Superb, well-informed, emotional and inspiring are all the words that one would possibly use to describe The Cove after viewing this documentary. Along with his team of specialists who share great technical skills in their fields as well as their profound connections to dolphins, Ric O’Barry has brilliantly recorded the horrid facts about the dolphins slaughter in the cove of Taiji, Japan. He also shared with his audience his feelings and understandings of dolphins, which are the main drives keeping him move forward in this hard battle against dolphin slaughtering.
Richard ‘Ric’ O’Barry is a former dolphin trainer widely recognized through his TV series Flipper, featuring Flipper, a bottlenose dolphin that performed stunts alongside with Ric. Howecer, in the early 70s after the production of Flipper terminated, the bottlenose dolphin that most often played Flipper stopped breathing in never resurfaced again. Ric claimed to have witnessed Flipper dying before his very eyes. The death of Flipper came to Ric like a ‘shock from a punch’, making him believe that the practice of taking dolphins into captivities, and other practices that result in the deterioration or death of dolphins’ lives are inhumane. He then started working to free dolphins from mistreatment and captivity worldwide starting with cutting off a net to set free a dolphin in Bimini island days after Flipper’s death. This resulted in his arrest, yet he considered it only the beginning of his dolphins saving quest. Forming his own team of experts, he set out for a covert operation of capturing the images and sounds of the dolphins crying for help.
“If you aren’t an activist you’re an inactivist,” – Richard ‘Ric’ O’Barry.
One of the marks of a powerful documentary is that the person directly involving documenting it contrasts the ongoing methods that may help solve the problem with the severity of the problem itself. Here, Ric has directly contacted with the Japanese officials and the International Whaling Commission to evaluate the effort and efficiency put into the matter. Most of the responses that Ric received largely showed the indifference and lack of information from the Commission. The Japanese officials, on the other hand, not only did they not cooperate, but also tried to cover up Ric’s attempt to find out what was happening at the cove of Taiji. During his encounters with several local fishermen, he even heard directly that if he managed to capture the whaling practice at the cove, the fishermen’s business would be shut down. When the fishermen realized that Ric did not plan to stop, they physically confronted Ric, blocked his camera and shouted at him. Such adversity was expected by Ric because he knew himself that the source of dolphins is what the fishermen made a living from. The subsidies from the government for this activity perpetuated the practice while binding the fishermen from going beyond the profits.
According to the documentary, 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered each year in Taiji alone. Most are killed at the sea but thousands are killed at the cove of Taiji as a result of “drive-hunting”, a fishing technique involving a large deployed net by a formation of ships to force the dolphin ashore where they get cornered and stabbed to death. Living dolphins that are chosen for marine theme park will value up to $200,000 while a dolphin killed for meat only valued at $600. However, dolphin meat is extremely cheap and under-demanded for its high level of toxicity, especially mercury at 10 ppm while the average safety level is 1.6 ppm. The only drives for this practice to be supported by the government are the explosion of swim-with-dolphin program and pest control. However those reasons are poorly supported. The main reason of the decline in fish catch is due to overfishing (Pauly, D., & Chua, T. E. (1988)) as a result of unsustainable productivity from fishing.
Dolphins are also very complex and intelligent animals. Closely bonded with his old Flipper and the dolphins that he trained and nursed, Ric learned to understand the feelings of dolphin through eye contacts and body language. He believes that dolphins are “misunderstood because of their natural smile on their faces that hides away the pain they have to endure”. The footage of the desperate bleeding dolphin trying to swim away in the blood bathed sea is heart-wrenching to the viewers. Accompanied with that video and the cries of the wounded dolphins after a long struggle, Ric broke into the IWC meeting to show to the world the horror of dolphin killing in Japan as a way of saying “action must be taken, and taken now!” With the scene of Ric standing in the crowd of people trying to cross the street in Japan, the movie ended.
The Cove is a consistent, complete and powerful movie/documentary that is surely inspirational for people seeking for animals’ rights and justice (dolphins’ in this particular case). The movie went on to win the US Audience Award at the 25th annual Sundance Film Festival in January 2009. Though several claims were made accusing this movie of certain inaccuracies in Japan, it is still certainly eye-opening and informative about the brutality of dolphin slaughter.