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CNN NEWSROOM

"BLACKFISH" Explores Killer Whales in Captivity; Marathon Survivor Vows to Dance Again; A Foster Teen's Plea for a Home; Colts Spoil Peyton Manning's Homecoming

Aired October 21, 2013 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We did get a statement just a few minutes ago from the NSA saying that they're not going to comment publicly on every single allegation. But they say, "As a matter of policy, we've made clear that the U.S. gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations."

And then they also say that President Obama ordered. They are looking into this on how all of this is gathered. And they want to balance, and I think this is really the key, at least as they look at it, balancing legitimate security concerns, not only of the United States, but of its allies with the privacy concerns that people have -- Michaela, John.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, more damage control to be done there. Jill Dougherty thanks so much for that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Checking other "Top Stories" right now. Just about an hour from now, President Obama will confront the computer glitches that have tainted the roll-out of parts of Obamacare. He is due to speak from the Rose Garden at 11:25 Eastern. We will carry that live.

The problems come as Americans are already fed up with Washington and the dysfunction that led to the shutdown and the near default on America's debt. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, only 12 percent -- 12 percent prove of the way the Congress is handling its job. A whopping 86 percent disapprove.

Police say a man tried to board a flight with a bag full of knives, scissors, lighters and matches; 29-year-old Timothy Schiavo Jr. is in custody after his arrest Saturday at New York's Kennedy Airport. A TSA agent discovered the items during screen -- look at all of that. Among the dozen knives, there was a blade that was more than four inches long. Police say he told them that he was a knife collector.

PEREIRA: Well if he is, he has quite a collection.

BERMAN: With him trying to board the airplane.

PEREIRA: Trying to board the airplane and that's why they are upset about that.

All right. They are believed to be among the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. We're talking killer whales. A new CNN documentary takes a close-up look at killer whales in captivity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They live in these big families and they have life spans very similar to human life spans. The females can live to about 100, maybe more; males to about 50 or 60. But the adult offspring never leave their mother's side.

Each community has a completely different set of behaviors. Each has a complete repertoire of vocalizations with no overlap. And you can call them languages. The scientific community is reluctant to say any other animal but humans uses languages, but there's every indication that they use languages.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Some beautiful images.

PEREIRA: Sure they are.

BERMAN: But it really tells something of a troubling story. The film is titled "BLACKFISH". And its director Gabriela Cowperthwaite joins us this morning. Great to have you here with us.

This -- this documentary traces events involving killer whales all the way up to a tragic death of a handler at SeaWorld in Florida and shines the light, really, on how these animals are raised and kept. What were you trying to do in telling this story?

GABRIELA COWPERTHWAITE, DIRECTOR, "BLACKFISH": Well it's interesting. I'm a mother who took her kids to SeaWorld. So I come to know (inaudible) last to the so much sort of -- I thought I was going to be telling a documentary about a trainer at SeaWorld and this tragic -- this tragic death.

And so I sort of starting peeling back the onion from there and was shocked by what I learned. You know these animals are not suitable for captivity. They're supposed to be swimming up to 100 miles a day, up to 100 miles a day and they're doing these circles. They're split from their families. They fight all the time vying for dominance in captivity; of course in the wild they vie for dominance. But the subdominant animal who loses that fight flees. In captivity nobody ever leave so they are just sort of confronted with conflict daily.

BERMAN: One of the main characters in this film is Tilikum, it's a killer whale -- it was the whale who killed that handler in Florida. But this wasn't the first time there was an incident with this whale. Explain the really just dark troubled history here.

COWPERTHWAITE: I know. I know that was one of the most shocking things I learned is that he had killed twice before -- before killing Dawn Brancheau. The first time was at Sea Land it's like a park that is now defunct is gone up in Canada but he was -- he killed a trainer there as well. And then killed once he was move -- SeaWorld purchased him after that and they brought him over to Orlando. And a gentleman, apparently who had stayed after at the park at SeaWorld, was apparently killed by Tilikum. He was found dead the next morning. Nobody ever heard anything apparently or saw anything. But he was also, you know the second death. And then of course there's Dawn Brancheau.

