Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Netflix Queue…'The Cove'

Seems like every year a documentary film comes out telling us how messed up the world is and how everything we’re doing is wrong or is going to kill us. Although the subject matter of The Cove is far from preachy, its message is really a shocking call to action. World famous (and later infamous) dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry’s work on the 1964 TV hit “Flipper” inspired future generations of dolphin lovers. However the more in demand dolphins became, the more their capture is considered a cold hard money game. Yet, The Cove’s intent was not to focus solely on the “Dolphin Trade” (which in itself is a problem worthy of a documentary) but to make the world aware of a far greater atrocity that is wrong on so many levels. While I don’t watch (or write-up for that matter) many documentaries, this one just compelled me to do so.

Taking a short but important “how we got here” introduction, filmmaker and now Dolphin activist O’Barry tells the tail, err…tale of Flipper and the effect if had on the world. Soon after the success of the show, “Dolphinariums” started opening up everywhere. Before long, the idea of petting and swimming with dolphins became a billion dollar industry. And that’s when O’Barry started to wonder about the monster he created. But the first thing that really set Ric off was to see the death of Cathy (one of the dolphins used as “Flipper”) right in his very arms. Since then he’s been devoutly devoted to dolphin release programs…both legal and illegal.

But like any investigation, looking for something can find you in a whole world you never knew existed. O’Barry’s outcries against the dolphin trade have nothing on what was going on in Taiji, Japan. This film is titled The Cove to specifically address the horrors taking place in this one little secluded area where on the surface it appears to be just another dolphin “model search” for aquariums but there are far more sinister deeds at work.

Cloaked in both a natural fortress of steep mountainous cliffs and protected at great measure by the Taiji governing bodies, The Cove itself keeps secret the atrocities befalling all the rest of the dolphins not selected for aquarium life. In this cove, thousands (yes thousands) of dolphins are slaughtered for food. While this may seem like a necessary evil to provide sustenance for the inhabitants of the town, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

First off, all these dolphins are killed (without even the people living in the town knowing anything about this) and sold to fish markets. But the problem is that literally there is no market for dolphin meat. So why and how do they keep this going? Well, people who don’t want to eat dolphin meat still will eat whale meat, and since dolphins are part of the whale variety, they are disguised and packaged as “whale meat”.

If that’s not bad enough, you have the obscene and deadly mercury content of these creatures in every square inch of their bodies. You can’t cook out mercury like you can bacteria so it is a health concern of serious measure. Now here’s where the shit keeps piling up. The IWC (International Whaling Conference) has delegates from nearly every country on the planet and in front of all of them, Japan is lying about and denying what they’re doing. They are even saying that killing off the dolphins a justified action as it is a way of “pest control” to keep from consuming too many fish. Well news flash (and maybe it’s because I’m buying into the argument that I’m agreeing with it) but humans do a hell of a lot more damage to the supply of fish. They even brought it up in the animated film Happy Feet…so then what? Are people going to cite Penguins as the depleter of the worlds fish supply?

Anyway, back to the murders at The Cove, since the fishermen and parties at fault can’t sell dolphin meat on a level where it makes sense to continue or keep a profit, they are instead doling it out to lunch programs in the town and neighboring villages. And holy crap, I never knew what Mercury poisoning was (the DVD special feature about Mercury Poisoning is highly recommended as it talks more about the horrors of that than was shown in the film). O’Barry shows video of cases from 50’s era children born in Minamata and it is terrifying stuff, but to find out it’s not a far gone epidemic is scarier still. People all over Japan (eating dolphin, whale, tuna…really anything) are in danger of Mercury poisoning. Holy Shit you say??…holy shit is right…or more like “Sotareyama”…or even “Matakaio” would suffice.

So they’ll keep The Cove heavily guarded, shrouded in secrecy and keep up the rouse that the dolphin drives are for sales of worthy specimens to aquariums where they can fetch over 150,000 a piece. But where’s a story without a hero. Well let’s go back to Mr. O’Barry and his team of equally enraged and devoted associates. Assembling a crack team of divers, A/V experts and the like they attempt to infiltrate The Cove. I don’t want to spoil what is probably the most tense part of the film but its impressive what they went through to get evidence of what happens in the cove. You’ll just have to watch it to find out what happens:)

G-S-T Ruling: 4/5

G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED


  • Mad Hatter

    Movies like this don’t usually affcet me all that much…but holy hell did THE COVE ever give me a shot right to the chest.

