“The Cove”: A Meeting Point Between Heartbreaking Images And Mastery Of Thriller

“The Cove” is a 2009 documentary that directs the spotlight on Taiji, a small town located in east Japan, where the clandestine slaughtering of dolphins takes place in a small hidden cove. Every September, a crew of fisherman uses sonar tricks to confuse dolphins and drag them to shore before trapping them. Trainers from all over the world gather to choose dolphins for their marine parks. Those dolphins who are not chosen are taken to the cove to be brutally killed for their meat.

Right from the beginning, the film puts the spectator in a state of suspense , where the well chosen esthetics of the generic suggests the thriller aspect of this documentary.  Throughout the one hour and a half we witness a captivating movie in which the rhythm, the editing and the sound serves more than well the main cause and the message.

The film follows the adventurist journey of a group of activists and ocean conservationists gathered by Louie Psihoyos, the director of  “the cove”. The group is led by long time activist Ric O’Barry, the former captivator and trainer of the five dolphins starring in “Flipper”, the show that played a major role in the development of dolphin parks around the world. Filled with guilt after the death of Kathy, the main dolphin of the flipper show, he became a radical activist.

As soon as the team lands in Taiji, it becomes subject of intense surveillance and questioning. But after a long time of observation and preparation, the group succeeds in spreading cameras masked as rocks all around  the cove. The images captured are heartbreaking revealing this aggressive and brutal slaughtering.

Dirty Japanese Business

As the time passes, the counter elements of the dolphin business are being built up; the slaughtering is not the only wrong thing that is going on. Dolphin’s meat is highly contaminated with mercury and is very toxic for human consumption. In the supermarkets all over Japan, big whale’s meat is being sold (big whale’s meat is considered safer in terms of mercury contamination). But a close analysis reveals the big fraud: it is actually dolphin’s meat, most of it coming from the annual slaughtering at the cove. So the government, the consumer affairs and the health ministers are denying the facts and distorting the reality. They are keeping the dirty information secretive while they manipulate people. Most of the Japanese citizens are unaware of “the cove business” and this fact is not only apparent in the documentary, but in many comments that Japanese people made in discussion forums on the net concerning the documentary.

Beyond dolphin intelligence – systemic violence

On the other hand, one of the most emphasized cause against the dolphin’s business  is their intelligence. Throughout the film, we witness the stories of unexpected and highly elaborated connections with these mammals; surfers and divers tell stories on how close the dolphins are to humans and scientists confirm their degree of intelligence and self awareness. They are as intelligent, if not more, than humans and they tend to protect and befriend our species. The rapprochement between humans and dolphins is given a lot of importance against their killing. And here lies a fundamental question concerning the exploitation of animals: Should the degree of intelligence of an animal set the limit of its exploitation?

Moreover, should we spear the dolphins from being slaughtered because of their intelligence? If we consider cows, pigs, chicken, tuna, shrimps, etc..  less intelligent than human do we then have the right to exploit them as bad as we do? As long as a species is not similar to the human species, do we have the right to exploit it just because we don’t understand it?

The fact is while 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered every year in Taiji, around 35 million cows, 8.39 billion chicken and 100 million pigs are beings brutally killed each year  in the U.S. alone, without mentioning many other species. Let aside the fact that the dolphins lived a wild life until their capturing while many other animals live unbearable lives, far from their natural habitats and with absolutely no chance to exercise their most basic instinctive behavior. Let’s make it clear that the slaughtering of the dolphins in the cove of Taiji and elsewhere is unquestionably wrong, but we must give a voice to the rest of the exploited animals as well. The problem does not lie in some thousand slaughtered dolphins, but in a whole system that gives the right to multinational corporations and corrupt governments to exercise inhumane tactics and practices in their own benefits while manipulating the people.

Changing ourselves to resist violence

While millions of people are marching around the world to make it a better place, corporations are more powerful than ever,  politicians are more corrupt than ever, the poor are poorer than ever, the hungry are hungrier than ever and the exploited more exploited. In times where radical measures should be taken, action and the will to change are the only way out. For that matter, social, political and environmental documentaries are one of the most efficient tools to create in the spectator the feeling of taking action by changing his position from a spectator to a directly targeted subject. This is where the power of documentaries lays;  in which major issues where each and every one of us is affected by (whether we know it or not) are being exposed in their 3 dimensional reality: facts, images and sound.

There is no absolute truth. As objective as an article or a reportage or a documentary or even a scientific essay  tries to be, the facts are seen through the eye of the author, and therefore  are subjective. But when we are more and more aware of the systematic errors and horrors, we tend to share the same disappointment, the same rage and the same feeling of being exploited. Thus the subjective point of view of the author becomes our own in some large extend.

In my opinion, the most important aspect of “the cove” is spreading awareness and revealing the truth, or at least part of it. The most dangerous tool that multinational corporations and corrupt governments have is the people’s ignorance. If most of the population of the planet knew what is going on in the coulisse of the ridiculously theatrical system, and if we actually do something about it, this system would seize to be.  It won’t be reasonable to think that a relatively small group of people (relative to the power of multinational corporations) could block the system. We see it in Greece, Spain, India, Syria and in many other countries. In times where massive globalization is gaining more and more territory, the only way to stop it is to form a massive resistance.


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