The dolphin, a favored sea creature, puts up a bold, happy front for audiences who love to see it do heart-stopping flips and turns in the water. It has a perpetual smile etched on its face, and many regard it as a beacon of positivity.
This creature’s smile is deceptive. It masks the extensive, brutal torture it may have gone through.
The Cove, a controversial 2009 film that secured an Oscar for Best Documentary that year, brought the issue of dolphin killings in Taiji, Japan, to light. While it may not have stopped them, it has made it a task for drive hunters to eke out a living. Many would argue that this is rightly so.
Dolphin Hunting in Japan
Before one can understand why The Cove provoked such powerful reactions, it is necessary to have a grasp of drive fishing in Japan. It involves shepherding dolphins and whales into a cove and killing them.
It is hard to throw a spanner in the cogs of Japan’s lucrative drive hunting industry. Whalers make over $32000 for every dolphin they capture. Dolphin meat, despite its high mercury levels, is a delicacy.
Japanese drive hunts result in over 20000 dolphin deaths every year. They represent the biggest slaughter of dolphins in the world. These creatures take more than 30 minutes to perish. Fearing repercussions, drive hunters use curtains to shroud the killing process from the public.
The killings aside, dolphin captivity is an issue that arouses the ire of naturalists. Whalers select the active female dolphins for sale to dolphinariums, but many die of shock before or during transport.
Dolphins can live up to their nineties in the wild. Those in captivity live no more than 20 years.
A Summary of The Cove
The Cove, helmed by Greek director Louie Psihoyos, is a documentary that follows activist and trainer Ric O Barry’s mission to document dolphin hunting operations in Taiji, Wakayama. O’Barry is the man who helped to capture and train the dolphins who played Flipper in the TV series with the same name. Since a captive dolphin committed suicide in his arms by voluntarily closing her blowhole, he has become an advocate on behalf of dolphins worldwide. Authorities arrested him on the coast of Bimini for trying to free a captive dolphin.
He and Psihoyos traveled to Taiji, a town apparently devoted to whales and dolphins. In a nearby isolated cove at the district’s outskirts, activity takes place that townspeople attempt to disguise.
This cove is where a group of Taiji fishermen engages in dolphin drive hunting. They sell female bottlenose dolphins to marine parks and kill a large number of the rest. They tout the meat to supermarkets. The documentary highlights that the number of dolphins killed in Taiji is more than the number of whales killed in the Atlantic.
According to the film, local Japanese officials hide the hunting, so the Japanese public is not aware that it is taking place. Local police responded to the filming with open hostility and anger. Psihoyos had to record much of the film secretly in 2007, using underwater microphones.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, despite attempts to sabotage it. It secured the U.S. Audience Award at the 25th annual Sundance Film Festival in January 2009.
The Cove: The Controversy
The Cove shed needed light on the issue of dolphin killing. It resulted in a tussle between proponents of dolphin hunts and conservationists fighting to stop the slaughter. Proponents of the killings wanted to preserve their livelihood while dolphin and environmental activists feared for the welfare of the creature.
Fishermen and other right-wing supporters of the hunts protested in the streets of Taiji after the show won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2009. They hassled the staff at theaters in Tokyo and Osaka in attempts to stop the screening of the film.
Their efforts to prevent the awareness of the massacres were futile. Ric ‘O Barry spoke at several universities about the movie in 2010. He debunked myths about dolphin killing. The Directors Guild of Japan urged theaters to show the film, stating that not doing so would inhibit freedom of speech and democracy. Six theaters in Tokyo, Sendai, Kyoto, Osaka and Yokohama screened it.
A Taiji Activist group, called People Concerned for the Ocean, raised awareness of the issue by distributing DVDs of the documentary to the 3500 residents of Taiji. Upon its release, the Taiji town mayor and the Chief of the Fishery Union maintained that the hunts were legal.
Others who appeared in the film, including Professor Tetsuya Endo of the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, felt that the documentary’s producers had lied to them. They pressed charges against these publishers.
The film has also led to a criticism of Dolphinariums, said to be one of the primary motives behind drive hunts. The spokespersons of such facilities, such as Seaworld’s Fred Jacobs, have stated that they are against drive hunts and do not purchase any dolphins caught during these activities.
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