hear from you! Maybe invite one to speak to your class?

And here's a recommended article by Tim Zimmermann, "The Killer in the Pool" (available on-line), which appeared in OUTSIDE Magazine.

Thanks again, and good luck.



Eric Mills, coordinator



We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at