by Jessica Mosby
- USA -
Anyone who thinks that documentaries are boring and stuffy should see The Cove – just to have their preconceived notions shattered. The film is 90 minutes of danger, covert operations, and thrilling feats with a big dose of environmentalism mixed in. It’s as if James Bond and the Ocean’s Eleven team joined up to stop the annual capture and slaughter of 23,000 dolphins in Taiji, Japan.
O’Barry blames himself for the public’s love of dolphins. During the 1960s he captured and trained dolphins, most notably the five bottlenose dolphins that played the namesake character on the popular television series Flipper. According to O’Barry, his life changed when the dolphin Kathy became so depressed from living and filming in captivity that she willfully stopped breathing and died in O’Barry’s arms. He has since spent the last 39 years atoning for 10 years of working in the dolphin industry. On the first Earth Day in 1970, O’Barry founded the Dolphin Project.
The popularity of dolphinariums and water parks where patrons can swim with dolphins has created a competitive and expensive market where the most prized dolphins can sell for up to $150,000 each. Taiji is the largest supplier of dolphins in the world. Dolphins may seem happy and playful during their performances, but life in captivity is also very stressful. According to O’Barry, dolphins are too intelligent and sensitive to sound (dolphins possess incredible sonar) – the roaring crowds and small water pens are often too much.
Psihoyos had originally hoped to legally film the dolphin hunters. After traveling to Taiji with O’Barry, local authorities forbid the pair from even entering the cove. But O’Barry’s intense commitment cannot be controlled by the law; he has been arrested over a hundred times for rescuing and releasing dolphins all over the world. He wants the International Whaling Commission to amend the loophole that sanctions the hunting of cetaceans for “scientific purposes,” in addition to stopping the consumption of dolphin meat because it contains dangerously high levels of mercury. O’Barry’s passion for dolphins makes the film incredibly compelling.To penetrate the secret cove, which is shielded on three sides by treacherous cliffs, Psihoyos, O’Barry, and the Ocean Preservation Society (O.P.S.) assemble a team of adventurers, freedivers, surfers, scientists, and tech wizards. In a fortuitous moment of incompetence, the Taiji police draw O’Barry a map of the restricted areas he is prohibited from entering – thus telling the team exactly where the dolphin hunters are working.
The Cove quickly transforms into a fast-paced action-adventure movie, complete with a cat and mouse game between the team and local police. Advancements in technological abilities and accessibility make films like The Cove possible, which is skillfully shot with vivid colors and steady camera work – even during the covert operations filmed at night. It feels like a multi-million dollar Hollywood production.
Taiji is a picturesque town perched high above the ocean. But the natural beauty is a sharp contrast to the brutality of the dolphin hunters as captured by the O.P.S. team using military-grade equipment to record and film what is really happening the in the cove. Accomplished freedivers Mandy-Rae Cruickshank and Kirk Krack plant microphones underwater, and the team hides high-definition video cameras in fake (albeit very authentic-looking) rocks strategically placed along the cliffs.
As the documentary builds to its dramatic climax, the filmmakers keep the audience engaged with suspense. When the secret cove footage is finally shown, the film borders on horror. The underwater microphones record dolphins’ panicked calls as they await their death in the cove’s holding pen, and the once crystal clear water is filled with so much dolphin and porpoise blood that it turns bright red.
This is not the first time that the capture and killing of dolphins in Taiji has made the international news. In 2007, American actress Hayden Panettiere and a group of protestors surfed close to the cove to stop a group of dolphins from being captured by traffickers. The group then fled Japan to avoid being arrested for trespassing.
Visitors to dolphinariums around the world are attracted to dolphins’ intelligence, lively spirit, and beauty, but The Cove reveals that there is nothing fun or natural about dolphin shows for the dolphins. The film makes both a heart-wrenching and persuasive case against the capture and killings of these creatures, and, although it is particularly unnerving for those that love cetaceans, it's a must-see. The Cove is one of the best documentaries I've seen in awhile, especially because it presents real solutions that could be executed today.
About the Author
Jessica Mosby is a writer and critic living in Oakland, California. In the rare moments when she's not traveling across the United States for work, Jessica enjoys listening to public radio, buying organic food at local farmers markets, trolling junk stores, and collecting owl-themed tchotchke.