In the not so distant past, if someone wished to eat meat, he or she would buy or raise an animal, and when it reached a desired age or size, that person would then slaughter and cook the animal. Today, if someone wants a steak, he or she simply goes to the local grocery store and selects meat from a wide selection for skinless, boneless and faceless animals. Food production has changed greatly over the past one hundred years. Advancements in technology mean that developed countries no longer need to allocate large portions of their populace to food production. People have become so removed from the things they eat, they may no longer know what they are really eating or how it arrived to their dining table.
The documentary film The Cove follows American filmmakers as they document the annual dolphin slaughter in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji. Captured dolphins are sold to trainers and theme parks around the world for up to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The remainder of the two thousand plus dolphins are killed and sold for meat for approximately six hundred dollars per dolphin. Unfortunately, dolphin meat has very high levels of mercury, which can be poisonous. It is also sold very cheaply, leading food producers to mislabel the meat as whale in order to fetch a higher price. The dolphin hunting industry in Taiji receives much negative criticism from animal rights activists who feel the practice should be stopped, which ultimately led to the creation of this film.
Ric O’Barry, the former dolphin trainer for the television show Flipper and animal right activist is the host of the documentary. In one scene, Ric leads the viewer down the meat isle of a Japanese super market. Like in many stores found everywhere in the United States, we see row after row of packaged meat brightly glowing from the wash of fluorescent lighting overhead. The meats are hygienically wrapped in cellophane with little trace of the animal they might have belonged to, or the violence that occurred to get them there. Aside from the blood that has stained the flesh of the animal, there is no other evidence that it was once a living creature. Ric dramatically holds up piece of dolphin meat that has been mislabeled as whale meat. Ric and the viewer know this is actually dolphin meat because it has been analyzed in a lab. But what about when a Japanese mother or father goes to the store to pick up dinner for their family? Would they know what it really was? Much like the Japanese, Americans are so far removed from where our food comes from, it is doubtful most of us could tell the difference between beef or bear meat simply by looking at it. This might not seem like a problem to some, unless it turns out that one of those mystery meats could potentially be deadly.
Throughout the course of the film, Ric and the documentary crew set up hidden cameras and microphones to capture the dolphin killings in a cove in Taiji. The climax of the film shows the footage they have captured during this process. After harpooning thousands of dolphins, a small boat with a few fishermen meanders through the cove—the fisherman dragging the dead animals on board. The boat becomes so heavy from the weight of dolphin corpses, it dips into the water seeming ready to sink at any moment. The water itself is a deep red from the dolphin blood. Some of the remaining live dolphins panic and try to swim free of the nets, but slowly bleed to death. Fishing officials have assured the viewer that they have perfected the killing method making the process “quick and painless” for the dolphins.
The consumption of meat requires a level of violence. The images of the documentary are meant to be disturbing. The filmmakers want the audience to feel upset and protective towards these animals, hopefully inciting them into taking action to save the dolphins. The makers of The Cove claim that dolphins are special and should be neither captured nor consumed. I can’t help but wonder if more people were involved in procuring their own meat, if they might feel more animals should also be exempt from slaughter—or if they might become desensitized and not feel anything about the slaughter of the dolphins because it is only natural for humans to eat other animals.