Category Archives: the cove

The Cove-A Real Life Heist Movie

In the 2009 documentary film, The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos analyzes, questions, and exposes Japan’s dolphin hunting culture. The film serves as a call to action to bring an end to mass dolphin slaughter, to change Japanese fishing practices, and to inform the general public of the atrocities being committed to these animals and the health risks (particularly the increased hazard of mercury poising) associated with consuming dolphin meat. The filmmakers emphasized the secrecy involved in capturing the footage to establish a “spy movie” quality to the movie and, as a result, draw in a wider audience than the typical documentary film fan. However, this secret filming, in combination with the portrayal of the Japanese people, elicited great controversy surrounding The Cove’s release.

Louie Psihoyos undercover

Louie Psihoyos undercover

In the opening scene of the film (featured above) the film’s director, Louie Psihoyos, is featured in the passenger seat of a car driving through Japan. He is shown with a medical mask covering a good portion of his face. He then introduces the audience to the secrecy involved in dolphin hunting in Japan and that exposing the industry is illegal. In this way, a sense of civil-duty and urgency is established and Louie Psihoyos places himself and the crew in a position of importance and power. It is also important that Psihoyos addresses the illegal aspect of their mission in this light because it justifies their illegal actions and argues that illegal actions must be taken if the laws being broken are unjust. However, the opening scene is ironic because of the facemask covering Louie’s face; in attempting to expose the dolphin hunting industry, the filmmakers have to cover and hide themselves. The secrecy also establishes a “spy-like” quality to the documentary. The spy movie feeling is further pushed when the footage is presented in green light for night filming, negative effect, and secret-taping footage. This employment of spy genre movie techniques is vital to the success of the documentary because it is able to appeal to a wider audience and makes the dolphin slaughter appear even more corrupt through the establishing of the “forces of good vs. evil.” However, the film techniques used in the making of this movie, such as secret filming, led to much of the controversy that surrounded its release.

Ric O'Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Ric O’Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Another important aspect that led to the success of the film was the personal relationship established between dolphins and humans. The film’s main social actor, Ric O’Barry, discusses his experience with dolphins through his involvement with the Flipper television show. He states that he knows that dolphins are self-aware. This idea is crucial in separating dolphins from other animals like pigs and cows that are also slaughtered for food production. If dolphins are aware of themselves and their surroundings, then they can be viewed as more similar to humans than to other animals and it is then inhumane to slaughter them for meat. This idea is essential in drawing sympathy and compassion on behalf of the dolphins from the film’s audience. The above image of Ric O’Barry in loving embrace with a dolphin epitomizes this concept.

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

This image is taken from perhaps the most important moment in the film. In this screenshot the blood from the slaughter of dolphins is revealed for the first time. The dark red of the blood is significant because it is a visual reminder of just how many dolphins must have been slaughtered and because it is seen in direct contrast with the tranquil blue of the surrounding ocean. This serves as a metaphor that stresses that dolphin slaughter is in direct conflict with nature. It is also important because the presence of dolphin slaughter can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. From this point forward, the audience is forced to decide to answer the film’s call for action and the Japanese people must face this aspect of their culture out in the open. In this way, consumers must consider what they are willing to look past or abandon morally in order to maintain a diet they are accustomed to.

In the creation of a modern day, real life “heist” film, director Louie Psihoyos turns The Cove into one of the most viewed documentary films released in the past 10 years. As a result, a wide audience of once ignorant viewers has been introduced to a serious travesty plaguing the dolphin hunting industry in Japan. The issue is magnified still through the humanization of the dolphins. As a result, the audience must face the harsh realities of dolphin meat consumption and remember the images of the blood-red cove in making future food purchases. In this way, despite the controversy sparked by the questions of morality sparked by secret filming, the film is effective in bringing awareness to a serious issue in today’s food industry and force the audience to serve as the driving force in creating serious change for both the future of the dolphins and of the human race.

An Emotional Crusade Against Dolphin Killings

The Cove takes on the task of uncovering the truth behind the thousands of dolphins being killed each year in order to feed the demand of Japanese consumers. Director Louie Psihoyos task is to convince us as viewers that these massive dolphin hunts that are being undertaken in Taiji, Japan are a massive ecological crime that the world must know about. The main protagonists throughout the film is dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry. His personal connection to the capture of dolphins for television studios and aquariums has instilled in him the view that the capture of dolphins is a reprehensible act. Not to even mention the killing of them. To support his position he does not present a rational argument stating that the capture or killing is a waste or unnecessary. No! Instead he presents the heartful story of the tragic passing of a dolphin that he had worked with on the set of the television show Flipper. Barry’s image of him describing the details that propelled this dolphin to commit suicide are purposely meant to invoke an emotional response. The image of the “smilling’ Flipper is in contrast to O’Barry’s claim that  this dolphin had decided to take its own life. (Image 1). This comparison of these two contradictory ideas gives the viewer a sense of how far from the truth is the reality of dolphins who live in captivity. This early scene in the film sets up the entire rest of the film as it shows the journey that these filmmakers have to take in order to find out the truth as to what is happening in the cove at Taiji.

