A GRAVEYARD of wooden crosses forming the outline of a whale stands silently and solemnly on Brighton beach.

Watched over by the stoical shell of the West Pier, the art installation is designed to mark today’s plight of the killer whale.

Whalegraveyard – Set Captive Spirits Free opened on Sunday.

Hundreds of black and white crosses represent orca tails with one for each whale or dolphin which has died in captivity or is still held in captivity today.

The scene is part of Whalefest – the world’s largest Whale and Dolphin festival – which returns to Brighton on Saturday.

Keen environmentalist and artist Candy Medusa swapped using canvas for designing a cross in honour of Malia, a whale still in captivity which has never known life in the wild.

Her cross forms part of a second exhibition on display at the Brighton Centre as part of the event which will later be auctioned off to raise money for charity.

The marine biology graduate, of Portslade, said: “I'm passionate about seeing cetaceans wild and free rather than suffering in captivity.

“Malia's grandfather was captured off the coast of British Columbia, so I have chosen to represent this in a style influenced by Inuit art.”

More than 10,000 visitors are expected to attend the fourth festival to help raise money for the environmental charity Wild and Free, and campaign for marine conservation.

Celebrity television presenters Michaela Strachan and Steve Backshall – who is Whalefest guest director – will host talks at the two day event.

Dozens of marine experts will also be on hand to share their knowledge.

Mr Backshall said: “I'm looking forward to being part of a fun and thought-provoking event that inspires people of all ages to protect and love our ocean dwelling friends.”

Ian Rowlands launched Whalefest in 2011 at the Hilton Brighton Metropole hotel to celebrate cetacean sea life. Since then visitor numbers have doubled each year.

Event director Ian Rowlands said: “We don’t judge people if they watch whales in captivity, we just want to make them understand watching them in the wild is a more authentic and unique experience.

“Those animals suffer deeply in captivity and we want the world to understand that.”

Tickets are available from whale-fest.com and cost £14 for a one day pass.

All about Blackfish

IN 2013, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite released the documentary Blackfish.

It focuses on Tilikum, an orca at the SeaWorld park in Orlando, which was involved in the deaths of three people. The film looks at the controversy surrounding killer whales held in captivity.

The coverage included his capture in 1983 off the coat of Iceland and purported harassment by fellow captive orcas at Sealand of the Pacific, which the documentary claimed contributed to the whale’s aggression.

Former SeaWorld trainers were interviewed for the making of the film.

Critics praised the film but SeaWorld Entertainment refused to take part in its production, later claiming it was inaccurate, misleading and exploited tragedy.

The documentary was produced following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who died after being attacked by Tilikum at SeaWorld.

Witnesses said the whale jumped and grabbed her by the waist from a poolside platform before dragging her underwater in 2010.

Guests were evacuated while fire crews tried to rescue the 40-year-old, but they were unable to revive her.

The whale was also thought to have been involved in the death of a female trainer in Canada in 1991.

Other orcas were also said to have attacked trainers at SeaWorld parks in 2006 and 2004.