Oceans as Wilderness: Go See “The Cove”
[Trailer courtesy of The Cove and Take Part]
Early reviews from folks around the company are in: go see The Cove. The movie – winner of the Sundance Film Festival's 2009 Audience Award for U.S. Documentary – is playing now in select theaters across the country and coming soon to others. Check your local listings or visit the movie's Web site to find out where you can see The Cove.
The majority of the world is not aware this is happening. The Taiji cove is blocked off from the public. Cameras are not allowed inside and the media does not cover the story. It's critical that we get the word out. The dolphin drives begin again on September 1. Visit www.takepart.com/thecove to find out what you can do. Additionally, you can help spread the word by becoming a fan of The Cove on Facebook and Twitter.
Hit the jump for Q & A with former dolphin trainer turned activist Ric O'Barry and the film's director Louie Psihoyos, courtesy of The Cove.
Ric O’Barry was once one of the world’s pre-eminent dolphin trainers. In the 1960s, he captured and trained the five wild dolphins who would play the role of “Flipper” in the beloved hit television series of the same name. This pop culture phenomenon would fuel widespread public adoration of dolphins and spark many children to dream of befriending one, but O’Barry came to see it as a curse not a blessing. Day after day, he witnessed the stunning intelligence and social savvy of the animals he was working – he even watched in awe as they reacted to watching themselves on TV – and he began to question what he was doing.
It was when one of the dolphins, a female named Kathy, committed a form of suicide in his arms, closing her blowhole voluntarily in order to drown, that O’Barry had a life-changing wake up call. With his heart shattered, suddenly he realized what he had been blinding himself to all along: that the dolphins wanted only to go home to the sea and their families. Days later, he found himself off the island of Bimini, attempting to cut a hole in the sea pen holding a captive dolphin. It was his first rescue attempt and his first arrest . . . and it would lead to many more.
O’Barry has worked tirelessly as an advocate on behalf of dolphins around the world ever since. He has watched in despair as the capture and sale of dolphins has, in the ensuing years, become a colossal form of big business. Incensed that this was going on without any public attention or the consent of the Japanese people, he began secretly filming what was happening in the cove and sending footage to news outlets, hoping to get the word out. It was one of these homemade DVDs that first drew the attention of Louie Psihoyos, who soon brought his own film crew to Taiji, and enlisted the creative input of producer Fisher Stevens. Once in action, the film couldn’t help but focus on the colorful, larger-than-life personality of O’Barry, who is in such imminent danger in Taiji that he dons comic-book disguises and moves at night, never wavering from his ongoing mission.
Q: You started as a dolphin trainer and now you oppose keeping dolphins captive. You talk in the film about what you went through when the dolphin Karen died, but were there signs even before that which made you start to worry you were on shaky ethical ground?
A: Yes, I was already started to have a change of heart during the filming of “Flipper” but in our business we call it putting the blinders on. I was young, I had a glamorous job, I was driving a Porsche and it was easy to do. After her death, I was heartbroken. Going to Bimini was the act of someone going crazy in a sense, but it was also an act of sheer passion.
Q: How do you feel about the dolphin trainers who come to places like Taiji to buy dolphins for shows and aquariums?
A: A lot of trainers justify that this is all for “research and education” but I really can’t answer how 30 trainers can stand in the water in Taiji with these traumatized animals and look them in the eye knowing what they are doing. I really don’t know. I get why the fisherman do it – for them, it’s a tradition and they really believe that dolphins are no different from a fish, even if they are ignoring that dolphin meat is toxic. But the trainers I am still in contact with have found ways to turn a blind eye. They want to talk about how to train new tricks, but they don’t want to talk about the captures or slaughter.
Q: A lot of people will be surprised to learn that it is legal to hunt dolphins in Japan. Why is that?
A: There is a so-called ban on whaling but it doesn’t apply to dolphins or other small whales. Of course size doesn’t matter – dolphins are whales and their suffering is the same. Unfortunately, the International Whaling Commission, as you see in the movie, are asleep at the wheel and under the influence of corrupt lawyers and very little happens at their meetings.
Q: What has to happen for the dolphin hunts to stop?
A: First of all, the dolphin entertainment industry is a $2 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone and that is driving these hunts. The solution also has to come from inside Japan, from the Japanese people. Still, I have been advised that external pressure, what the Japanese call “gaiatsu,” can help.
Q: What kind of “gaiatsu” might work?
A: One thing that isn’t a good idea is to boycott Japan or Japanese products. This isn’t about Japan or Japanese culture. The majority of the Japanese people we’ve talked are opposed to dolphin hunting and they are completely unaware of the corruption in the government that has allowed mercury-tainted dolphin meat to continue to be sold.
On our website www.savejapandolphins.org, we suggest people call the Japanese embassy and ask them to stop the dolphin hunts. We also think the U.S., in particular President Obama, can put more pressure on the Japanese. All U.S. Presidents since Nixon have claimed to be against whaling but they have never done anything to stop it from continuing. They have let the status quo continue. Most politicians in the U.S. don’t know that the largest dolphin slaughter in the world takes place every year in Japan, so we are hopeful that this movie will really be a wake up call.
Q: With all that you’ve been through – grief, jail, mortal danger – in trying to save dolphins, are you still optimistic?