    As if the OCEAN’S 11-esque caper to get the footage isn’t entertaining enough, what we eventually learn has to be one of the most chilling things I’ve ever watched.

    Great post – your queue has served you well by providing you with this unforgettable doc.

    • Marc

      Thanks very much Hatter. Yeah, I knew this wasn’t going to be a feel good documentary but I was surprised at how much of a “shock doc” this was…the whole time I was saying “my God, people are doing that and no one knows about it??”

      Something like this makes waves (no pun intended) and just stays with people for a while. I think, unfortunately, films with this kind of message usually get an Oscar as more of a sympathy vote for the cause rather than a congratulations for bringing this issue to light.

  • Dreher Bear (...Where The Buffalo Roam)

    Nice write-up! I’ve been meaning to watch this documentary and it’s been sitting in my netflix queue for a while.

    • Marc

      Thanks DB. I don’t usually get gushy over a documentary but I kind of did with this one. Either way I think this is something people need to see. If not for the dolphins, then for the awareness of mercury. Yikes with a capital Y!!

  • Rob

    This is one that I’ve been meaning to watch myself, but the actuality is that it gets (of course) a bad rap here in Japan. Two things mainly: apparently the directors weren’t transparent in what they were doing, and going so far as to trespassing, etc etc. Secondly, that what they do is what they’ve culturally done in that town for however long, who’s right is it to come make them look bad?

    Having not seen it, and probably won’t be able to since it was originally banned, I can’t say much for or against it, but documentaries in general are never cut and dry, and will always sway you towards whatever purpose the directors have. On the cultural issue, Japan in general doesn’t eat dolphin from what I’ve seen, but again, different strokes for different folks. There are places that eat horse or dog, but I’ve not seen documentaries on it yet.

    To tell the truth, I’d like to see something more like a documentary on an issue that affect more than one tiny village. How about something about where Japan hasn’t joined the Hague Convention, which means that they have quite a few cases of Japanese parent kidnapping their child from foreign parent to bring back to Japan, and then give the finger to the other country when ask to return said child? That’s something that strikes me as more important…

  • Mad Hatter

    @ Rob… Sorry – it doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to rail against a film while flying the “having not seen it, and probably won’t” flag.

    For starters, the fact that the filmmakers had to tresspass to make the film is specifically adressed many times within the framework of the film. Additionally, “what they’ve culturally done in that town” is WRONG…and that’s what the film wants to show.

    You’re right, japan in general doesn’t eat dolphin, but again the film has a very valid point about that too.

    I’m sorry to pick on you like this, but I’ve found myself growing increasingly impatient with people who take their turn on the soapbox and begin with “Now, I haven’t seen this movie, but…”

    • Marc

      Woah woah fellas, let’s not start a shoving match. There have been what are considered atrocities committed against animals for as long as man has been alive, the dodo, the buffalo, baby seals, etc. hell, even dogs and cats, however this is just the next in the firing line getting what could be called a bad rap. Shocking but certainly not the first issue to cause a stir with bleeding hearts, or anyone with a heart for that matter.

      Fair enough, Rob, by virtue of his living in Japan, hasn’t watched it, not because he won’t but because he can’t get a copy of it.

      Yes, Taiji cites one of their justifications in doing what they do as “something cultural that others won’t understand”. Now as a complete outsider to the country and while trying to remain objective, I won’t really condone or condemn a people’s way of life, but this matter still seems pretty serious. I don’t think anyone is really right in doing what was done, but sometimes bringing to light an awareness of a situation so people can make the decision that is right for them seems to be the best outcome of any documentary. In my eyes the Mercury issue is the most serious issue addressed.

  • Rob

    @Mad Hatter:

    Thanks for the picking, actually, you addressed points I wasn’t aware of, and if anything it does make me want to see the documentary even more. The truth of the matter is that as I’ve said, most of the news here regarding the cove has picked up on the points I talked about, so that’s what I’m familiar with. I recognize that my comments are then one-sided based on what I know. However, the bright side of the focus that The Cove has gotten thanks to its awards means that there’s been some pressure to show it in theaters here, and there are supposed to be limited (probably very limited) screenings in the near future. I will definitely get out to see it if I can. In the long run, while most countries do this to some extent, Japan really has a tendency to close itself up when it comes to criticizing works, and a lot of it comes down to a “if we didn’t see it, it didn’t happen” style approach with works like this, and it’s truly unfortunate.

    Of course, there are various grey ways to go about seeing the movie, but we here at G-S-T promote a healthy and legal movie going life 😉