PEREIRA: We should point out that we reached out to SeaWorld and they made this statement to CNN about the film. It reads in part, "Blackfish is billed as a documentary. But instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inadequate -- inaccurate rather -- and misleading and regrettably exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family" -- the victim -- "her friends and colleagues. Perhaps the 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."

It goes on to say "as demonstrated by the company's continual refinement and improvements to the killer whale facilities, equipment and procedure both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau."

I know that you probably have very strong feelings in reaction to that. How do you respond to they're -- them saying it was inaccurate and misleading.

COWPERTHWAITE: Yes, yes you know it's interesting. I mean the facts in film are indisputable. And you can go look them up online. But what's interesting is I tried very hard to interview SeaWorld for about six months. We went back and forth. And I gave them my list of questions, which is you know something you sort of never do. And I was looking forward to having their voice in the documentary.

But of course when they found out that I was actually interviewing folks who had worked at SeaWorld and who are sort of revealing some truths that nobody had heard in the general public that have gone on there for 40 years, they were clearly not going to weigh in on that.

PEREIRA: And have you found out from other SeaWorld, past SeaWorld employees, they -- they -- some of them have occasionally been vocal about treatment of these beautiful animals and other animals in the past.

COWPERTHWAITE: They are. They are I mean they are -- in fact people have come out since viewing the movie. A lot of the employees at SeaWorld who currently work there have viewed it. And sort of say, not only are the facts sort of indisputable in the film, but you only really scratch the surface with "Blackfish" they tell me so.

BERMAN: All right Gabriela Cowperthwaite thank you so much for joining us right now. The film again is "Blackfish." It is right here on CNN. You can see it, I believe, Thursday night is the --

PEREIRA: That's right.

BERMAN: -- is the premiere here.

COWPERTHWAITE: That's right. BERMAN: Still to come, we will continue to look at the film "Blackfish" with the other side of the argument. Our next guest is a 35-year veteran of animal care and training in Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and does feel that this film may be slanted. You will want to hear the other side. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They blamed her. This is the worst thing they've ever done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was attacked viciously. There's no record of an orca doing harm in the wild.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We want to talk more now about the controversial documentary "BLACKFISH", which takes a look at the nearly 40-year history of killer whales in captivity.

PEREIRA: Joining us now from Chicago is Ken Ramirez he is executive vice president of animal care, animal training at Chicago Shedd Aquarium. Now we should point out he does not work with SeaWorld but has done some consulting for facilities that do have killer whales.

Ken good morning, thank you so much for joining us. We understand that you have seen --

(CROSSTALK)

KEN RAMIREZ, SHEDD AQUARIUM: Good morning.

PEREIRA: -- we understand that you have seen "BLACKFISH" and I understand that while you feel the film is in your words are slanted you also have concerns about how you think Tilikum was treated.

RAMIREZ: Well I think -- I think the film is a compelling film. And there's no question that when I saw it I was just really saddened by what I saw. But I also came away recognizing that it was very one- sided.

I heard Gabriela talk about the fact that it was very factual and certainly the fact that Dawn tragically died is true. But so much of it is supposition and opinion of a lot of people. And there isn't the opportunity for those of us that work in the zoological community to really explain what we do and how we do it and why what we do is so important. And that's completely absent from the film.

BERMAN: I want to read you part of a statement from SeaWorld -- again we really do want to get their side of their story here. They again, they called the film misleading and inaccurate. And also say quote, "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 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."

I suppose one of the big questions here is this, and the film does raise this question. Can any facility, no matter how great it is, SeaWorld, any zoo -- can any facility fairly cage or keep these animals anywhere but the wild?

RAMIREZ: I think there's no question that caring for a large animal like a killer whale is a difficult proposition. It requires a certain level of expertise. And that's something that I think SeaWorld does possess. And so I do believe that a well-run accredited zoological organization can do a great job of caring for these animals.

And most importantly I think what we're able to is connect our guests and our visitors to these animal to inspire them to care, inspire them to make a difference about the conservation needs and the environmental issues that these animals face in the wild and that's what zoos and aquariums -- good aquariums do.

PEREIRA: You know it's interesting. I want to ask you about one specific thing. I think it was a headline that both John and I were a little shocked by. And Gabriela was saying that there's no record of killer whale attacks in nature. What do you say to that? And is it factual? And do you know that these animals are much more violent in captivity than they would be out in nature?