One of the original 'Flipper' dolphins

 

The ultimate goal of the entire film is to end both the use of dolphins at aquariums, but more importantly end the killing of dolphins in Taiji. From the very beginning of the film O’Barry describes how the artificial environment that is an aquarium leads to a series of health problems for captive dolphins. The noise of machinery and people at these aquariums places a lot of stress on the animals. This is why twelve minutes into the film we are presented with these beautiful scenes of dolphins out in the ocean. (Image 2). Jumping in and out of the water in groups of three or four. Psihoyos wants to impress upon us how a dolphin should live according to his viewpoint. It has to be free in the ocean in order for it to roam and swim free. In captivity is not where it needs to be. While a cove in Taiji where dolphins are sent to be killed is just a crime against these amazing animals that has to end. The visual image of the free dolphins in the ocean is a stark contrast to the brutality and extent to which these dolphins are killed for consumption.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Sitting there in the meat section of a Japanese supermarket is the image of a small piece of what is implied to be dolphin meat. (Image 3) Marketed as whale meat, this piece is stated to be most likely dolphin meat that is being passed as much more appealing whale meat. This is to say that those Japanese shoppers who go into the supermarket are unaware that they are being lied upon in the name of profits. O’Barry asks what would be the reaction of the Japanese consumer to the news that what they believe to be exotic whale meat, a meat whose consumption is controversial in itself, is in reality dolphin. Psihoyos message here is that the cause of the killings at Taiji is both the decision of the Japanese consumer to eat whale, that the film also implies should not be eaten, and the deception that the food industry has undertaken in order to hide the reality of dolphin meat. It is the belief of the makers of the film that these killings would end if the general public knew what was happening in Taiji.

Whale/dolphin meat

Here it is implied that what we are seeing is dolphin being passed as whale meat.

 

The ideology behind this film is that of a moral crusade against a dark secret that this cove has hidden from prying eyes. The very beginning of the film we are presented with a character in disguise as a Japanese elderly man entering the town in where the secret resides. Cameras hidden in rocks, the use of night vision capable film equipment, and the trespassing into the area surrounding the cove all give to this sense of danger. A feeling is presented in that these activists in the film are on a moral endeavor that will place them in many dangerous situations. Though, the goal of combating that inconspicuous piece of meat (Image 3) found inside Japanese is well worth all of these obstacles. At the end of the film the viewer is expected to demonstrate anger at these fisherman who catch dolphins. The images of smiling flipper, and those of the meat in the supermarket are meant to be two contradictory images that is designed to arouse the emotions of the audience. The hope is that viewers will be outraged at the idea that is dolphin meat.

Dolphins and Intersubjectivity

The documentary film The Cove attempts to demonstrate that eating dolphin meat is unethical by showing that dolphins are intelligent animals that experience pain as humans do. Recognizing intelligence in other animals allows humans to relate to the animal and feel empathy towards them. Intersubjectivity; the idea that the ability to experience another being as a subject, as opposed to an object, allows one to experience empathy; plays a critical role on determining the ethics of killing/eating animals because it allows the range humans can feel empathy towards. By showing footage of psychological experiments which demonstrates the intelligence of dolphins, the film attempts to broaden the range of the audience’s intersubjectivity and appeals to them that killing/eating dolphin is unethical.

Why is dolphin killing/eating unethical? Although The Cove touches upon the risk of mercury poisoning for prohibition, the major claim the film makes is that killing/eating intelligent animals is a matter of ethics rather than food safety. How does intelligence, then, determine the ethics of animal killing/eating? The assumption that intelligence correlates to the capacity of feeling pain is used to argue killing/eating intelligent animals is unethical. However, it may be quite difficult to determine whether other animals including dolphins experience pain the same way humans do.

Then what determines the ethics of making an animal experience pain? Why is it acceptable to kill an unintelligent chicken, but unethical to kill a dolphin? Intersubjectivity allows humans to feel empathy towards other beings, and intelligence determines the range of creatures that allows intersubjectivity to occur. Intersubjectivity can be expanded to the realm of dolphins, allowing humans to assume they experience pain the same way we do. The film argues that projecting our empathy into the mind of a dolphin is not difficult because of the results of several psychological experiments that apparently demonstrate high levels of intelligence in dolphins. If dolphins think like we do, the film argues, they can feel pain as we do, and making them feel pain would be unethical.

The film shows three psychological experiments performed on dolphins.

Reactiontime measurement

Reactiontime measurement

 

Reaction time measurement shows evidence that dolphins have advanced ability to respond to a stimulus.

