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The International Writers Magazine: Save Dolphins From Japan Restaurants

The Cove - Shallow Water, Deep Secret
Director: Louie Psihoyos,
Producer: Fisher Stevens, Paula DuPré Pesmen,
Duration: 92 minutes, Language: English
Shivani Shah
If the people of Taiji in Japan are culpable, the world stands accomplice to the horrific massacre of one of the most intelligent animals on Planet Earth.


Powerful and revealing, this Oscar-winning documentary film directed by Louie Psihoyos takes us to The Cove, in Taiji where a meticulously-operated sting operation reveals that over 23,000 dolphins are clubbed to death annually. They are corralled here by the din of a fleet of ships. Perplexed, they run for their lives, and to their death.

When these free ranging animals are left overnight, they literally cry. Young dolphins get anxious and sense that their kin will be killed in the adjoining nets. Their fate is equally sinister. They will be flown to different parts of the world to become star performers in the multi-billion Dolphinarium businesses.

The meat of the massacred dolphins is sold incognito as whale meat (while commercial whaling is opposed by many countries, whale meat is not banned per se). And if this isn’t gruesome enough, the mercury-laden dolphin meat is given away freely to children across Japan, a country that has already experienced the deadly effects of the Minamata disease in the 1950s.

Interestingly, the man behind the expose is someone who knows the dolphinarium business extremely well. Ric O’Berry, after all, played a vital role for over a decade in helping to setup this multi-billion business. However, he spent the next 35 years fighting against its wildlife abuses. Berry who was a protagonist in the Flipper series in the 1960s, captured and trained five dolphins for the movie. It was the Flipper series that
popularised Dolphinariums across the world, where these cute, smiling cetaceans are kissed and loved to death as he rightly suggests in the movie.

The heart-rending ‘suicide’ of one of the dolphins named Cathy, forced him to rethink his vocation.

During his time spent with Cathy and others, he saw just how stressed out these acoustic marine animals get when they are trapped in concrete swimming pools, unable to communicate with other members as they would out in the open sea, and maddened by the din of screaming people.

O’Berry visited Taiji and with the help of Louie, and a select crew worked over several years to penetrate Japanese security, fishermen, middlemen and businessmen who have kept this gory business in a shroud of secrecy. It’s becoming clear, that the Japanese are killing the dolphins, just like they killed the whales. They have ensured that dolphins are not included in the list of protected whales and the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which was set up in 1986 to protect whales does not include in their ambit small cetaceans even though they are endangered.

This is how Japan goes about it. First they get the neighbours to join the IWC. Then Japan buys the vote of the neighbouring islands of the Caribbean to vote to “protect the rights of the ‘traditional’ communities.” These neighbouring islands, prostrating for a few yen, nod in agreement with Japan at the IWC meetings, as we see in the film. And that’s how they keep this business going. A business that has nothing to do with the economical or the political dynamics of Japan or even tradition as they claim it to be.

On ground, Japanese fishermen are made to believe that dolphins are pests that are responsible for the decline of the fish stock, and a threat to their livelihood. The manner in which various problems are woven into the story leaves much to be desired.

Yet, without a doubt, the documentary has been released at a time when we are in deep blue crisis and it ends with a ray of hope... Ric O’Berry into the IWC meeting with a television strapped to his chest, revealing to decision makers what is going on in Japan’s tourist town. Japan’s representative at the IWC retires shortly after this. Dolphin meat isn’t given to children anymore. That’s a huge step forward. The movie is like a baton, which is being passed on to us, to take this challenge forward, and put an end to this.

The next 62nd Annual IWC meeting is to be held between June 21 and 25, 2010 in Morocco.

The film is a must watch for anyone who has a wild spirit, and love for all things great and small. For Ric O’Berry, Louie Psihoyos and the crew, I’d like to end in the words of John Denver.

“Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to
The things that you’ve shown us,
The stories you tell
Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit...

To get a copy of the DVD, or download the film, log on to

First published in Sanctuary Asia, June 2010

Shivani Shah is a freelance writer, particularly interested in marine conservation and is currently campaigning with Greenpeace

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