RAMIREZ: You know, that's a good question. And I think that's one of the misrepresentations that SeaWorld is talking about. Killer whales are the top predator in the wild. They are an aggressive animal that -- that -- that kills sharks, kills seals and kills other -- other animals. There are not a lot of human attacks in the wild because people don't interact with them in the wild. I also think the number of accidents that have occurred in zoos and aquariums is really minimal.

The film kind of portrayed this happens all the time but when you think about the tens of thousands of interactions we have with our animals every single week, the number of incidents is really small. There are many other professions far more dangerous and I think those of us who work with these animals go into it knowing that we're working with large and exotic animals.

But we also go into it with a passion and caring because we know that we can provide excellent care and help the public learn more about these animals. And that's what we're really passionate about is providing great animal welfare and being able to do it in a way that can help the public understand these animals better.

BERMAN: You know Gabriela made clear to us that she thinks the people who deal with these whales one on one, the handlers, do a fantastic job and cared deeply about the whales. I should point out that the Shedd Aquarium does not keep killer whales.

But do you worry that this film can create a backlash on really your entire industry at zoos and other places like this around the country?

RAMIREZ: Yes, that's probably one of my biggest concerns is that as you listen to some of the extremist groups talk, they're using "BLACKFISH" as a rallying cry that zoos and aquariums don't really deserve to exist. And I think that's wrong. And I think people misunderstand the real role and goal that zoos and aquariums play. And think safety is our number one priority.

And one of the reasons we exist is to be able to try to help our guests understand the impact that we can have on the environment. And I think by being able to see these animals up close, accredited zoos and aquariums can make a huge impact on educating and promoting conservation in the wild. And that's why it's so important that we continue to get our message out as well.

PEREIRA: We want to say thank you to you for joining us today on NEWSROOM. Ken Ramirez is the executive vice president of animal care and training at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Thanks so much for joining us. And of course, you can watch "BLACKFISH" and make your own decision on where you stand on this controversial topic right here on CNN this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

BERMAN: See what everyone's talking about. It is causing a lot of discussions right now.

PEREIRA: Absolutely. It sure is.

In today's "American Journey", it has been six months since the Boston Marathon bombings. Adrianne Haslet-Davis is one of the survivors. The professional dance instructor lost her left leg below the knee. She has vowed to dance again.

She agreed to film her recovery for "AC360" told CNN she didn't want to sugar coat her story. A warning: some of the video might be hard for you to watch. You might need to turn away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ADRIANNE HASLET-DAVIS, SURVIVOR OF BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING: I am on my way to a prosthetician's appointment -- still working on that word. And they are going to fit me for my legs. Yay. So exciting.

HASLET-DAVIS: Oh, my gosh. Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here's your foot.

HASLET-DAVIS: Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at the other side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is like seeing my child walk for the first time again. It's pretty emotional and it's pretty exciting. But she's a star. She's amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So stand up for me.

Does it hurt?

ADAM DAVIS, HUSBAND OF ADRIANNE: No. She's standing on her own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what do you feel? And what I need you to differentiate -- OK? You're doing good, at your own speed.

HASLET-DAVIS: OK. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One.

HASLET-DAVIS: It feels really good just to stand up right now. I haven't stood up in a really long time. I almost forgot what it felt like. It reminds me of dancing. And I just so desperately want that again. And I am so close. It feels really good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seven, eight.

HASLET-DAVIS: I think I'm further than I thought I would be in six months. I remember just getting my prosthetic and thinking that it would take forever, and then also in the same time thinking, I have got to do this. I had made a very strong point to not dwell on the people that did this.

I insist on being called a survivor and not a victim. A victim gives him ownership on me. I am not having that. That means that I somehow belong to somebody, or I'm suffering because of him. I'm not suffering. I'm thriving.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Checking our top stories now. It is a cold top story in Minnesota where they're expecting more snow this week. Look at that.

PEREIRA: It's so early.

BERMAN: It's so early. And that snowstorm has already dumped about three inches of snow in parts of Minnesota.

PEREIRA: That's somebody's snowman right there.

BERMAN: The roads are very icy and slushy in early (inaudible) in that state.

