It’s shocking, compelling, distressing, inspiring. I watched The Cove again last night, an impassioned plea to stop dolphins being killed in Japan, and had to write something here, if only to urge those of you who haven’t seen this film to see it.
It’s part doco, part adventure story about a group of American activists, film makers and free divers, led by reformed and repentant dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry (who trained Flipper for the 1960s TV series), on a stealth mission to capture footage of an annual dolphin slaughter in a secluded cove in Japan.
Having studied zoology, I don’t go in for anthropomorphising animals, but I've also surfed with dolphins on the Australian coast, swum with 300 dolphins in New Zealand and watched them from boats all over the world, and find it hard not to feel a connection with them, and all cetaceans. Besides, O’Barry’s arguments against keeping dolphins in captivity are compelling. In the wild, they can travel 60 kilometres a day, he says. They’re also acoustic creatures – when we’re in the water with them, they can see right through us, see our hearts beating. Their sensitivity to sound makes confinement especially stressful.
O’Barry is making amends for his complicity in training dolphins, by being an activist and bringing to the world's attention what is happening in this cove.
This is what is happening: up to a dozen fishing boats go offshore from Taiji (in south-east Japan, south of Tokyo) and bang on the ends of long metal poles they put into the water, herding passing dolphins into a nearby bay and trapping them behind nets. Dolphin trainers come here from all over the world to choose wild dolphins for their sea worlds and marine parks, paying up to $US300,000 per animal. The film says Taiji is the world’s largest supplier of dolphins to marine parks.
(As an aside: apparently many dolphinariums protested at the film’s portrayal of their role in the Taiji hunt and in the US it has been illegal since 1993 to import dolphins caught through drives such as the one at Taiji, but the fact remains that marine parks are keeping dolphins in captivity for the amusement of our species.)
The remaining dolphins are herded into a cove, out of sight of the road and any onlookers, where they are speared, knifed and harpooned by men in open boats. All the dolphins are killed, and the meat sold all over Japan. “It’s the largest slaughter of dolphins on the planet,” says O’Barry.
About 23,000 dolphins are killed at Taiji between September and March every year. It's about to start again, on 1 September. What can we do?
- Watch The Cove (it's on DVD). Directed by National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos it has won more than 20 awards including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. The film doesn’t demonise Japanese people and in fact a Japanese activist group called People Concerned for the Ocean distributed free DVD copies of the film to Taiji’s 3500 residents in March this year.
- Visit Takepart.com/thecove for ideas on what to do
- Find out more at SaveJapanDolphins, which has a comprehensive FAQ about Taiji
- Sign a petition to help stop the dolphin slaughter
- Don’t go to dolphin shows at zoos; if demand dries up, zoos will stop keeping dolphins.
- Join Surfers for Cetaceans
- Using your iPad or smartphone, recreate the scene from The Cove where Ric wears a screen showing footage of the Taiji dolphin hunt at an International Whaling Commission meeting. See this link for images and video.
- Celebrate Japan Dolphins Day on 1 September, and remember that every day is dolphin day. May they swim in peace...