Urban Cinefile
"Ego you use for a whole lot of things in this business. You got to have it to protect yourself against all the people who're going to tell you that the job means dick. Yeah, I know the job means dick."  -Russell Crowe
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Using state-of-the-art equipment like night vision HD cameras camouflaged in fake rocks and shrub, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry of Flipper TV series fame, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose the shocking instance of perennial dolphin slaughter and the serious threat to human health with the toxic meat sold around the country labeled 'whale meat'.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Horror film, spy thriller, disaster movie, corruption expose ... and more, The Cove is a gripping and devastating indictment of Japan's barbaric and secretive dolphin harvesting program which sees some 23,000 dolphins (sold for about US$600 each) slaughtered and butchered each year. The meat is then distributed and usually sold as normal whale meat to an unsuspecting public, but unlike other whale meat, dolphin meat contains massive amounts of mercury. So not only is the slaughter a cruel animal holocaust, it generates a toxic food business that the Government and major corporate (including media) interests are aware of - and suppress.

The first major outbreak of mercury poisoning occurred at Minimata in 1956, due to a waste process that was covered up by the company and the Government for 12 years. The highest risk is to pregnant women, who give birth to profoundly deformed babies. It is entirely possible, say the filmmakers that a similar mass poisoning is quietly under way all over Japan - we just don't know about it. Nor do the Japanese people.

In Taiji, the locals are unaware of the risk and the fishermen behave like standover men whenever white folks with cameras appear. The filmmakers are jostled and threatened, even the police get involved in harassing them in an attempt to deny the crew access to film the slaughter. The footage, however, tells all. But it's not silent footage; the crew make a point of recording the sound, that haunting, eerie, agonising sound that works on the human emotional level. As Louie Psihoyos says, he wanted to capture not just the slaughter but something to make people change, to stop what was happening by enrolling every viewer of the film to the cause.

The crusade to stop the slaughter of dolphins at the cove in Taiji is made the more effective and moving by the involvement of Ric O'Barry, for whom its part of a long journey of redemption; he feels partly responsible for the growth of dolphins at water theme parks around the world, a multi billion dollar business, fuelled by interest in dolphins through the popularity of the TV series Flipper - for whom he caught and trained the dolphins over several years.

The Cove is a film that will make a difference - it's impossible not to respond to its message, which is to express outrage and demand the slaughter be stopped. Japan has lost face in a major and profound way; it can only regain it by taking action and closing down the killing cove. But, it argues, it is killing whales - including dolphins - as a sort of pest control, because the whales are eating too much fish and depleting the world's supply. And Japan expects the world to treat that claim seriously. Fish supplies are in danger, sure, but not from whales but man, notably Japanese man, the world's biggest consumer of seafood.

PS The Taijin dolphin slaughter is scheduled to resume in September 2009 - just days after the theatrical release of this film in Australia.

Review by Louise Keller:
Mesmerising cinema is the result of Louie Psihoyos’s must-see documentary about dolphins and their slaughter. There is nothing simplistic about this story, nor the range of emotions we experience as our journey skids from fascination to devastation. It’s the story about a man with a mission to stop the slaughter of dolphins in Japan, an explosive issue which affects us all. The title refers to a tucked-away cove in Taiji, a picturesque Japanese town with ‘a dark dirty secret’. And the Japanese are held to account. As tense as a mystery thriller, this expose takes the form of a carefully planned Mission Impossible (‘the scariest night of my life’), as hidden cameras are impossibly put in place to divulge a shocking revelation.

The dolphin's smile is nature's greatest deception, says Ric O’Barry, who is the key player in this story. He never intended to become an activist. His involvement with dolphins began in the 60s as the man who trained TV superstar, Flipper. It was the television show that created a multi-million dollar business; people everywhere wanted to hug and kiss these joyful, highly intelligent mammals. ‘You have to see them in the wild to understand why captivity doesn’t work,’ he says, explaining that being so sensitive to sound prompts high levels of stress. There is no doubting O’Barry’s genuine affection for dolphins, nor his deep regret and his motivation to make a difference.

Dolphins are big business and more than 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed annually in Japan. You can watch a performing dolphin in an Aquatic show, cuddle a toy dolphin and eat dolphin at the same time. Scary stuff, huh? The toxic mercury level in dolphin meat is yet another dangerous and compounding issue. The killing begins with an artificial wall of sound created to lure migrating dolphins to the cove. The slaughter is top secret and the extraordinary cloak and dagger lengths to which the Japanese authorities go to keep it under wraps, is unbelievable. The sequences with night vision cameras in the lead up to the climactic ones are as tense as any horror film.

Psihoyos combines information gathering with a personal journey: a potent mix. We become involved and those horrific, unforgettable scenes when the sea turns to red, are imprinted in our minds forever. It’s a film with a message but one that delivers much more, including a different perspective on family outings to SeaWorld. Don’t miss it.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


(US, 2009)

CAST: Documentary featuring Louie Psihoyos, Ric O'Barry

PRODUCER: Paula DuPré Pesman

DIRECTOR: Louie Psihoyos

SCRIPT: Mark Monroe


EDITOR: Geoffrey Richman

MUSIC: J. Ralph

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes



© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020