Dolphins of the world are silent no more due to one man’s efforts to bring awareness and ultimately end the tragic annual dolphin killing tradition in Japan. The 2009 documentary The Cove chronicles dolphin activist Ric O’Barry and his tireless quest to unveil the billion dollar dolphin trade and captivity industry that he fears he once in advertently helped build.
As a former dolphin trainer for the 1960s American television series Flipper, O’Barry notes he feels partly responsible for the subsequent public interest in dolphins, and the devastating consequences to which it led. “I spent ten years building that industry up, and I’ve spent the last 35 years trying to tear it down”.
The turning point came one day after a bottlenose dolphin from the series died in his arms, and he quickly recognized the effects of captivity had on these uniquely intelligent sea beings with whom he had closely bonded. After this moment, he confides in the film, he decided the following day “to free every captive dolphin I could.”
Since 1970, O’Barry has become world-renowned for his advocacy work on behalf of dolphins, and is now founder and Director of Save Japan Dolphins, whose mission has become the subject of The Cove. Observed throughout the film are O’Barry’s travels to Japan as a one-man brigade against a stronghold of hostile fisherman, media and local officials intent on protecting its local tradition of dolphin killing. O’Barry leads filmmakers into a secret world in the village of Taiji, where 23,000 dolphins, primarily bottlenose, are captured annually in support of a global dolphin trade primarily sold to research institutes and aquariums; the remainder are killed for dolphin meat, often mislabeled as ‘whale meat’ in local Japanese markets, with dangerously high mercury levels.
Scenes throughout the film observe local fishermen and officials interrogating O’Barry about his activities in Taiji to promote awareness of this issue. He notes in the film, “I was once welcome there. Today they would kill me if they could. And I am not exaggerating. If these fishermen could catch me and kill me, they would.”
With posted signs reading ‘no entry’ and ‘danger’, we learn ‘the cove’ exists in a protected area of a national park in Taiji, which ultimately led the director of The Cove, Louie Psihoyos, and his team to devise a covert operation to capture on film the devastating manner in which dolphins are captured and killed off the coastal waters of this quaint local village. With hidden cameras, audiences watch blue ocean water turn red as pooling blood from the morning slaughter of dolphins engulfs the cove, a daily practice occurring in complete obscurity from the Japanese public and the world.
Psihoyos says, “I realized I needed to capture in this story a greater truth in viewing what is happening in Taiji as a microcosm of a larger issue”. The story of The Cove, Psihoyos believes, serves as a parallel to the broader issues of overfishing, ocean degradation, mercury poisoning, and its consequences as a human rights health issue.
Today, the film has generated newfound awareness and support of ending Taiji’s covert annual dolphin slaughter. It was recently announced The Cove received distribution in Japan with a tentative release date of April 2010, and is now an Academy Award® nominated documentary. O’Barry believes with increasing awareness, a sincere opportunity exists for a grassroots movement to take hold and ultimately pressure the Japanese government to take action to end this tragic practice. In the meantime, O’Barry is organizing a public gathering in Taiji on September 1st, 2010 to celebrate a call to action on the commencement of the annual dolphin killing season as his mission marches on to protect dolphins, or what the film affectionately calls, ‘the people of the sea’. “We hope thousands will come to Taiji on September 1st to show Japanese fishermen the world knows their secret, and we are going to stop this.”