The Cove

Flipper trainer and dolphin activist, Ric O'Barry, and nature filmmaker and founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society, Louie Psihoyos, shine a spotlight on the little known and horrifying wholesale slaughter of dolphins in the small Japanese village of Taiji. Defying the resistance of local fisherman and law enforcement agencies, Psihoyos stages a commando-style mission to capture the slaughter on film for all the world to see in an effort to shame the local authorities into discontinuing the practice.

The technology and organisation behind the obtaining of the damning footage is truly fascinating. With the aid of a military expert and a special FX guy from Industrial Light and Magic, Psihoyo and crew orchestrate a Hollywood-style clandestine mission under the cover of darkness to plant underwater audio and video recording equipment and cameras disguised as rocks in the killing cove, all the while evading the patrolling authorities. This is covert investigative techno-journalism at its best and the result is gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

The level of voluntary risk exposes the passion this group of activists/filmmakers have for their cause and the issue undeniably tugs at the heartstrings, however it's no surprise that their cause is having difficulty finding traction with the appropriate authorities when the official position is not presented in any meaningful way. Despite an assertion by Psihoyos that he wants to get both sides of the story, no such balance is demonstrated. There are scant interviews with Japanese authorities on the matter and when the ‘official’ position is relayed, it is almost exclusively through the mouths of the filmmakers; this does not apportion credibility to the information given.

That the slaughter of dolphins is wrong is considered by the film makers to be self evident and correspondingly virtually no screen time is given to the opposing viewpoint, but a moment's scrutiny will reveal that there is little difference between slaughtering dolphins for food and the harvest of any other seafood (or any other livestock, for that matter). This is not a point Psihoyos or O'Barry want us to think about as they dish up large doses of horror, outrage and demonised local fisherman in an effort to keep us on message and unquestioning. Dolphins are lovable, sweet and cuddly and they make cute squeaky noises but destroying a food industry simply because we're in love with the livestock is as hard sell as a valid argument. How must a Hindu feel about our own abattoirs, for instance? Should their abhorrence for our practices be cause for shutting down our beef industry?

There is a diversion in the form of the high-level mercury toxicity in the dolphin meat but, if we're being honest, this is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Firstly, mercury poisoning is not exclusive to dolphin meat but affects the entire fishery and, secondly, you can bet the farm that were this slaughter taking place in some far off paradise where mercury is nonexistent, they would still be there trying to put a stop to it. The mercury toxicity issue is merely another weapon in the arsenal and bears little relevance to the central topic.

Ultimately, though, the film's primary sin is in omitting the one compelling piece of information that would sign and seal their argument and that is the nature of the endangered status of the dolphins involved. Are these dolphins endangered? Are they being harvested unsustainably? The answers are ambiguously alluded to but not explicitly given. The omission of this data is conspicuous (and therefore suspicious) in its absence and is an absolute requirement if they are to successfully tie the dolphin slaughter to the wider issue of whaling, as is their want to do. Without it, there is no rational reason to distinguish any difference between the harvesting of dolphins and any other livestock.

The film makers' argument is certainly seductive, playing firmly to our cultural sensibilities and exploiting the ‘Flipper’ legacy to the full but ultimately the issue itself is done an injustice by the agenda-driven nature of the film and its complicity in employing emotional blackmail to bend us to its will (the dolphin slaughter footage is reminiscent of the abattoir sequence in Fast Food Nation). They may well be right in their assertions but how would we know when the argument presented is akin to a court case where only the prosecution is allowed to speak? An issue as important as this deserves to be debated openly and rationally and free of emotive terms. Unfortunately, The Cove is not that forum.

Stuart Jamieson

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