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"The Cove" will change the way you see dolphins forever

January 27, 2011


There is footage in The Cove, the 2010 Oscar winner for Best Documentary, of a lagoon turning red with blood as dolphins are slaughtered. As I watched it, I thought about other movies I’d seen where seas bled and felt horrified as I reminded myself that this wasn’t being done with special effects – real blood turned that ocean red. Real animals were being slaughtered.

In Taiji, Japan, 23,000 dolphins are still slaughtered every year.

Why? Partly for money, but partly, some think, simply because they can. Because there is a national sense of pride – for those engaged in this enterprise – that they are doing something the West doesn’t want them to do. And they hide these activities with the help of corrupt police officers, politicians, and fishermen.

The filmmakers and the crew of The Cove had to enlist the expertise of former U.S. military personnel to infiltrate the forbidden area around the cove where the slaughters take place. They hired professional Hollywood prop makers to create “rocks” which hid high-definition cameras that the crew placed around the cove – risking personal safety under the cover of night – so that footage of the slaughters could be recorded. Award-winning free divers who have been fortunate enough to swim with dolphins in their natural habitat signed on to the mission and placed underwater sound devices in the cove, enabling us to hear the last cries of the dolphins.

Every dolphin show, dolphin encounter, and dolphinarium (did you know that was a word?) has to get their dolphins from somewhere. Many – if not most – of them get them from Taiji. The dolphins are herded into a lagoon from the ocean by scaring them with loud, clanging noises. From that lagoon, dolphin trainers come to pick out the ones they want and pay as much as $150,000 or more for each one. The rest are then herded into the cove, which is hidden from view, and slaughtered. The dead ones are sold for their meat for about $600 each.

Dolphin meat is very high in mercury. Food safety commissions recommend no more than 4 ppm (parts per million) of mercury in any serving of food. Dolphin meat from Taiji registers as high as 2,000 ppm. Who eats it? Many people (most of whom are Japanese, it would appear from the film) who purchase what they believe to be whale meat are actually buying dolphin meat. How is this allowed? Well, dolphins are little whales. Did you know that? I didn’t.

Most Japanese citizens don’t know about the slaughters in Taiji. When interviewed on the streets of Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo, the citizens were shocked when told about the killing and the selling of the meat. They said it needed to stop. Ironically, at the end of the film, it is revealed that Hideki Moronuki, the man who was the chief of whaling for the Japanese Fisheries Agency had mercury poisoning.

Dolphins are amazing, beautiful, highly intelligent creatures. No one knows this better than Richard (Ric) O’Barry, the man who trained five dolphins in the 1960s to play the part of “Flipper” in the television show of the same name. “Flipper,” O’Barry feels, is one of the biggest reasons that dolphin shows and experiences are as popular and widespread as they are today. And no one regrets that now more than the man himself.

“I spent ten years building that industry up [i.e. capturing and training dolphins],” O’Barry says in the film, “and I spent the last thirty-five years trying to tear it down.”

After watching The Cove, I want to help him. I challenge you to do the same: Watch the movie (I did an instant view on Netflix) and then figure out a way to help him stop the slaughter.

For more information on the movie, click here or on my link above. For more general information, visit The Cove on Facebook, or the Save Japan Dolphins coalition.

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