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the cove

The Cove
Louis Psihoyos
Cast: Joe Chisholm, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Kirk Krack, Isabel Lucas, Richard O'Barry, Hayden Panettiere, Roger Payne

Joanne Ross

August 21, 2009


Taiji, Japan is a little village with a deep, dark secret. Ironically, outwardly with its many whales and dolphin statues and images, the town appears to love these creatures. But that’s a smokescreen according to Ric O’Barry of the Save Japan Dolphins Campaign. Every September the fishermen of Taiji round up and slaughter approximately 23,000 dolphins which they farm for dolphin meat. Because the meat contains dangerously high levels of mercury, citizens who consume it are unknowingly exposed to the dangers of mercury toxicity. And, spared show-quality dolphins are shipped throughout the world to sea mammal parks and swim-with-the dolphin entertainment programs. In fact, Taiji is the largest supplier of captive dolphins used for aquatic entertainment. At $150,000 per dolphin, this trade is a lucrative one. That would account in part for the commercial fishing industry’s flagrant disregard for the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling (which includes dolphins) issued by the International Whaling Commission.

A world-renowned dolphin trainer who worked on the Flipper series, O’Barry is a man on a mission. Driven by his passion for the environment, his love of dolphins, and a sense of his own culpability he works tirelessly and great risk to free these captive sea creatures. As depicted in the blistering documentary The Cove, more specifically he wants to try Taiji and the Japanese government in the court of public opinion. Mindful of his own past work with captive dolphins, O’Barry doesn’t hesitate to point the finger at himself as well.

But the wary Taiji fisherman and town officials zealously guard the little cove where O’Barry believes the slaughters take place. Director Louie Psihoyos records the intrepid O’Barry and his band of recruits as they infiltrate the area using hi-tech equipment and camouflaged high definition cameras to film the horrific scenes of bloodshed. Psyhoyos’s documentation of this environmental espionage is even more tense and edgy than any you would find in a fictional spy movie for all that the Taiji tragedy is a real-life horror story.

Unfortunately, the international community seems powerless to intervene. While the impotent IWC engages in useless argument, paying lip service to both sides but accomplishing nothing, Japan quietly garners support from member countries through offers of financial incentives, thus ensuring their interests continue unimpeded.

On a much broader level, Psyhoyo’s The Cove vividly captures the bitter battle between environmental and animal conservationists and corrupt commercial interests. It doesn’t flinch in showing how humanity’s needs and desires contribute to the steady degradation of the environment.

The Cove is a moving, and heartbreaking account of the dolphins’ plight in Taiji and the frustrated efforts of environmental advocates and like-minded individuals to stop the slaughter and simultaneously protect our environment. It is also a fierce condemnation of Japan’s commercial fishing interests and the government’s practice of deceiving their citizens and the general public. It is sure to provoke outrage, compassion, and in some, a desire to get involved.

When commercial fishing economics, the ineffectual rants of IWC members, blatant indifference to the law and conservation efforts, and misplaced national pride collide, the dolphins are the first but not the only casualties. The Japanese people suffer as well from the health risks inherent in eating tainted meat, as does our planet’s environmental equilibrium.*-JR


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