Working memory test

Working memory test

Working memory test demonstrates the existence of short term memory in dolphins which hints the capacity of meta-cognition.

The mirror stage

The mirror stage

The mirror stage shows the ability to recognize oneself objectively, hinting that dolphins go through the process of self-identification

Although the first two experiments recognize advanced intelligence in dolphins, the third experiment is yet again a matter of intersubjectivity. Dolphins and other animals such as the great apes may recognize oneself in the mirror; however whether these animals go through the same self-identification process which Lacan theorized as the mirror-stage is highly questionable. It is more likely that humans are projecting themselves into the reflection of dolphins and making a leap of logic.

By showing footage of psychological experiments performed on dolphins, The Cove attempts to demonstrate dolphins as intelligence animals that have the ability to experience human-like pain. Whether dolphins can experience pain like humans do is indeterminable, for evidence of pain experience in dolphins may merely be humans trying to intersubjectively project their own experience into dolphins. Claiming dolphin killing/eating unethical from the perspective of dolphins experiencing pain is questionable.

Ethnocentrism in The Cove

          The critically acclaimed film, The Cove, follows Ric O’Barry, the trainer and star of the television show, Flipper, who has since dedicated his life for the justice of dolphins around the world. The documentary’s premise is to expose the tragic dolphin hunt that happens annually in Taiji, Japan to bring the attention to this inhumane practice and act as a call to action to stop the slaughter. In this sense, the film has succeeded as the shock value of the film has resonated with the American public, and is portrayed as being brought the surface by the courageous efforts of the American film crew. Yet, the aim of the movie is to seemingly change a Japanese practice so it fails to stimulate change within the culture as the movie is targeted so far from a Japanese audience. The film, instead, takes a moralistic stance that tugs on the heartstrings of the American public to bring awareness towards this act. Though the film’s initial objective may have been to expose a small group of people on the shores of Wakayama, it clearly imposes Western standards on Japan’s policies, customs, and values, which is particularly evident in the coverage of Japan’s whaling policies. The film was successful in shedding light on the cruelty of Taiji’s dolphin slaughter and certainly is effective in capturing the tension and playing up the danger, but it has done so at the cost of the misunderstanding of the Japanese people’s food culture. By imposing the Western standards and values on Japanese culture, the film adopts an ethnocentric psyche that discredits the issue at hand.

          The problem with The Cove is that the issue is deeper than “greedy” Japanese fisherman killing dolphins and is instead an intrinsic culturally related problem. It is not stated that whaling and the consumption of dolphins has been a tradition that can be followed back to the Edo period of Japan in the film nor do the filmmakers demonstrate any understanding of the Japanese culture. That is not to say that this is a nation wide tradition, as is evident by the portrayal of the Tokyo citizens in the film, but a tradition that deserves a certain degree of respect nonetheless. Additionally, it is important to note that the idea of tradition not be used as an excuse to conduct inhumane practices but instead it demonstrates that had the cultural aspect of consuming dolphins as a form of food been addressed, the film could actually be effective in achieving their goal. By dismissing dolphin meat as food at all, Psihoyos dismisses the people of Taiji’s food culture altogether as an inhumane practice, and dehumanizes the people themselves by degrading their culture as being less civilized than that of the West. Furthermore, it was not too long ago that meat in Japan was addressed in the same manner as exemplified in Fuzukawa Yukichi’s, “On Meat Eating”, where he states, “There remain many people who blindly dislike [using meat], saying that meat eating is filthy, in accordance with the customs our nation has followed for many long centuries.” He goes on further saying, “This is a specious argument born out of ignorant blindness that demonstrates a lack of knowledge.” Ironically, Fukuzawa strengthens his argument for meat eating by expressing that cow meat is much easier to process than whale meat, as if the consumption of whale meat was an integral food group as cows are to the West, “People never express such misgivings when we catch whales and eat their meat.” This further illustrates the polarized cultural rift between the East and the West that demonstrates how easy it is to perpetuate this misunderstanding and dismissal of cultural practices.

One of the most prominent arguments that Psihoyo makes in his argument against the Japanese consumption of dolphins is the fact that they are high in the food chain, thus mercury levels are biomagnified to a toxic level in their meat. It is evident that by utilizing this platform, O’Barry’s is able to orient their animal rights agenda with a human rights violation that defends his stance against dolphin as a commodity. Regardless of whether O’Barry’s concern over mercury poisoning as a result of dolphin consumption is a byproduct of his initial aim, the fact that there is a prospect that the Japanese market contains possibilities of mercury food poising is still prominent. Clearly, this is the film’s strongest argument against the slaughter of dolphins and yet it seems to be contrived and dismissed instead of grasping the opportunity to be a real informational source for the citizens of Taiji. Although there is an older generation of Taiji who feel as though whaling and consuming dolphin meat is an intrinsic part of their culture, the only realistic approach to ending this dolphin hunt is to cut off the demand by informing and educating the younger generation about the real risks of consuming this meat. It is this generational difference that may be the only feasible act that may stop this dolphin hunt and the fact that the documentary did little to address the Japanese audience as a call to action is counterproductive in its cause.

