Averting Another Minamata

The Cove, a recently made American documentary film, attempts to uncover the bloody secret of a seemingly beautiful, serene cove in Taijii, Japan. All documentary films are made with an agenda that the makers of the film attempt to legitimatize or publicize, and the agenda of The Cove is quite clear: to first expose, and then stop the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Taijii, Japan. This goal is quite hard to accomplish as the Americans that made the film have no legal or moral authority in Japan, and the only international body designated to protect oceanic cetaceans, the IWC, does not protect dolphins. With these legal and institutional restrictions, the filmmakers instead try to destroy the legitimacy of dolphin hunting, as well raise awareness about the issue. The filmmakers employ several techniques to accomplish this goal. Emotional appeals are made throughout the film, such as the numerous scenes where dolphins are shown effortlessly gliding through crystal clear water. In contrast to these images of freedom, another emotional appeal is made in the silent, heart wrenching scene of gruesome dolphin slaughter in the secret cove. These scenes implore the viewer to feel empathy for the dolphins, and to question the practice of killing of dolphins on the basis of morality. While The Cove primarily uses pathos arguments to critique the practice of dolphin hunting, it also questions the safety and necesitity of using dolphin meat for food. 

Food is one of few things essential to human existence. Tying controversial practices to the production of food is an effective way to shield such practices from criticism. The dolphin hunters in Taijii attempt to do so, and it is this tactic that the makers of The Cove criticize. In an attempt to establish the legitimacy of dolphin hunting, the mayor of Taijii proposed a plan to supply free dolphin meat for schoolchildren in Japan. This would turn the slaughtering of thousands of dolphins into a public service. It would be difficult to criticize a practice that would support good cause; however, it turns out that due to biological amplification of mercury, dolphins are essentially, “a toxic waste dump”, and as such, the meat is contaminated with dangerously high amounts of mercury.A connection is then made between the current dolphin hunting in Taijii and the past tragedy of Minamata. The previously shown images of school children happily

Japanese school children

consuming dolphin meat are juxtaposed with the disturbing images of the victims of Minamata. While this ploy is somewhat crass and sensationalistic, it is effective in demonizing the fisherman of Taijii by comparing their hunting of dolphins to the polluting of Minamata Bay by the Chisso Company. Drawing connections from a past tragedy to a current event adds gravity to the situation, and provides an empirical basis from which critiques can be made. The disaster in Minamata was caused in part by the consumption of seafood contaminated by mercury, and the filmmakers use Minamata as a warning of the negative consequences that could arise in the future if the practice of dolphin hunting isn’t stopped. 

While the previously discussed emotional appeals may be successful in eliciting sympathy from the viewers, criticizing the practice of dolphin hunting on the basis of  public health is effective because it plays to our very basic  instinct of self-preservation.  The slaughter of dolphins in Taijii can be turned from an environmental and ecological issue into one of food safety. Food safety is a powerful cause to rally behind partly because it transcends petty politics. No one wants to be complicit in the poisoning of thousands of school age children. The makers of The Cove are aware of the importance of food, as they make it a significant aspect of their overall critique of dolphin hunting.

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