This sounds like something out of a horror movie, or the latest book from George R.R. Martin. But sadly, this is the reality for hundreds of dolphins every single year during the annual drive hunting season in Taiji, Japan. Every single year, entire family pods of dolphins are killed for their meat within a small cove, while some of the “better looking” ones are shipped worldwide to live out their lives in captivity. Dolphins are highly intelligent animals, on par with humans and other primates, and they are subjected to torment that isn’t even seen in the slaughter house. Not only is the final method long and painful, but the dolphins are chased for hours from open waters into the cove.
O’Barry has been arrested a few times while protesting in Taiji. As a result of such protests, the Taiji dolphin hunters have become somewhat secretive. In the film, they stand in front of the cameras to block the view, and yell at filmmakers to get away. One man is actually nicknamed “Private Space,” as he utters these words quite often. There are also large tarps blocking views of the area where meat is cut up.
The film follows O’Barry and other activists as they fail to get footage of the dolphin slaughter. Fishermen deny the hunt, even though the cameras film packages of dolphin meat in the market.
Sometimes the fishermen became violent towards protesters. A group paddled out into the cove on surfboards to sit, hold hands, and sort of have a prayer for the dolphins. They were met there shortly by fishermen who proceeded to yell at them to leave, and then began to hit them with boat paddles. At this point in the film, one can only wonder why they are so defensive.
I have only watched “The Cove” once and cannot bring myself to watch it again. I thought it may be helpful for writing this blog, but I just can’t do it. As a dolphin lover, this footage was just too graphic. You can hear the dolphins squealing in pain as they try to get away after being stabbed, only to be stabbed again. There is one sequence that is engraved in my mind. A baby dolphin was stabbed and continues repeatedly to flare about in and out of the water, only to not come back up in the end.
For starters, the fishermen in Taiji claim that hunting dolphins is a local tradition and that it’s part of the culture. There are actually very few members of this area, less than 50, that participate in the hunting. Many other Taiji residents, and much of Japan, are not even aware that the hunting occurs. In terms of time, the hunting of dolphins in the cove has only been going on since 1969. To me, this does not seem like a long time at all. With all that we have learned about dolphin intelligence, it seems that this small fishing community may need to change their ways.
Another argument I discovered was the overall point of this slaughter: meat. Turns out, dolphin meat is considered “trash meat” in Japan, and not many people actually enjoy it. In fact, the main method of selling it is by disguising it as more expensive, more valued whale meat. DNA tests on meat labeled whale in a Japan fish market determined that it was in fact dolphin meat. So, these fishermen are subjecting these animals to a cruel death, and then disguising the meat because people don’t even want it. Even if people did want it, it is incredibly toxic. The mercury levels are extremely high due to the compounding effect of the chemical traveling up the food chain. It is similar to what happened with DDT here in the United States. Fish have relatively high mercury levels, and these levels rise as the fish travel up the food chain to dolphins and eventually humans. High mercury levels have been shown to cause brain damage, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation. So again, I found myself asking, what’s the point?
“Blackfish” has been able to raise enough awareness that SeaWorld is seeing its profits drop. Films like “Supersize Me,” “Earthlings,” and “Food, INC” have caused McDonalds to see its first drop in profits ever. And hopefully soon we will see a decline in the canned lion hunting industry in Africa as a result of the new film “Blood Lions,” which seems to coincide perfectly with the tragic death of Cecil. We are in the future now. We know more about animal intelligence and behavior then we ever have and this can work right alongside this interconnected world of social media that we have created. We have the power to change forever our relationship to the rest of the animal kingdom. It starts with you, with me, with all of us. I have done my part in writing this blog, what will you do to help animals?