The differences in food culture and its correlation with one’s values are evident in The Cove but it does little to make an ecological conservation argument. Instead, it underscores how dolphins have human-like qualities that should resonate with people emotionally. By humanizing dolphins and in turn dehumanizing the Japanese fisherman, turns an objective look at a cultural problem into an American versus Japanese story about how these cruel fishermen hunt innocent animals. This sets up a hegemonic role that is able to twist the message of the film into something manipulative that is more interested in enlisting foreign support than informing the perpetrators at hand and victims at risk. If the filmmakers could exhibit the sensibility and sensitivity to the culture they were scrutinizing, it could have had the potential to make a real impact on the cause.

The Construction of “We” and “Them” in The Cove

Released in 2009, The Cove is a documentary meant to expose the corrupt and secretive practices of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, and subsequent distribution of mercury-laden dolphin meat in Japanese markets. In The Cove, Louie Psihoyos creates a sense of a collective struggle against the Japanese people and government who are keeping these practices under wraps, with selective interviews and the deliberate framing of Psihoyos’ journey serving to create a sense of unity among the audience which dehumanizes the Japanese people.

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Psihoyos doing the cool spy film thing

From the opening credits of the documentary, Psihoyos creates a sense of drama, implying that there are secrets to be discovered and inviting the audience to unveil those secrets alongside him. The opening credits are reminiscent of a heist film, with sequences shown as if they are viewed through spy equipment. The soundtrack similarly goes along with this attempt to create an atmosphere of intrigue. In his choice to frame the opening credits like so, Psihoyos draws the viewer into the “behind the scenes” of his documentary, allowing whoever is watching to feel included in the process of uncovering whatever secrets there are to be revealed in the proceeding film. Psihoyos implies from the beginning that in creating The Cove, he has performed some sort of heist of knowledge and justice—and the viewer, from the beginning, gets to feel as if they are part of that heist. Thus the documentary is set up in a way where the viewer feels included. Psihoyos creates a “we” around his mission in the documentary which is intended to be inclusive of the viewers.

As the documentary continues, one notable aspect is the lack of in-depth exploration into the perspective of the Japanese people, both in Taiji and outside of Taiji where the dolphin killings take place. This serves to reinforce a sense of “we”-ness for the viewers while creating a “them”-ness by positioning the Japanese people as a vague and often menacing “other”. In The Cove, Louis Psihoyos and Ric O’Barry encounter a number of Japanese fishermen local to Taiji who attempt to block them off from filming where the dolphin slaughter happens. The fishermen are only seen as obstructions, obstacles to a larger truth. There is no attempt seen in the film to make contact with them as human beings and to illuminate their personal perspective on the dolphin meat trade. Instead, Psihoyos only frames them as nameless enemies to the pursuit of justice.

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An unimpressive attempt to speak with Taiji locals

In addition, Psihoyos’ attempts to “interview” the families of the fishermen is lacking—rather than putting Psihoyos himself and the people he talks to on an equal footing, he only asks them in English leading questions about whether or not they know that the fishermen are poisoning people. There is no effort put into allowing these people to express themselves in their native language, and the footage and backdrop suggests that these questions were posed spontaneously. Through not allowing the local people of Taiji their own voice and not portraying their perspective on the issue at hand, Psihoyos successfully marginalizes them in the film as an unsympathetic “other”, increasing the viewer’s connection to the struggle of the dolphins and Ric O’Barry. The fishermen of Taiji and their families are barely shown as human, with their voices barely heard and their thoughts only haltingly expressed, and as thus, the viewer remains firmly on the side of Psihoyos.

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Some unenthused councilmen—hey, aren’t these the good guys?

Even the Japanese people who are supposed to be treated as sympathetic figures do not receive respectful treatment within the way Psihoyos frames the narrative. The two councilmen who are shown to be aware of the dolphin killing in Taiji and who oppose the dolphin meat being fed to schoolchildren seem to be morally aligned with Psihoyos’ view in the documentary, yet their segment in the film still lacks depth. Within the film, they are presented as passive, shrinking violets, in contrast to Psihoyos and O’Barry, who are men of action. They are also shot against the backdrop of a shrine gate, which positions them in a uniquely “Japanese” environment. Psihoyos deliberately frames the two councilmen as “Japanese” through the setting of the interview, again separating them from what is presumably familiar to the viewer and therefore failing to evoke sympathy for the men by emphasizing their foreignness. So although the Taiji city councilmen seem to be understanding of Psihoyos’ cause, they still fit in with the “other” of the “Japanese” that Psihoyos constructs in the rest of the film.