PEREIRA: We send you a big warm hug. We want to bring you --

BERMAN: And a sweater.

PEREIRA: -- and a sweater. We want to bring you an update now on a remarkable young man. He captured the hearts of millions in our nation. A 15-year-old boy made national headlines simply because of a powerful request he made when he stood up in his church. Here is his story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PEREIRA: This courageous teenager has become a national sensation after making a heartfelt plea at the St. Petersburg church.

"My name is Davion Only, and I've been in foster care since I was born," he said. "I know God hasn't given up on me, so I'm not giving up either."

The orphaned 15-year-old who has spent his entire life in foster care, asked for something that so many of us take for granted -- a family. Davion's mother gave birth to him while she was in jail. He has drifted in and out of foster homes ever since.

This simple request has tugged on heart strings both online and on TV.

LEIGH ANNE TUOHY, MICHAEL OHER'S ADOPTIVE MOTHER: It's ridiculous. I mean we need to step up and do the right thing. Invest in our children. They are our future. This kid just wants to be loved.

PEREIRA: Leigh Anne Tuohy speaks from experience. She's the mother whose real life story of adoption was turned into the Oscar-winning movie "The Blind Side".

TUOHY: How do we know if someone doesn't offer Davion hope and love and opportunity that he would not become the next greatest teacher or airplane pilot or police officer? All this young man needs is a chance.

PEREIRA: And he's not the only one. Some 400,000 children across the United States live in foster care. Davion's story is raising awareness for other foster kids just like him. As for Davion himself, his dream might just come true. So far over 10,000 people have reached out asking if they might be the family he so desperately wants.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEREIRA: It is going to take a while to go through all of those requests and applications. They think it could be about six months. But he's willing to wait for that. Another thing to point out -- 400,000 kids in foster care, a lot of times these are the kids that are a little older in foster care and sometimes people want a younger child or what have you, but those teens, kids like Davion, need a home as well.

BERMAN: So many kids need a chance like Davion.

PEREIRA: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: That's a nice story. Thanks, Michaela.

PEREIRA: You're welcome.

BERMAN: So homecoming games annual events at colleges and high schools across the country. But last night marked a rare occasion at the NFL level.

PEREIRA: Can you see a smile on his face already? Peyton Manning returning to Indianapolis for his first game since signing with Denver in the off season. Colts' fans gave him a standing ovation.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: And the new face of the franchise led the Colts to victory. It wasn't a win for his team. But it was a win for him personally.

Rachel Nichols is here. First of all, so great to see you.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: Thank you. Thank you.

PEREIRA: And what a great night for him even though they didn't win.

NICHOLS: Yes, it was an emotional night. I mean look, everybody knows that feeling of going back for say your school reunion. Right? You want to show everyone how great you're doing. And then you get there and there's that wave of nostalgia and emotion and it's richer and thicker than maybe you expected.

Well multiply that times 100 for Peyton Manning last night. He got there on a full head of steam and wanted to show everyone how great he was with the broncos. And then you saw him just now walking out on the field for the first time after seeing some old friends, his old teammates, the security guard who used to greet him when he walked into the stadium.

And they held a video tribute for him with 60,000 people in the stands cheering and giving him a standing ovation. And he acknowledged afterward it did get to him and made him emotional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEYTON MANNING, NFL PLAYER: No question, that was emotional during that tribute. I thought I came back pretty quickly. And I was ready to play for kickoff.

You know, I felt a little -- probably a little tired coming into this week. I'm kind of in some ways somewhat relieved this game is over. And I feel like hopefully, you know, I'll have a chance to play these guys again because that would mean we made the playoffs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLS: And, you know, you see Peyton Manning so often being almost machine-like on the field, right guys? Now this is a human side of him. That was nice to see him be so genuine even in a loss.

PEREIRA: He left there in a classy way. And he'll always be welcomed back.

BERMAN: The four sacks is not the way he wanted to be treated. Rachel Nichols, your show "UNGUARDED" premieres this Friday at CNN --

PEREIRA: Congratulations.

BERMAN: -- 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. We will all be watching.

NICHOLS: I appreciate that. Thank you.

BERMAN: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM of course. That is all for us right now.

PEREIRA: That's right. We'll hand it over to Ashleigh -- she is standing by. It will start after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)