After Blackfish it’s only natural to take a look at what is, essentially, its counterpart – the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove directed by Louie Psihoyos. In fact, we got a remarkable social media response to our Blackfish post which shows how emotive and important this subject is for a lot of people, so we kind of feel like we’re under duress to do this one as well!
The good news is the Cove is every bit as compelling and socially important as Blackfish, at times proving more tense and dramatic than any Hollywood blockbuster. Despite this entertainment value, the Cove, released in 2009, carries with it a message of extreme importance. Which is also good news.
The documentary primarily follows legendary animal rights activist Ric O’Barry and his elite team on a covert mission in Nippon. During the course of the documentary, it’s revealed there is a cove in Taiji where a senseless slaughtering of dolphins occurs, which Nippon had been eager to keep a secret from the rest of the world.
Before we go any further, let’s just say we bloody love Nippon. Otherwise known as Japan (an exonym), we’ve been fascinated with the nation since we were kids when we played video games from this mysterious company called Nintendo. Now grown up, we’re immersed in the wonders of tea drinking, Studio Ghibli, Buddhism, sushi, and the works of remarkable writers such as Kenzaburo Oe.
Despite the nation’s wonderful creative output, it has one rather large foible in the form of its commitment to fishing. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (a documentary we’ll cover soon), sushi extraordinaire Jiro Ono intelligently talks of the need for greater conservationism and respect for the oceans. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the rest of the country (and, indeed, world) wants to adhere to this.
The Cove highlights this with relentlessly unpleasant and gut-wrenching scenes which, quite rightly, won the documentary an Oscar. It’s been seven years since it made headlines, so we believe it’s good timing to take a closer look at the issues raised in the film.
Slaughter & Captivity
Whilst booking to go for a swim with a cute and cuddly dolphin may seem like a wonderful way to spend a holiday, the sad reality is those places exist based on a business which captures wild animals for human entertainment. This is the purpose of the cove in Taiji, to ferry the animals into a confined area, capture prime examples, and butcher the rest for meat.
Bunged into captivity, the result is the dolphins suffer terribly due to their conditions. O’Barry (who used to work as a dolphin specialist on the set of Flipper) makes the startling claim one he cared for in captivity committed suicide in a fit of depression.
That’s the type of statement some imbeciles would probably laugh at… until you realise the intelligence these creatures are packing. Honestly, it would appear they’re smarter than some humans. They’re also, thanks to human activities, a toxic wasteground of mercury, which creates a problem for anyone who wants to eat them.
The effects of industrialisation are becoming increasingly apparent in the world around us. Climate change and pollution have been two of the most serious, with the latter already laying waste to large parts of the world.
In the Cove, there’s a disturbing account of appalling mercury poisoning in the town of Minamata – a tragedy which hit in 1956 with devastating effects. The Chisso Corporation released methylmercury into waste water from 1932 onwards and this bioaccumulated in fish in the region.
The resulting neurological devastation this caused to local residents led to a complete removal of basic human functioning for over 2,000 people. The corporation has paid over £80 million in compensation to families since, but there’s a real fear we could be heading towards widespread instances as mercury content in fish continues to rise.
This is one of the modern dilemmas when it comes to eating fish. Technically, it’s healthy what with protein and omega 3 fatty acids. It’s also packing mercury – eat in moderation, then. If you’re concerned about this, you can visit the Cove’s What Fish to Enjoy Safely chart for further information.
This, combined with the brutal acts in Taiji, led to global condemnation of the behaviour of this little resort. Naturally, with fish being such a central industry in the country, many were eager to fight for their side.
Certain sects of Nippon’s media responded to criticisms raised in the Cove. Some journalists targeted America’s obsession with beef and how calling out its dolphin slaughter is hypocritical when 30+ million cows a year are being processed for meat.
Closer to home, a Guardian writer called David Cox called the film animal rights propaganda. He argued in The Cove’s message is gruesome but facile: “Highlighting the plight of Japan’s dolphins could reduce the prospects of relief for other suffering creatures”:
The film's spearspersons are certainly puzzled. Westerners, they point out, kill and eat cows. Easterners eat dolphins. What's the difference? As we know from the work of other film-makers, what happens on the west's factory farms doesn't look pretty on celluloid. Yet we don't seem to care very much about that. After all, cows aren't dolphins.
Cox’s point is dolphins are cute, so humans have swooned in wonder for them and made this documentary whilst cows, rats, and chickens can all go to Hell.
There are, however, plenty of vegans out there, supported by documentaries such as the Leonardo DiCaprio spearheaded Cowspiracy (released years after Cox wrote his piece, in fairness), who most certainly do have the protection of awesome and lovely cows on their minds. As for rats: we’re sure, one day, the human being and rat can coexist in harmony.
An excellent documentary, the Cove arrived at a pivotal moment in history when the world’s oceans are at crisis point due to pollution and rampant overfishing. The ecosystem was perfectly balanced after millions of years, but in the last 50 or so humans have bumbled in like drunken idiots to mess it all up.
We can’t help but depressingly realise the oceans will likely be eradicated of many species (which is going to happen within the next 20 years), the results of which could well be catastrophic on a wide scale cultural, economic, and environmental level. We’re not looking forward to that – it’ll be crap.
So we believe it’s time for the world to make a concerted effort to ensure we don’t mess this up, but it will take a huge effort given how prone to bickering we are. Activists such as Ric O’Barry have led the fight and it’s, at the very least, about time we all turn our noses up like snobs at businesses which keep animals in captivity. His Dolphin Project will allow you to do so. Peace and vegetables, y’all!