Throughout The Cove, Psihoyos deliberately draws the audience into the “we” that he constructs on the side of what he believes is justice, and just as deliberately leaves the Japanese people out of this group that includes the viewer. With the very limited selections of interviews and clips that he chooses to show of Japanese people speaking for themselves, Psihoyos isolates them from the viewer, making them unsympathetic and alien in order to push his own viewpoint.

History Repeating Itself

           The Cove is a documentary that analyzes and questions the dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan. The primary speakers are Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer, and Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) activist/director of this film Louis Psihoyos. This film is produce to stop, educate, and convince the audience the serious problem called dolphin slaughter/hunting/capturing. The dolphins are driven into a cove that is enclosed with nets and lines, to keep the dolphins inside.  Fishing companies sells live show dolphins for to aquariums, museums and other sea/ocean park, and kill off the remaining dolphins to sell their meat. This documentary explains the health risks that are part of dolphin meat and how cruel it is not only the process of capturing these animals, but also the killing of them. In The Cove, dolphin meat represents not only the cruelty treated to these animals, but the serious health risk it is to humans that consume it.

Dolphin meat is extremely high in mercury content.

Dolphin meat contains 2000ppm of mercury compared to the 0.4 ppm recommended

During the film, the audience learns that dolphin meat is highly toxin, having extreme levels of mercury, higher than what is recommend by the health researchers and are a serious health risk to humans. The high levels of mercury found in dolphin meat can lead to something very similar to the Minamata disease that was caused by the mercury found in fish and shellfish. In one scene, Tetsuya Endo, researcher at Health Science University of Hokkaido, tested a piece of dolphin meat bought in a local grocery market in Taiji and discovered that dolphin contain 2000ppm (per part million) of mercury compare to the 0.4 ppm recommended. This amount of mercury could cause another epidemic like the Minanmata disease all over again. Many of the local fishermen deny or don’t want to know about this fact.

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Local Tokyo Citizen surprise by the fact that dolphin are being eaten

Many of the caught dolphins are not sold as live show dolphins, but are killed for their meat. There is no logical explanation to explain why people would want to sell dolphin meat given the health issues, yet fishermen argue it is because it is their tradition to hunt, kill, and sell dolphin meat. Well, in the film we see O’Barry asking many citizens in major Japanese cities, such as: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hokkaido, yet no one even knew that there are people out there eating dolphin meat. In Japan, dolphin meat is considered as undesired or lower class meat, yet these fishermen in Taiji kill 25,000 dolphins every year. Apparently, these dolphin meats are sold off as whale meat, according to OPS members when they did a DNA test of meat they bought in the grocery market. These fishermen are selling meat that will make people become sick and still argue that it is a part of their ‘tradition’ when most of the population doesn’t even know that people even eat dolphins.

When many ask why dolphin meat is consumed, they were answered that it was Japanese culture/tradition, and that dolphins are consuming too much fish—that these ‘pest’ need to be taken care of. The film has proven that it is not dolphins that consume too much fish, but humans eating/consuming too much fish that it is damaging the oceanic eco-system leading to the result of less fish. Yet, the government and the IWC do not acknowledge the fact that the consumption of dolphin meat will lead to serve health problems, and uses excuses such as tradition or less fish to continue hunting these animals.

Fishermen catching dolphins

Fishermen catching dolphins

The capturing of dolphins is a cruel and inhumane as well as the killing of them. Fishermen uses loud noise, which cause panic and distress in dolphins given that they use sound as their primary sense, to basically trap these dolphins in an enclosed space. Then, once the live show dolphins are picked, they will kill off the remaining dolphins. In one scene, we can see a dolphin swimming to shore bleeding and basically running for its life until it eventually bled out. This method of capture and killing is inhumane to the animals, and could be considered as animal torture. Yet, these fishermen for their profits refuse to admit to these facts and continue to deny that any of this is happening or true.

The purpose of this film is to educate the public about these cruelties towards dolphins and the health risk associated with dolphin meat consumption due to the high levels of mercury it contains. The Cove promotes the stopping of the capturing of dolphins and brings up points that undeniably shocking to the world on a global scale. Yet, the refusal of both the Japanese government and fishermen are both very upsetting, this helps the audience understand just because we don’t hear about it does not mean it does not exists. That people need to stand up and say something to make a difference and help others learn about what is really going on in the world , just like Ric o’Barry, Louis Psihoyos and their crew, because that is how changes happen by people out there making a difference.

