The Sundance award-winning eco-documentary “The Cove” has justifiably been making some waves in the media. I was lucky enough to go to a screening this week that was attended by the director, former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos. The documentary chronicles a film crew catching the Japanese fishing village of Taiji in the act of mass dolphin killing in a small cove at a national park. The cover-up by the village to hide their deed is similar to every “hidden secret” horror movie ever made, only the threat is not vampires, zombies, or aliens from outer space.
Richard O’Barry of the Earth Island Institute serves as the inspiration of the film. A former dolphin trainer for the hit ’60s show “Flipper,” he has spent the last three decades trying to make up for the global trend of captive dolphin shows that he helped create. He has become the leading activist trying to stop the proliferation of dolphin captures for “circus” shows and tourist “encounters.” O’Barry, the clearest voice against dolphin shows and dolphin murder, has even been banned from International Whaling Commission meetings due to his relentless efforts. (Dolphins are actually small whales, but evidently aren’t included in the multi-national anti-whaling agreement.)
Besides captures, villagers in Taiji slaughter thousands of dolphins each year, part of the 23,000 that Japan kills annually. To document this senseless butchery, Psihoyos put together his A-Team after consulting with Barry. Each member has a special skill, ranging from special effects wizardry to a fearlessness seen on the “Jackass” series. Notable are two free divers with amazing lung capacity and a techno-geek camera master.
The backdrop of the caper is the town of Taiji, a creepy village with various cartoon statues or mosaics featuring jauntily attired, smiling dolphins. The documentary crew reveals Taiji’s bloody secret throughout the film, while plainly showing the incompetence and hypocrisy of the IWC The film also depicts the free dolphin lunch programs in Japanese schools, barbaric enough in its own right but also highly risky, given the stratospheric concentrations of mercury in the dolphin tissues.
After the film ended, Psihoyos talked about making the film and the need for activism to stop the slaughter. The entire audience was revved up and ready to go. The problem is: What does one do?
People spoke of boycotting dolphin shows and businesses that house them. That makes sense, but it is only a start. Letter writing to Japan? Unlikely to have an impact. Getting the IWC to clean up their act by trying to save all whales, including dolphins? Fat chance – they are a whaling commission, not a whale conservation commission. Besides, tell me one multi-national environmental agreement that works. No enforcement plus no accountability equals no environmental protection.
Boycott all goods from Japan and start using the U.S. tariff system to motivate Japan to stop killing whales? Sounds good, but have you spent time with members of our federal government lately? Not happening. Mass media embarrassment of Japan led by famous actors, athletes, and musicians? Now you’re talking, especially if the actors, athletes and musicians are Japanese or at least big names loved in Japan.
But who will lead this kind of global campaign against the dolphin slaughter? It won’t be the Sea Shepherds of the world because they are hated in Japan. The filmmakers have provided a gripping chronicle with footage that leads many viewers to anger and tears. The film has created an opportunity to catalyze the movement to really and truly save all whales, including dolphins. The big question is: Who will seize the opportunity and start the global campaign that offers Japan a way to stop the senseless killing while maintaining its national dignity?