I’ve already spoken a lot about fish and the oceans, but stay with me if you didn’t want to read another oceanic post because this one is about dolphins. Now, you might have had quite enough of me rattling on about fish, but, I think most will agree, dolphins are a little different. Douglas Adams once wrote a lovely sentence about how humans thought they were more intelligent than dolphins because they ran around in a civilised world wearing digital watches and worrying about the time, whereas the dolphins just liked having fun in the water. The dolphins thought they were the more intelligent species – for exactly the same reason.
So, while I might have appealed to numbers and talk of famine when I wrote about fish, dolphins normally get different treatment. Why? Not just because they are intelligent but also because they seem to be self conscious, that is, they can reflect on themselves and identify other dolphins. They have been known to save humans from sharks, and we all know they enjoy playing with us as well. Most people who have a ‘do before I die’ list will tell you that swimming with dolphins is near the top. It’s probably true that the TV series Flipper was responsible for our passion for dolphins. Yet, the story of The Cove starts with Flipper’s trainer describing how she ‘committed suicide’ in his arms. Dolphins, Ric O’Barry explains, are not automatic breathers like humans, they have to choose to take a breath. Cathy (the real name of one of the Flipper dolphins) swum into his arms, looked at him, took one last breath and then didn’t take another one. O’Barry had already been aware that she was depressed. He also explains that, although dolphins are always smiling, dolphins in captivity are under such stress that their food has to be medicated to treat the ulcers they suffer from. Captive dolphins are unhappy animals, there is no two ways about it, The Cove makes that pretty clear. It’s a billion dollar industry that has to be stopped.
But the main point of the documentary is about a small bay in a place called Taiji in Japan, where dolphins are driven out of fear, trapped, and then, if they are not claimed by trainers to be taken to captivity, are killed in their thousands for meat. O’Barry and a team, complete with two free divers, take great risk to get hidden cameras into the cove, which is heavily guarded. The footage they gathered was harrowing, showing these beautiful creatures being hacked at, struggling to take their last breaths in the blood filled water, leaping into the rocks in desperation to escape, and all the time being consciously aware of the slaughter of their kind and their young being killed around them. The Japanese peoples’ response to this? Well, although the authorities at one point try to argue with O’Barry that eating dolphins is part of their culture, when he interviews people in major cities, they seem to have no idea. One, talking in Tokyo replies: ‘it’s hard to imagine people eat dolphin’, another says: ‘we don’t regard dolphins as food’.
And well they shouldn’t, as The Cove goes on to illustrate that dolphin meat is riddled with mercury, the most toxic non-radioactive element on earth. The possible affects of eating dolphin are compared with Japan’s 1956 Minamata disaster, where the government covered up a toxic mercury spill, claiming the lives of thousands and damaging the lives of thousands more. A distressing reel of film is played, during The Cove, of children born severely deformed after the poisoning of Minamata. Once again, it’s harrowing stuff, although this time it’s threatening the health and lives of humans. But the documentary goes on to show that dolphin meat is being sold as whale meat in supermarkets. Japan is poisoning its own people, by slaughtering one of the world’s most intelligent and sentient creatures.
In a final attempt to justify their cause, the Japanese government and delegates at the IWC* claim that whales and dolphins are responsible for the rapid depletion of fish stocks. Fortunately, the delegate of Brazil was on hand to let everyone know ‘this is biological nonsense’, but unfortunately, for both dolphins and for whales, Japan is buying the votes of other small, bankrupt countries at the IWC. During his interview Paul Watson, of Sea Shepherd, describes the IWC as a ‘toothless’ organisation, and so it appears. Since whaling was made illegal by the IWC in 1986, the Japanese have tripled their killing of dolphins and porpoise, and have continued to kill whales under the pretence of ‘scientific research’. No wonder we need groups like the Oceanic Preservation Society, Sea Shepherd, and Greenpeace, to police the seas. The IWC is hardly beginning to manage the situation.
It’s important, then, that we keep up public pressure against pro-whaling groups, and keep public opinion very clear: we do not want whaling, this message has to remain as clear as day. For the dolphins, unfortunately, it is not this easy. The dark secrets of The Cove in Taiji are being kept from the people of Japan, so O’Barry and OPS** are struggling against a tide of ignorance as well as the Japanese government. The message needs to keep spreading. The more people who watch The Cove, who are horrified, who send it on to their friends, the more people who spread the word, and the more people who take action. It’s worth watching The Cove not only for the message, but also to be inspired by the people who face danger and jail when they break into the bay at cover of night to show the world this story. The clear message is this: take action.
*IWC: The International Whaling Commission. Set up by nations with interest in whaling, after great protests in the 1980s, the IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986.