The Cove: Animal Cruelty to Consumption

Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove is a 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary film that illustrates the horrifying act of dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan.  Although Taiji may seem like a typical coastal Japanese town that adores dolphins, fishermen and policemen keep the acts of dolphin slaughters hidden from citizens and tourists of the town with warnings of the forbidden areas.  By rebelling against the authority, Psihoyos and his documentary team join activist and former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry on a mission to go behind the scenes of the tragic captures and slaughters of innocent dolphins. Their efforts led to the exposure of a bloody massacre of dolphins that were not “show material.” While dolphins are often caught for the purpose to provide performers for marine park shows, a major cause of this gruesome act is to provide a cheaper substitute for whale meat at fish markets.

Similar to the process other animals go through before they are slaughtered for their meat, greedy fishermen abuse dolphins physically and mentally. Approximately 23,000 dolphins are killed every year in Taiji, Japan. If the dolphins do not meet the requirements to become show dolphins, they are sent to “the cove,” which is the location of dolphin massacres led by fishermen. At the cove, fishermen stab many dolphins with their spears until the dolphins have trouble swimming and slowly reach a tragic death. As the fishermen spear many dolphins to their death, the remaining dolphins experience distress and terror witnessing the loss of their parent or sibling. Just like humans, dolphins are able to express their own emotions. Dolphins are not meant for human consumption due to their wild, not domestic lifestyle.

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Citizens of Tokyo are unaware of the consumption and abuse of dolphins.

The people of Taiji regard the consumption of dolphin meat as a long-lived tradition in Japan. However, the inhabitants of Japan’s major cities, such as Japan, are unaware of the ingesting of dolphin meat as well as the mistreatment the dolphins go through in the process of preparation. Through a series of interviews in Tokyo about the consumption of dolphin meat, the documentary crew discovered that many citizens were confused since they have never heard of the practice. During each interview, the facial expressions and tone of voice of each of the interviewees displayed an element of shock and confusion because they saw dolphins as show or wild animals instead of animals used for meat. No one believed that people actually ate dolphin meat.  The purpose of this scene is to show how the meat industry disconnects ordinary Japanese citizens to the cruel actions of the meat preparation, especially in the case of dolphin meat. In accordance to this intention, the citizens would also be clueless to the horrific abuse done to dolphins in the process.

Dolphin meat is often mislabeled as whale meat at markets.

Dolphin meat is often mislabeled as whale meat at markets.

Although rarely anyone consumes dolphin meat in Japan, Japanese fish markets often mislabel the meat of thousands of dolphins slaughtered every as expensive whale meat. Scott Baker, the DNA specialist of Psihoyos’ team, conducted a lab on whale meat sold at these markets and discovered that a portion of the whale meat samples is actually dolphin meat. Since dolphin meat is exceedingly low in demand and cost due to dolphins’ reputation as show or wild animals, the fishermen market dolphin meat as whale meat to earn more profit from the sale. Due to the similarities in physical traits and exoticism, the average consumer would not have noticed the mislabeling of the meat. Anyone could be eating dolphin meat without any notice.

Dolphin meat is extremely high in mercury content.

Dolphin meat is extremely high in mercury content.

Just like any other type of seafood, dolphin meat contains mercury. Representatives of the International Whaling Commission believe that there is no product in the market that exceeds their standards. However, dolphin meat contains 2000 ppm of mercury per serving, which is enormously greater than Japan’s daily recommended serving of 0.4 ppm. In extremely large amounts, mercury proves to be highly toxic to humans. With a considerable dose of this toxic substance, mercury is poisoning consumers of dolphin meat leading them to the risks of brain, kidney, and lung damage.

Due to the production of Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove, viewers around the world are now aware of the gruesome massacre of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Dolphin slaughtering and the consumption of dolphin meat were not widely known until this documentary was released. From its extremely high mercury content to its horrible abuse to dolphins, dolphin meat should not be sold in fish markets for human consumption.

Save Dolphins, Save Taiji’s Future

The documentary, The Cove, was directed by Louie Psihoyos in 2009 received the best documentary award of the 82th Oskar Filmfest incontrovertibly because of the true story and gripping plot. The Cove, which technically, is not a documentary, but more looks like an advertising movie, because there are too many director’s personal emotions in this film, presents the slaughter of dolphins in a small town named Taiji in Japan. The film, while the saving actions of Rick O’Barry as the main point throughout the whole movie, uncovers dirty deals about dolphins in the cove step by step. Every September, the fishermen living in Taiji kill a mass of dolphins. Based on what the fishermen said in the film, the killing is not for money. “It’s about the pest control.” Thanks to the fishing effort has been decreasing own to the dolphins are eating too much fish, the government told the fishermen to kill the dolphins and protect the fishing for human beings.

