Mercury Saves the Dolphins
Save the Dolphins!! Psihoyo’s The Cove shouts its message loud and clear. The water in the cove of Taiji, Japan is died red with blood each day from a new batch of dolphins being killed for their meat. Psihoyo follows Ric O’Barry and his followers halfway around the world while they try their hardest to stop it. What’s funny about this documentary, though, is that its cause is to save dolphins, yet it goes into almost no detail about the reason the dolphins are being captured in the first place: to be domesticated and used for show. O’Barry focuses very heavily on the dolphins that are killed for meat and the health concerns that come along with that. He uses the dolphins’ high mercury levels to avoid dealing with the bigger issue of dolphin captivity.
In the beginning Psihoyo introduces the idea of captivity as the root cause of the dolphin slaughtering. He films O’Barry saying, “A dolphin in the right place could make be worth a million dollars a year.” The fishermen in Taiji capture dolphins primarily for captivity, and those who the trainers don’t select, are the ones that are slaughtered. The live dolphins are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; the dead are worth six hundred. Dolphin captivity is the cause of dolphin hunting, but Psihoyo only introduces it. This is because it is hard to criminalize a cute little five-year old boy who just really wants to kiss a dolphin. They show scenes of captivity that look happy and fun; there is bubbly music playing, dolphins flipping, and people cheering. This is contrasted with O’Barry’s heavier voice over, which talks about the immorality of keeping dolphins captive. The vast majority of Psihoyo’s American audience probably has a positive idea of a dolphin show, or a desire to swim with the dolphins, so focusing too harshly on freeing all captive dolphins might only gain limited support.
The film changes directions and focuses on the dolphins that are murdered not just caught, and Psihoyo follows O’Barry on his journey to shut down dolphin slaughters in the cove of Taiji. In order to attack the dolphin massacres, O’Barry criticizes the idea of dolphin meat as a whole. Since dolphins are so high up on the food chain, the mercury in the water can be biomagnified up to toxic levels in their meat. Ric O’Barry’s real goal is to stop the dolphin slaughter, not to ensure safe school lunchmeat for the children of Japan. The mercury content in the meat, however, is a driving point in this film Psihoyo interviews two men on a school board to which dolphin meat is donated for school lunches, and says they are concerned about the health of the children. The two men, though are not as spirited as the film crew, and the scene contains more voiceover and analysis than it does actual interview content, in order to really push the point. The biggest success O’Barry has over the course of the film, other than simply getting the word out of course, was the two men’s ability to get dolphin taken off the school lunch menu. The crew also sampled packages of meat in the grocery store and found that dolphin meat was being falsely labeled and sold as whale meat, but again only have their own crew doing the voiceovers where maybe the voice of an expert could have added more validity to the argument.
It is easier to rally support to fight against a group of foreign men who kill dolphins for a living than it is to attack an entire branch of the American entertainment industry, which is where the real problem lies. This is why Psihoyo and his crew followed Ric O’Barry around Taiji and not someone in the United States working to change laws on animal rights. The Cove breaks wide open the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji for the world, but as far as activism goes, as long as dolphins can still be sold into the entertainment industry, they will continue to be caught.