Dolphins – Food or Compassionate Beings?

Swimming with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins

Louie, Psihoyos’ 2009 The Cove is a struggle between tradition and combating emotions. Dolphin hunting and other mammalian sea creatures have been a tradition in Japan for decades; however, due to the opposing viewpoints of other nations to prohibit such actions, such practices are forcibly attempted to a halt. For their reasons being, the Japanese adopted the practice and acknowledge their pros and cons to it. Still, the Americans view it as something to fight against, not only for the sake of food, but for the sake of ecological and animal embrace. Essentially, the film attacks dolphin hunting and capture as abusive, cruel, and demeaning. In addition to the depletion of the dolphin population, the film aims to heighten the moralistic and spiritual essence of dolphins as sentient and intelligent animals as opposed to a food or other type of cuisine. Nevertheless, the Japanese dolphin industry and local Japanese government attempt to strictly hide the dolphin capturing sites in Taiji in order to prevent the people from knowing the cruelty of the business. Despite such efforts, Ric O’ Barry and the film crew attempt anything legally possible to expose the terrors that occur at the Taiji sites. As two conflicting viewpoints unravel, the importance of what is known to be food in one country can be a heinous and unjust crime in another. Hence, cultural and international differences conflict the efforts of one country’s interests to another country’s interests in the sake of food and tradition.

The film adapts a manifesto-oriented position as it calls for action and urgency for the sake eradicating the lies and abuse to both dolphins and the unaware Japanese people alike. The personalization and collective group consciousness the film adopts is similar to Battleship Potemkin and Minamata in the sense that they are the “we,” facing a higher power that dehumanizes them. What ties them together is the fact that these groups in common interest embody a personal connection to their food. To The Cove crew and the films previously mentioned, food is something of the upmost importance in which it is something they intake to their bodies and metaphorically become one. However, it is dubious as to what they consider food and what is just for them to eat. Although the dolphin meat is poisonous, it is clear there is a demand for it despite the fact unawareness of its contents is ever-present among the Japanese population. In fact, that is the reason it is still in the market. Perhaps uprising in the name of food all come with the lies and unknown truths they entail in order to hurt them by a higher authority. Eating marine mammals in Japan has been tradition for years thus causing a difficulty for the Americans in the crew to move such solidified tendencies those years of tradition have cemented. The film crew believes such actions and traditions to be eradicated with the help of a moral compass and compassion to the animals, the earth, and their people.

There is a distinct separation between Americans and other allied nations in their effort to halt dolphin slaughter and the Japanese that are doing the slaughtering. The Americans are portrayed as heroic, friendly, just, and humane whereas the Japanese are perceived to be rude, cruel, inhumane, and greedy. The documentary narrative purports these American heroisms with a dramatic intro and personal anecdotes. However, the interests of both sides have to be taken into account with little to no bias in order to get the full picture of the film. On the American side, dolphins are considered emotionally intelligent and almost humanly to the point where they should be friends. Deemed acceptable and encouraging befriending these animals, Americans such as Ric O’ Barry see it as absolutely unacceptable to hurt or maim them in any way. In fact, even the capture of these animals is deemed appalling. In comparison, the Japanese reserve their right to kill these animals as pests for population reduction and for lucrative businesses such as aquariums, circus shows, meat, and other commodities.  Nevertheless, for the reasons being, the Japanese government hides such matters knowing exposure would lead to opposition. On such matters, the government seems to support the sale of mercury-poisoned dolphin meat to continue flowing in the market which leads to cases of mercury food poisoning in the Japanese population. Regarding such actions, the Americans do have right to petition such actions against the government for the people. However, this seems to be a byproduct of their goal in the film with their primary aim being to protect dolphins, prevent their slaughter, and expose the world about it. Their moral-oriented behavior is seen biased in favor of animal rights as opposed to human rights violations in the threat of mercury poisoning. For the Japanese, it seems as if the dolphins serve as a secondary commodity for food with entertainment business being the first. It is possible both the Americans and Japanese are on a stalemate with secondary byproducts in their goals with dolphins. In any case, exposure of the dolphin industry is shocking to most Japanese people, suggesting that the people are just as moral as the Americans in the film and that the source of accountability are in fact the corporations and governments in charge of the operations.

dolphin slaughter

dolphin slaughter

Symbolism and imagery are used in the film to evoke images and emotions of dolphins and their moral character. For instance, the scene where the deep sea divers are majestically interacting and swimming in perfect harmony with the dolphin illustrate the compassion, humanity, grace, intelligence, and love these creatures have for us humans and the deep blue sea. Such imagery is aimed to evolve the heartless perpetrators of dolphins and heighten the emotion of the audiences. Additionally, the slaughter scene with the blood-drenched ocean signal the meaning of anger, loss, evil, and sadness altogether against the Japanese fishermen.  Lastly, the exposure to mercury poisoning and the cases that occurred in the past to the Japanese people illustrate a reminder to the past in Minamata and the horrors that come with eating such contaminated foods. These scenes scream out to the Japanese consumers to stop buying and eating dolphin and to stop supporting the industry.

Ric O' Barry caressing a dolphin

Ric O’ Barry caressing a dolphin

Psihoyos’ aim for The Cove was to expose the world that dolphin meat is not a food and that its production is something to be truly afraid of. The messages in the film indicate that you cannot know what you are truly eating. In this case, the Japanese have kept it tradition to eat sea mammals and that is was okay doing so without knowing the true picture. Hence, the governments and authorities hid all the dangers of dolphin meat and its terrifying slaughter in order to keep the market for it intact and the money flowing. But in fact, breaking a dangerous tradition for the safety of the animal and the people is truly possible with such exposure. In effect, movements for such a cause have gained great momentum and continue to rise. The efforts to stop the injustices are reminiscent of the proletariat past so many groups have done in the name of food.


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