People love the dolphin’s smile

People love the dolphin’s smile

In this scene, the dolphins are watching the children around and smiling, while the children are touching the dolphins and taking photos with them. In the aquarium, when the dolphins jump out of water, the audiences cheer and scream for the performers. When the audiences enjoy themselves in the dolphins’ show, ironically the applause is the dolphins’ tragedy. To be honest, this scene is familiar to me, because I used to be one of the audiences, sitting in the crowd, feeling the smile of the dolphins and enjoying the show. However, when the dolphins complete the prescriptive movements and get food as reward, do they really feel happy as we think? The documentary gives us the answer, is “NO”. Like what Rick says, “A dolphin’s smile is nature’s greatest deception.” If audiences see on dolphin acting, it means that thousands of them have been killed. Only the limited numbers of dolphins can survive while most of them get killed for not being chosen for performance in the aquarium by the trainers. The survival ones will be sent to the aquarium and get trained. The left majority will be killed in the beautiful cove by fishermen. The meat of dolphins will be sent to the markets.

Fisherman dives into the bloodstained water.

Fisherman dives into the bloodstained water.

The cove is beautiful and peaceful, but for the dolphins, it is the worst nightmare. The sea water that should be clean blue, suddenly becomes the bloody red. If the film was not made by a true story and frames, I could even believe what I was watching. How much blood could dye the clean blue into this grisly red?  When the fishermen dive into the bloodstained water, how does that feel? The principal reason that the fishermen killing the dolphins is not for making money, but, based on what they said, due to the pest control. They were told by the government that the fishing effort has been decreasing own to the dolphins are eating too much fish. Therefore dolphins are considered as pest.  Everyone knows the decreasing of fishing effort owing to the overfishing of human beings, which caused the chain reaction of ocean resource. It is not that the dolphins grab human being’s food, but the greed of human being affects the subsistence of other ocean creatures.

No matter how, the excuse that the fishermen in Taiji use to massacre the dolphins is unacceptable. The slaughter destroyed the balance of the marine ecological environment. Even worse, because dolphins are living in the polluted ocean, there are many kinds of heavy metal chemical elements stored in dolphin’s body, especially mercury. However, the government of Taiji provides the local schools with the luncheon meat made from the polluted dolphins, which means the government are poisoning the town.

Rick shows the dolphin’s tragedy to the pedestrians.

Rick shows the dolphin’s tragedy to the pedestrians.

In the final scene of the film, Rick is standing on the street of Japan and showing the dolphin’s tragedy to the pedestrians. Eventually, more and more people gather around him, and more and more people care about the dolphin’s fate. After all, the future of dolphins depends on the attitude of the youth generation. Meanwhile, the future of Taiji depends on the attitude how the government and fishermen want to deal with dolphins. Now, the slaughter of dolphins keeps going every year in September. When people decide to save the dolphins lives, actually they are saving the people who eat polluted dolphin’s meat. If the slaughter could not be controlled, the Minamata disaster might appear again.

Food Ethics

The documentary film The Cove presents a convincing argument on the ethics behind dolphin hunting. A group of marine activists try to break into a secluded lagoon in Taiji, Japan to plant cameras within the site where Japanese fishermen murder an around 2,000 dolphins every year. What makes the film superb is its ability to make the audience really care about its issue. To achieve its powerful impact, the film mainly focuses on questioning the ethics surrounding Japan’s government. Throughout the documentary, we are presented with shocking injustices in Japan that keep escalating. We are presented with issues regarding dolphin slaughter and captivity as well as highly toxic dolphin meat that is sold to the Japanese public. As a documentary, The Cove not only drives home its points about dolphin murder but also educates the audience with the use of mercury-contaminated dolphin meat.

One of the most important issues presented within the documentary is the consumption of dolphin meat as a result of mass dolphin slaughter. As depicted in the film, the dolphins in Taiji are captured in a secluded cove each year. From there, the “best” dolphins are chosen and taken into captivity. The rest of the dolphins are murdered within the cove. As a result of this mass fishing of dolphins, the markets become flooded with dolphin meat. Later, we learn from the film that dolphin meat is actually extremely toxic with high mercury levels. The meat is very unsafe to eat because of this contamination. However, dolphin meat can be found in many markets in Japan; the meat is also sold at a very cheap price because its supply is abundant. These conditions will eventually cause a severe problem for the Japanese people.

The secluded cove in Taiji in which around 2,000 dolphins are slaughtered each year

The secluded cove in Taiji in which around 2,000 dolphins are slaughtered each year

On a physical level, the consumption of mercury contaminated dolphin meat is extremely problematic for consumers. The health risk of mercury poisoning is something that The Cove endeavors to expose. Dolphins are nearly at the top of their food chain, which makes their mercury levels higher because they accumulate it from all of the fish under them in the food chain. This process causes dolphin meat to have high concentrations of mercury that is higher than what is safe for humans to consume. In order to inform the audience, the film connects mercury tainted dolphin meat to Minamata disease, a health disease related to high-level mercury poisoning that was introduced in 1956 in Minamata, Japan. The problem is that Japanese people may have some of the highest mercury levels in the world. This runs the risk of possibly developing Minamata disease in the future and passing it to their offspring. In a simplified perspective, eating dolphin meat is almost equivalent to eating poison. The more poison consumed, the more likely problems will develop for that individual.