A: I’ll tell you it’s very hard for me to watch THE COVE – not because of what the audience sees but because of what they don’t see, which is the rest of my life – the births and death and jail cells and courtrooms that happened between the lines of what’s there on the screen. But nothing could have been more exciting for me than to see this film get 8 standing ovations at Sundance and to have people literally jumping up and asking “what can be done?” The main thing I want to say is that there is real hope on the horizon. I think there’s a good chance we can shut this cove down and if we can do that, it’s going to be a big step towards stopping all whaling of any kind. If people want to help, they should visit www.savejapandolphins.org.
Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, has been widely regarded as one of the top photographers in the world. He was hired directly out of college to shoot for National Geographic and created images for the yellow-bordered magazine for 18 years. His ability to bring humanity and wit to complicated science stories carries over to his filmmaking. An ardent diver and dive photographer, he feels compelled to show the world the decline of our planet’s crucial resource, water.
Along with Jim Clark, Psihoyos created the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) in 2005. The non-profit organization provides an exclusive lens for the public and media to observe the beauty as well as the destruction of the oceans, while motivating change.
Q: What was Taiji like?
A: The town was like out of a Steven King novel – outwardly the whole town was about the reverence and respect and love of dolphins and whales, but what was happening in the secret cove belied another story, one I was determined to get at.
The secret cove is a natural fortress, protected on three sides by steep cliffs. The entrance on one side is protected by a series of high spiked gates with barbed wire and razor ribbons, and there are two tunnel entrances protected by guards and dogs. After a tour of the town with Richard, I contacted the Taiji mayor’s office and the dolphin hunters’ union – I wanted to get their side of the story and I wanted to do the story legally. I had noticed that I had picked up a tail; I had 24-hour police surveillance while I was in town. But the town was not interested in cooperating – they were making too much money with the captive dolphin industry to jeopardize it by having a journalist milling about. The mayor told me that I could get hurt or killed by getting too close to the dolphin hunters or the secret cove.
The cove, oddly enough, is in the middle of a National Park right in the center of town, between city hall and the whale museum.
Richard told me that to penetrate the secret cove you would need to get a Navy Seal team, and that is pretty much what I did, but my team was more of an “Ocean’s Eleven” team.
Q: It is a really eclectic group of characters. How did you put the team together?
A: I enlisted my friends Mandy Rae-Cruickshank and Kirk Krack to help us set underwater cameras and hydrophones. Mandy is an eight-time world champion freediver. She can hold her breath for 6 and a half minutes and dive down to almost to 300 feet and back on her own power. Her husband, Kirk, is also a freediver. [Watch a stunning video of Mandy and Kirk freediving.] A former photo assistant of mine went on to become the head mold maker at ILM, Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas’ 3-D division and they helped us make fake rocks to hide high definition cameras and microphones. An electronics expert formerly with the Canadian Air Force helped us hot rod the hard drive cameras with larger drives powered by expedition batteries used for climbers on Mount Everest. He also helped us make unmanned drones so we had aerial support and video – a remote controlled helicopter with a gyrostabilized high definition camera below it as well as a blimp with a remote controlled camera.
Some pirate friends from the islands helped me place the cameras and many nights we were in blinds in full camouflage and face paint. We foiled the guards and police many nights by the use of high-definition military grade thermal cameras to scan the hills for movement, and an assortment of other diversionary techniques.
Q: Have there been any new developments since you left Taiji?
A: Dolphin meat used to be part of school lunch programs there. That stopped this year. Ric O’Barry and our organization, the Oceanic Preservation Society, had a hand in that. Our work with a toxicity expert there eventually reached several Taiji town council members, who had their own children in the school system, and who did their own tests on dolphin meat. These confirmed our findings. School children across Wakamaya prefecture are no longer fed toxic dolphin meat for school lunch programs. As a result, the head of the fisheries, Hideki Moronuki, who had set the quotas for dolphins and porpoises and whales, has been fired. But the hunt for dolphins is still going on. We hope awareness will shut the dolphin drive down by next year, once the Japanese
people learn about it.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Oceanic Preservation Society and how it was created?
A: The founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society is the inventor and venture capitalist Jim Clark, a modern day Zelig who built three groundbreaking industries from scratch. He worked himself out of poverty and in college he helped set up the computer systems that sent man to the moon. As a professor at Stanford, he invented the first 3-D graphics engine computer chip with Silicon Graphics, the first commercial internet browser with Netscape. After he discovered he had a rare blood disease, he created WebMd, a portal that connects doctors and patients with the most recent medical and health information. At the forefront of innovation his whole life, he has also been an avid diver and sailor, traveling to the world’s best preserved reefs but also witnessing the collapse of the oceans in his lifetime. He founded OPS to create films and stills to raise awareness of the plight of the oceans, a demise that also jeopardizes humanity, as we derive 70% of our protein from seafood, a diminishing and increasingly and polluted resource.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from THE COVE?
A: First, I hope people stop taking their children to dolphin amusement parks and swim with dolphin programs – having intelligent sentient animals perform stupid tricks for our amusement is a form of bad education for our children. Secondly, I hope the Japanese people stop killing dolphins for food because, ethical reasons aside, all dolphin meat is toxic and not fit for human or animal consumption. Third, dolphins and whales are polluted mainly because of the dumping in the ocean of toxins from man’s activities. The burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, contributes to most of the build-up of mercury in the environment so getting us off coal is important in saving the oceans. So, at the OPS headquarters we have 117 solar panels that now generate 140% of our energy needs; and we have two electric cars that are totally powered from energy generated from the sun. Everybody can help in these ways.
[Our thanks go out to Louie, Fonda and the rest of the movie staff. Please support this film and tell your friends. Visit Patagonia.com for more on our Oceans as Wilderness campaign.]