"Special ops" crew hide cameras from Taiji, Japan authorities to catch dolphin hunt. Photos courtesy of The Cove
The fate of 23,000 dolphins is in your hands, says Flipper's old trainer Ric O'Barry who's devoted years to ending the monster he created: dolphin shows. He inspired National Geographic photographer, Louis Psihoyos, to direct an award-winning eco-documentary, The Cove. "But it's not just about saving dolphins. It's about saving us," says the filmmaker, referring to all the environmental issues associated with the ocean, from the loss of fish stocks to acidification of reefs. So he assembled a SWAT team to stealthily shoot fisherman trapping dolphins in a prohibited cove of a national park in Japan. "We tried to do the story legally," he says, "but..."
Pre-dawn infared footage of champion divers installing high-def equipment.
Psihoyos' Oceans 11 style film about the slaughter of dolphins on the coastline of Taiji, Japan has been written about in Treehugger previously, but it's all worth repeating since it's finally coming to theaters (in New York and LA this weekend) and "goes wide" on 8/7. The success of the film depends on the box office attendance on opening weekends. It's up against Funny People, but The Cove is an unconventional doc, a suspense-packed drama, more compelling, daring, poignant, and moving than Judd Apatow fare.
George Lucas' Industrial Lights & Magic created fake rocks to hide cameras.
Comedian Ben Stiller might agree. He and Isabelle Lucas joined Sea Shepherd's Capt. Paul Watson of Animal Planet's Whale Wars and introduced The Cove last night in Hollywood. Watson already confronted this slaughter with Heroes' Hayden Panetierre in tow.
"We can shut the cove down," claim both O'Barry and Psihoyos. Yet catching the dolphin hunt on film required several commando missions in the middle-of-the-night with champion divers, hidden cameras, and decoys. "We had to be pirates," admits the director, who smuggled footage out of the country while O'Barry kept getting interrogated by police.
The bucolic cove the day before dolphins are trapped for the bounty.
Dolphins: a $15+ million dollar business?
It's a complex storyline, weaving in the ongoing issue of the International Whaling Commission not enforcing the ban against whales or dolphins (smaller members of the cetacean family). The film illustrates the amazing lengths the Japanese government goes to in protecting this big business.
Primo bottlenose dolphins fetch $150,000 for sea parks and the dead dolphins garner $600 a piece. By my calculations it's a $15 million business, minimum. That's based on an estimate of selling a dozen dolphins to seaquariums around the world with the remaining 22,898 killed in a primitive and cruel way, which leads me to believe these 26 fisherman aren't earning the lionshare of the income.
Ric O'Barry, Louis Psihoyos and The Cove team at LA Film Festival screening. Photo by RCruger
However, The Cove won't likely be screened in Japan since there's a media moratorium on the entire whaling story, so it will require other measures to effect any change. Though the Japanese government says it's upholding traditional custom, some say it's asserting its cultural dominion. Ironically, Taiji decorates the town with cute cartoony dolphins like its mascot.
It will take more to stop dolphin abuse than simply raising awareness and outrage. Take Part, the organization that gets filmgoers involved in documentary film causes, lists lots of to-dos about this dolphin issue, including joining the Oceanic Preservation Society. Activist O'Barry suggests the Japanese concept of gaitsu, external/foreign pressure, could make a difference and that the film will help win the battle.
And then there's the subplot dealing with feeding mercury-laden toxic dolphin meat to unsuspecting children and disguising it as whale meat, which the Japanese public are kept in the dark about. But I'll not say no more — see it for yourself. It's the perfect date movie: adventurous guys doing good deeds in dangerous waters — but with chilling effect.
More on Japan's whale and dolphin hunting:
Direct Action Against Whalers Works! Japan's Whale Catch Falls Short of Targets
How to Catch a Dolphin Killer in the Act
Whaling 'Peace Talks' Stalled, Japan Won't Cut Its Hunt Quotas Deep Enough
The Cove - Trying to Save 23000 Dolphins from Slaughter