The toxic levels of mercury in dolphin meat and its consequences when consumed are explained by Tetsuya Endo

Tetsuya Endo explains the toxic levels of mercury in dolphin meat and its consequences when consumed

The most important aspect of The Cove is its argument about the ethics behind killing dolphins and selling the meat. Dolphin meat is extremely toxic, but the Japanese government has done nothing to prevent the consumption of it. The government has made no effort to stop markets from selling it nor has it attempted to inform the public about the possibility of mercury poisoning. The government isn’t the only party that has questionable ethics. Shockingly enough, dolphin meat has been intentionally mislabeled as whale meat in markets in an attempt to make more money. The fishermen and sellers of the meat are also just as responsible for this issue. They most likely know that the meat is contaminated, yet continue to bring more into the market. Because most people are unaware of risk of mercury-contaminated dolphin meat, the meat has been consumed both locally and globally. Most of Japanese public don’t even know about the incidents of dolphin slaughter and poisoned dolphin meat sold in Japan. Packages of dolphin meat can be found in many supermarkets in Japan. Mercury-tainted dolphin meat was even sold to Japanese schools at one point. Unfortunately, this caused the students to eat high concentration of mercury dolphin meat as lunch. The fact that fishermen and merchants value profit over their ethics is repulsive. Even the government has done little to prevent the possibility of mercury poisoning.

Richard O'Barry holds a package of cheap dolphin meat found at an everyday market in Japan

Richard O’Barry holds a package of cheap dolphin meat found at an everyday market in Japan

Overall, The Cove presents the audience with an extremely convincing argument through its presentation of food as an important ethical issue in Japan. The film does a superb job of educating the viewers of the dangers of consuming mercury contaminated meat and tying it back to the dolphin murder in Taiji. It also provides a convincing argument that has powerful impact due to the numerous examples of injustice in Japan’s food markets that keep mounting higher. Thus, the film inspires change in the way people look at consumption of food and questions what is truly ethical.

The Cove: Manipulation of Film as a Means of Persuasion

“The Cove”, a 2009 documentary directed by American photographer Louie Psihoyos, features the Japanese dolphin hunt in Taiji in an attempt to educate its audience about such happenings and the detrimental effects they bring upon the environment as well as humans. In 2010, it won numerous outstanding documentary awards, such as the Sundance Film Festival as well as an Academy Award.

What I found most notable about “The Cove” in terms of its identity as a documentary was the careful use of music and scene cut choices to really reach into the pathos of its viewers–aside from being informational, many scenes lacked dialogue, simply showing gruesome and inhumane moments of mass dolphin slaughter.

Another technique used by the filmmakers was beginning the documentary by demonstrating the friendliness, intelligence, and kindness of dolphins in order to create a kind of emotional connection with viewers before they witness their murders. In contrast, the Japanese dolphin hunters are portrayed as rude, heartless, and threatening; they are overgeneralized as a mass of money-hungry fishermen with no consideration or hesitance in slaughtering hundreds of dolphins at once or in separating baby dolphins as their parents are taken away and killed before their very eyes. In this sense, at times viewers may forget the documentary nature of the film as emotional drama is very much integrated into the storytelling, rather than fast hard facts. The documentary also begins with famed dolphin trainer turned dolphin rights activist Ric O’Barry recounting his experience with the suicide of one of the dolphins who played the role of Flipper, the namesake of a 1964 hit television series. O’Barry’s account of the incident is overtly dramatic, true as it may be, inciting a combination of sympathy and horror within its audience.

Ric O'Barry with Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper who became depressed to the point of suicide.

The filmmakers are careful, however, not to put all of the blame on Japan as a whole. The documentary also presents the Japanese public’s lack of knowledge of this underground operation, while also highlighting the Japanese government officials’ harsh attempts to hide the truth; oftentimes it was easy to view the officials and fishermen as uncivilized, stupid, and barbaric. For example, the filmmakers are given a map by the government, with specific sections circled and marked with an “X”, as they are told not to go to those places–naturally, they keep this paper as both evidence against the officials as well as their stupidity in simply handing them a map of places they need to go for their investigation.

The concept of dolphin meat as food is not so emphasized in “The Cove” as much as dolphins’ commercial use as show animals in amusement parks. Yet this makes the explanation that live dolphins are worth thousands more dolphins than dead ones all the more horrific; the dolphins appear to be viewed by the fishermen as a commodity, rather than a living, sentient being.

As films in the documentary genre go, I believe “The Cove”
was successful in convincing viewers of which “side” to take, yet also extremely biased. Controversy over inaccuracies did arise after its screening, but above all else I felt that the inaccuracy lay in not lies, but in hidden truths and a refusal to mention certain facts that may sway audience opinions.