The film The Cove explores the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, an act considered reprehensible by a significant portion of the world. The Cove presents among many other concerns, the toxicity of mercury as a reason why dolphins should not be eaten; one rationale given for the slaughtering of dolphins in the film. The Cove juxtaposes the meat neatly wrapped in plastic waiting to be purchased by consumers in a grocery store with disturbing images taken by high-def cameras of dolphins being killed with harpoons and subsequently bleeding to death. The film elaborates on the dangers of eating mercury containing food and compares it to the Minamata crisis, which similarly was caused by the widespread consumption of fish that were poisoned by mercury containing waste dumped by the Chisso Corporation’s factory in the 1950s. The slaughtering of dolphins in Taiji, Japan brings food to the focal point of a crisis between environmental pollution and cultural values.
During one sequence of The Cove, the filmmaker films the cast surveying meat being sold in a Japanese supermarket meat section. The sequence begins with the playing of background music and a shot of the store’s signage advertising “Fresh Fish” twice in English. The sequence cuts frequently between close-up shots of the meat and an interview with a Specialist in DNA Species Identification. The background music played during this sequence is ominous and this ties in with the argument of the sequence, that there is some mystery to the origins of the meat being sold here, because it is actually being misrepresented as a different meat. The mystery of the origins of the meat is then examined through the cuts to the makeshift lab in a Tokyo hotel. In establishing the sequence, the DNA expert explains how dolphin meat is a less desirable meat for consumption. This is explained previous to this sequence in the film because of the high mercury levels contained in dolphin meat. The conclusion to the scene is that some of the meat being sold as expensive whale meat, is actually dolphin meat from the dolphin slaughter occurring in Taiji. The implication is that the consumption of unsafe dolphin meat is more widespread because of the mislabeling to hide its origins.
The mislabeling of the meat contradicts one cultural explanation offered during the film for the purpose of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji; the harvesting of meat for Japanese eating preferences tied into cultural values concerning food. Albeit, some dolphin meat is properly labeled, that there is a organized collective effort to mislabel the remaining meat in order to hide its origins weakens the previous argument, that this is a cultural food tradition. Food is a prominent symbol of culture, so justifying the dolphin slaughter as harvesting meat for food, makes this a cultural practice which becomes a sensitive topic when discussed outside of the confines of the culture in which it takes place. The increasingly globalizing of cultures thrust these practices of one culture that may be contentious to another into close proximity. However, even examining this in the confines of the Japanese culture itself, it becomes hard to argue the rationality of consuming toxic “by their standards” mislabeled meat.