“The Cove:” A Critique

After spending years building up the dolphin entertainment industry, Ric O’Barry builds a team to create a documentary about the dolphin slaughter that occurs each year in Taiji, Japan. “The Cove” uses passion, personal anecdotes, and powerful imagery to lure in the audience in this suspenseful film to make them activists. O’Barry and team created a highly successful film with the purpose to bring awareness of the dolphin slaughters, and put a stop to them.

Ric O’Barry has had a strong passion and connection to dolphins ever since he was young. O’Barry was on the television series, “Flipper,” where he and his dolphin, Cathy, were the stars. After being on the show, O’Barry helped to make the dolphin entertainment industry more popular, making dolphin shows more normalized. O’Barry didn’t realize the dolphin shows were so bad for the health of the dolphins after making them popular. This makes the audience feel sad for O’Barry – he built up an industry for years, and now he’s trying to take that industry down. After not realizing the entertainment industry was literally killing O’Barry’s dolphin, Cathy, O’Barry felt true remorse when he realized how harmful the shows are on dolphins. O’Barry explains that Cathy committed suicide. At first, as an audience member, one would find it hard to believe this is true; however, it was true. Dolphins have to physically choose to take every breath they make. It’s not like how humans will eventually gasp for air after having a contest to see who can hold their breath the longest. If a dolphin chooses it doesn’t want to take their next breathe, they won’t. This was the start of O’Barry’s realization that the industry he’s in is a corrupt one. He said, “A dolphin’s smile is nature’s greatest deception, it creates the illusion they are always happy. You realize after a while they don’t really belong in captivity.” Nothing he’d ever do could bring Cathy back, but he could become an activist and stop mistreatment of other dolphins, and spread the word that dolphins are very intelligent creatures and don’t deserve to be in captivity. It’s not healthy for them.

Being self-aware is a special trait that only a handful of mammals possess – this includes apes, elephants, humans, and of course the bottle-nose dolphin. Animals humans may be more familiar with such as cows, dogs, and chickens are not self-aware. Self-awareness means you understand you have a life, in which you know you exist and know when you are in danger. Because dolphins are so intelligent and are even self-aware, it could be said that the confinement of dolphins and stress put on them in the entertainment industry is cruel. There have been a number of times when dolphins have also saved humans before. The film gave different personal antinodes of times dolphins helped saved people’s lives, and showed the dolphins swimming underwater with powerful music. A surfer explains how one day a dolphin saved his life by moving him away from a shark. There was also a story shared about a time when a dolphin was saving humans, and actually saved a pregnant woman first. Because of dolphins’ sonar hearing they can actually look at a pregnant woman and understand she’s pregnant, which is how the dolphin was able to know to save the pregnant woman first. Connecting dolphin’s traits to human’s traits, as well as getting to hear personal accounts as to how dolphins have affected and saved peoples’ lives helps the audience feel connected to the dolphins as well, and give them even more of a reason to be interested in stopping the dolphin slaughter. However, this brings up the question: if dolphins are so smart and are even helping save human lives, then why are thousands of them being killed each day?

As mentioned, dolphins being put into confinement to be put under mass amounts of stress to be trained for entertainment is cruel because they are so intelligent and self-aware; however, slaughtering thousands of dolphins is crueler than confining them for entertainment. After the anticipation and build-up to the team getting the dolphin slaughters on tape, the heart-breaking event is finally captured and shown to the audience it makes them upset and want to do something about it. It was important to show the actual dolphin slaughters themselves to give the audience the visual imagery they need to feel so passionately about the dolphins. As if the audience needed any more reason to believe what the Japanese fisherman were doing was wrong, actually getting to see the large amount of dolphins and blood, and see the Japanese fishermen stabbing the dolphins violently with no remorse made the film-makers argument even more powerful.

After finally getting the slaughter on tape, and proving the dolphin meat was being eaten by the Japanese people without their knowledge while being poisoned from the mercury, O’Barry and team decided to share their findings with workers from the Japanese government, and Japanese citizens. Exposing the Japanese government and fishermen for the harm and cruelty they showed to the dolphins, as well as poisoning their citizens was a great way to end this film. Having the images of the dolphins being slaughtered playing on a television strapped to O’Barry as he walked into the Oceanic Conservation Conference and then standing with it on in Tokyo were two very powerful images to show the audience. Showing those at the conference what actually happens in Taiji is very important in helping make a stronger argument. The people in Tokyo stopping to see what O’Barry was showing was effective because this proved they had no idea about the dolphin slaughters, let alone the fact their children are being served free dolphin meat lunches and they are unknowingly buying it in the store. O’Barry and team was very effective in their purpose for this film – to make people activists to save the dolphins and stop the annual slaughter that happens each year. As O’Barry said, “If you’re not an activist, you’re an in-activist.”

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