Monday, July 20, 2009

The Cove

Hands up if you have been to a dolphin show at Marineland, Seaworld or elsewhere? Didn't some of the money you paid go to support marine conservation including dolphin conservation? Yes, your tickets pay the salaries of many marine zoologists. But many of the dolphins used in these shows come from Taiji in Japan, where dolphinariums pay the Taiji town council and fishermen around $US 150,000 for a dolphin. But only a minority of the dolphins caught in Taiji end up in shows; 90% are killed and sold for meat at about $US 600 each. But of course dolphin meat is a delicacy in Japan? No, dolphin meat is often relabeled and sold as something else, and is donated to the schools for school lunches. Supply exceeds demand.

The fishermen, town council and police combine to keep the details of the dolphin killing in Taiji secret. The Cove tries to uncover what happens, why it happens and is an attempt to raise public opinion around the world to pressure the Japanese government to stop it. The film is structured like a making-of documentary about itself, building up to the attempt to film the dolphin killing by covert means. Through out this build up of tension the film crew encounters various Japanese officials who defend the dolphin hunt and are often made to look stupid as their various arguments are demolished in front of them.

But ultimately the film builds up a variety of arguments ranging from the emotional one that dolphins are very intelligent and shouldn't be kill or even confined, through to the public health one that dolphin meat contains mercury at levels way above WHO and Japanese limits for food. It also attempts to answer the questions: why doesn't the Japanese government put a stop to this, and what is the best way to stop this? Well Japan is a democratic country but it is also a country with a deeply authoritarian culture where if you try to oppose authority even if you are a journalist you will find everything is against you. A point the film makes incidentally by describing the compulsory school lunches -- 12 years of eating what teachers tell you to eat is likely to condition you to accepting authority on even quite personal matters like food. So change from within Japan is very unlikely and Japan as a country also has big chip on its shoulder about "The West" telling it what to do, dating back as far as 1854 and whaling and dolphin killing are issues where the Japanese government feels it can safely make its point to the rest of the world that it can ignore what foreigners tell it to do. I am not convinced that this film will be the catalyst that will stop the killing but it is certainly a film worth seeing.

Ian's rating 4/5

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