With the progression of time societal norms, expectations, and standards begin to transgress across boundaries of country and culture. From this, a dilemma arises in which one questions what exactly is right and wrong, and who is to set such standards in the various growing societies of the world. In the 2009 Documentary, The Cove, produced by former National Geographic Photographer Louie Psihoyos, mass killings of dolphins within Taiji, Japan of the Wakayama Prefecture is put into light and questioned on a moralistic level. The film follows former dolphin trainer, Ric O’Barry who claims that the dolphin killings are wrong on several different levels, and are utterly unnecessary and inhumane altogether. This controversial claim has put the Japanese on the defense as they argue that the killings of the dolphins for the usage of food are merely part of Japanese culture, which cannot simply be deemed morally wrong by another culture’s standards.
The killing and eating of dolphin and dolphin meat is placed under the attention of the world and subjugated as morally incorrect by the cast of The Cove. In the documentary, this standard is set in place under the justification that dolphins are creatures of intelligence and emotion as opposed to the livestock animals that are slaughtered by the masses all over the world (especially with Western Cultures of meat indulging). Ric O’Barry brings to attention a sense of a “crisis of conscience” through his narration as he proclaims the inhumanity of animal killings of a specific species of animal (the dolphin). The aspect of a double standard comes about as the usage of other animals for food is not once questioned while the Japanese culture of eating dolphin meat is detested and looked down upon. The modernist values of America become essentially imposed upon Japanese culture, a culture geographically far and essentially unrelated to that of America. As in many foreign cultures (not that of just Japan), killing for sustenance and nutrition is necessary for the continuation of life and culture.
Ric O’Barry and the crew of The Cove, however bring to light the thought of dolphin meat poisoning the people of Japan rather than providing nourishment and nutrition. The film incorporates the Japanese history of the Minimata Disease, using the topic as a focal point in arguing the immorality of dolphin consumption on a dual level. On one hand, the killing and eating of dolphin is morally wrong as dolphins are intelligent creatures, while also on another hand, the fisherman who sell the dolphin meat are essentially killing and poisoning the Japanese people. The Minimata Disease was first discovered in 1956, as a result of mercury-induced poisonings that left many Japanese citizens impaired and deformed. Dolphins, being higher up on the aquatic food chain, are likely to contain higher levels of mercury than that of smaller fish due to bioaccumulation. In mentioning such, the film is able to provide another point in justifying dolphin killing and consumption as unnecessary practices. The film includes such argument in order to nullify the Japanese defense of the utility of dolphin meat.
Psihoyos creates the film in such a way as to heighten the sense of a “post” society in which some sort of disaster is to come. This post-disaster that is envisioned is brought about through the dolphin killings which could both lead to a natural imbalance and widespread death (through the Minimata Disease). The Cove is set in a sort of heist scene, incorporating elements of technological espionage, creating the sense that the people of Taiji were hiding a dark secret. In incorporating such aspects, Psihoyos effectively predisposes the idea of dolphin slaughter and consumption to be immoral and cruel. In analyzing the film further, very little consideration is placed towards Japan’s unique and extensive culture, as the film focuses predominately on the mission of the exposure to the “wrong-doings” of the Japanese; leaving audience to only further question the social bias presented within the film.
Social and cultural alignment across nations are extremely unlikely leading to inevitable debate and controversy over regional food cultures. Japan and its long-held culture of eating dolphin meat is deemed as both wrong and inhumane by Ric O’Barry and the production cast of the film The Cove. This heist-styled documentary film emphasizes the innocence of the dolphins and the need to protect such animals. Ironically, however, much is left to be heard about the many other animals that are slaughtered daily, giving rise to biased and exclusive sentiments towards the animal of dolphin. In this on-going controversial debate, Japan defends its rights as a culturally independent and separate nation, staying steadfast with its cultural lifestyle and eating habits involving dolphin meat.