The Cove is a 2009 film by Louie Psihoyos about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Lead by former dolphin trainer Ric O’barry, the film is an insightful look into the evils of dolphin fishing in Taiji, Japan.
What starts off as a tour of the secret killing cove by O’barry, swiftly becomes a covert operation to showcase the rampant slaughter that was a yearly custom at that point. Dragging together various Hollywood and ocean specialists, Psihoyos and O’barry successfully place cameras throughout the killing cove, and capture the slaughter for the whole world to see. This is shown parallel to a number of interviews by Psihoyos of various people of interest including the Japanese deputy of fisheries, and the IWC chair members legal adviser. By juxtaposing these two moments we get a skewed view of the conflict between O’barry and Psihoyos against the Japanese government, and the film skillfully forwards its ideas as being better for human and animal rights.
A portion of the film focuses upon a proposal to get schools to use dolphin meat found and harvested in Taiji to feed children. To prove this is a bad idea we are given various statistics from food officials who state that the amount of mercury meant to be in dolphin meat is 0.4 ppm. Upon being given samples of various meat samples sold in Taiji, Tetsuya Endo a health university officer at Hokkaido determines the mercury ppm to be 2000 ppm, well over the limit and in his words “very,very toxic”. This showcase of the incredible deadliness of the meat is another point for proving the futility of dolphin slaughter. With the meat being more deadly to humans than nearly any other fish, the reasons for eating it becomes very construed and traditional, instead of being based in logic. The fact that Minamata disease is a well documented case of the evils of mercury poisoning should be a warning to others not to go down the same route. Luckily a pair of town council members stopped the movement from going forward, however it still doesn’t make up for the ludicrous of the proposal in the first place.
In the movie its explained that one of the main reasons behind the continual slaughter of dolphins has to do with the town culture. O’barry reputes this by saying this is only a modern idea, and that they’re only doing it for the money. When taking into account the various shady dealings the Japanese government has had on behalf of the dolphin industry (including bribing various small poor Caribbean nations with large million dollar fishing houses) it seems ridiculously important that this tradition continue regardless of the intention or the benefit of the act. Its possible that the government may be doing this as a way of getting back at westerners for interfering with their culture since the 1940’s, with fishing being the one vestige unchanged. But why should fishing be the one ideal? Even with the extremity Japan has gone through for food throughout history, there are a variety of other unchanged Japanese concepts that could remain sacred from westerners.
I was confused as to why the small poor Caribbean nations gave their votes to Japan in the first place. Surely there had to be a greater reason then to be just for the money. As a former IWC member said, the majority of the “gifts” the Japanese gave are being used for means other then shipping, so why all the work for a large useless house? Why not better prepare the world for environmental destruction? With the amount of poison in the sea increasing every year, and with the fishing industry having as many problems as it does,(not only with the slaughter of dolphins, but sharks,whales, turtles etc) their votes could potentially help the global community better itself for a long term fishing stabilization. Yet it these smaller countries continued to let japan walk over and vote for them, letting an economic powerhouse continue to dominate. This is a matter of which the film does not delve deep enough.
In conclusion, I find the film to be a thorough documentary about a heist of information. The fact that the Japanese government used and enabled the town of Taiji is sad, but I’m sure there’s more information to be had. One of the larger criticisms I’ve had of the film is its inability to see why the Japanese did what they did. Besides money (which O’barry said they denied greater money to stop working at one point) and tradition (which I find silly and frivolous) the movie lacks reasoning as to why the Japanese spent millions of dollars on a scheme to enrich a small town, and potentially kill tons of people. Despite this, I still find the film to hold a seminal place in our readings as a great example of a film that explains Japanese culture and some of the darker tendencies of the people. Alongside the factory ship and my year of meats, the film helps us understand the food culture of japan.