Cross-Post with The Gay Atheist
Watch the Trailer
About two weeks ago I attended the SIFF screening of a documentary called "The Cove". When I walked into the theater, all I could remember about why it had made my list of SIFF movies to watch was the fact that it was about dolphins, and the picture representing the movie in the guide was very pretty. FYI, don't bring your kids to this movie - it's decidedly not pretty. I've spent the last two weeks digesting the information and wondering what to do with it. The least I can do is write about it, be one small voice to reach out to the general population tha thas no idea what's going on in Taiji, Japan.
The movie isn't pretty, but it is filmed beautifully by world-renowned photographer Louie Psihoyos. For a first time moviemaker, he had a lot to work with, a daunting task to narrow the footage down into a cohesive story that could be made into a film.
That story begins in Japan with the meeting of Louie Psihoyos and Richard O'Barry, former dolphin trainer on the set of the TV show "Flipper". O'Barry immediately whisks Psyhoyos to Taiji, all the while relaying information about the local conspiracy to keep him from his observations in order to keep their town's dolphin trade a secret. He comes of as a bit of a looney, but we see that O'Barry has not been exagerating. They are followed by multiple police cars, accosted by fisherman who scream and block their camera view, and met with officials demanding to know their intentions and insisting they stay out of the national park where "The Cove" is located on public land. That's all on their first day. Later, they visit the Cove when the public is allowed to watch the auctioning off of dolphins to trainers at aquariums and dolphinariums around the world. No one there seems to question what will happen to the dolphins that are not selected for sale.
The movie goes on from here to tell you quite a bit about Richard O'Barry and his history with dolphins. Mainly his remorse for helping put them in the spotlight for entertainment, as well as his efforts to save dolphins and whales kept in confinement - through legal and illegal measures. New team members are then introduced, as a team is assembled of various professionals who can help them get dolphin footage clandestinely.
Cameras disguised as rocks, camouflaged behind foliage, and hidden in the cove are set-up at night, the action filmed on with heat-sensing video equipment. We've gone from looney conspiracy theory, to collecting skilled professionals, to the thrilling night escapades of dedicated documentarians. Everything is so exciting, and kind of fun, you've kind of forgotten why all of this cloak and dagger stuff is going on.
The tone changes immediately when the audience is shown two minutes of unimaginably cruel dolphin slaughter. Over 80 hours of footage, collected over the course of year, sneaking equipment in and out every night to avoid notice. All edited down to what was the worst two minutes of my life. I will spare you the most horrific details that haunt me still. I will say that the dolphins are terrified, even jumping out of the water onto the rocks to escape the violence. They are killed with no real efficiency or thought to alleviate their suffering - the dolphins die slowly by bleeding to death from multiple wounds. The fisherman laugh, sparing not even the babies or pregnant dolphins, with divers going underwater with knives to make sure no dolphin has been missed. Out of the 23,000 dolphins and whales killed annually by Japanese whalers and fishermen, 2500 dolphins are killed this way annually, over the course of six months.
After that horrible scene, the movie is no longer funny or entertaining at all. They keep adding on horrors for you to digest. The dolphin meat is loaded with extremely high levels of mercury and sold to consumers without warning. The dolphin meat is often mislabeled as other whale meat or seafood. Street interviews with the citizens of Tokyo reveal the general public does not support eating or killing dolphins, and they have no idea this is going on in Taiji. Japanese officials swear that the dolphins are killed humanely, dispute the levels of toxic lead in the meat, and consider serving that meat to school children - the Japanese school lunch program is mandatory, the children are not allowed not to eat it. The Japanese government has told these fisherman that dolphins are pests needing to be culled, because they are responsible for the depletion of fishstock. The International Whaling Commission has banned O'Barry for life for trying to talk about the slaughter in Taiji. When O'Barry walks in on an IWC meeting with a video screen strapped to his chest showing the slaughter footage for all to see instead of trying to talk to them, he is thrown out - to the amusement of the IWC's Vice President, a Japanese delegate accused of vote-buying to have the whaling moratorium lifted.
I have never been so horrified in all my life, except maybe when learning about the Holocaust. Shouldn't something be done? Why isn't anyone else talking about this? How can the Japanese government hide these facts from their citizens?
As an American, I'm not really sure what to do. Change can only come within Japan to stop this hunt. So the least I can do is talk about it so that others hear my voice. And I will never, ever again visit Sea World or any other aquarium that keeps captive dolphins - the industry keeps the Taiji fisherman in the dolphin business.
If you are inspired to action, you can visit these websites for more information:
Official The Cove movie site
Save Japan's Dolphins
The Oceanic Preservation Society