The 2009 film The Cove, directed by Louie Psihoyos, documents the struggle to end the annual slaughter of dolphins for their meat that takes place in Taiji, Japan. The documentary provides multiple pieces of evidence to highlight the multiple ways in which this slaughter is immoral. Not only do the filmmakers argue that dolphins are intelligent creatures that should not be treated as common farm-stock, they also claim that the fisherman and others involved in the trade are immoral because the meat is highly contaminated with mercury, yet still they expose the general pubic to this poison. The town of Taiji and supporters of the dolphin harvest argue that it is a longstanding Japanese tradition and an integral part of the culture’s heritage.
When we as viewers are first introduced to the town of Taiji, it looks from the outside as though it is a town that loves dolphins. There are statues and murals and all kinds of art all over the city dedicated to marine mammals. Numerous boats are constantly entering and exiting the harbor with their orca-shaped facades taking tourists out to sea to catch a glimpse of some amazing creature. The city is hoe to the Taiji Whale Museum, where spectators can enjoy regular dolphin shows by trained dolphins in captivity (ironically while enjoying a dolphin meat snack). All of this seems a bit over the top, almost as if the town is overcompensating for something. It’s almost as if they know the annual slaughter they are famous for is inherently wrong, so they create this false appearance not only to show outsiders they really do love these beings, but also to try ease their own guilty conscience.
The fisherman’s and Japan’s representative at the International Whaling Commission’s most used argument in favor of continuing this harvest is the notion that this slaughter is an integral and irreplaceable part of Japanese tradition and culture. These people do not believe that they should be forced to change their ways just because the perceptions and the ideas of the rest of the world have changed over time. They believe that it is perfectly ok to put dolphin meat on the mark despite the fact that it is contaminated with dangerously high levels of mercury. They even felt even felt it was such an integral part of the culture that a program was started to serve the contaminated meat in school lunches. Despite the effort that the dolphin hunting industry goes to to try to convince itself that this is true, the filmmakers quickly prove them false. In a group of interviews performed on the streets of Tokyo, people are shocked to find that not only are numerous dolphins killed in Taiji each year, they’re horrified to find that dolphin meat is consumed regularly.
The other argument used by the industry to defend the practice of dolphin slaughter is that it is done humanely by piercing the dolphin through the spine, resulting in an instantaneous death. One of the ultimate goals of the filmmakers is to capture on film how the slaughter, which takes place in a hidden cove that is iaolated from the general public, is conducted. The film culminates with the slaughter finally being caught on film, and it is made very clear that it is in no way humane no way humane. The dolphins are shown to continue swimming even after being struck with long spears by the fisherman multiple and being left to slowly bleed out. But perhaps the most moving moment in the film occurs before we are aware of exactly what takes place within the hidden cove. At an earlier point in the film, one of the captured dolphins escapes from the cove after being struck by the fisherman. The wounded creature swims towards the shore where the film crew is standing, and struggles to stay afloat. A large amount of blood is clearly visible pouring from a wound on the side of the animal, and the dolphin eventually sinks when it runs out of energy. This is probably the most obvious rebuttal to the notion that the slaughter is in some way humane.
The goal of the filmmakers in The Cove is to show that the Taiji dolphin slaughter is wrong in numerous way, and they accomplish this by appealing to both the viewer’s sense of logic and emotion. They communicate a clear view on their opinion of the slaughter and support their view in numerous ways. The Cove presents a very convincing argument and effectively stirs a sense of action in the audience.