The Cove

2009 / 94 minutes

The Cove is a highly suspenseful documentary that introduces viewers to Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer from the 1960s hit television series Flipper. O’Barry, who has 10 years of experience training dolphins, has turned his knowledge and appreciation for the animals into a lifelong mission to rescue them from the multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry he helped create. His career shift to activism occurred in 1970, when the original Flipper, whose off-screen name was Kathy, succumbed to the stress of years in captivity and died in O’Barry’s arms.

To illustrate O’Barry’s fight, the film crew takes the viewer to a secret cove in the small town of Taiji, Japan, to expose the alarming annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins. The film reveals that during the hunt, fishermen use disturbing noises to herd the dolphins into the cove, where a small number are lifted out of the water, destined for aquariums, and the remainder are brutally speared to death. Though a few scenes are distressing to watch, the filmmakers take care to not overload the viewer with graphic images of the hunt. Instead, they creatively illustrate the events with narration and the dolphins' own cries. Interweaving the dramatic and dangerous story of the film crew’s efforts to document the slaughter, which the industry meticulously hides from the public, engages and captivates viewers.

The film also delves into the health threats of dolphin meat consumption. Though studies have shown that dolphin meat can contain extremely high levels of the toxin methylmercury, the local Japanese government incorporated it into school lunches, until two local councilmen spoke out against the program in 2007. Tainted dolphin meat is still available in supermarkets, however, and Japanese citizens continue to unwittingly consume the toxin.

The Cove is being shown internationally at film festivals, where it has already won several prestigious Audience Awards for Best Documentary. It will premier on July 31 in New York City and Los Angeles, with openings across the US in early August. Producers are developing a Japanese version for screening in Japan.