Sure to be one of the most talked-about documentaries at this year’s
Sundance Film Festival, Louie Psihoyos’s The Cove is part heist movie, part
environmental exposé. The cove in question is a secluded and naturally
fortified lagoon in the small Japanese town of Taiji, where every year for
six months thousands of dolphins are brutally slaughtered. The film is in
part about the efforts of a group of activists to infiltrate the cove and to
actually film what goes on there. Leading the charge is Richard O’Barry, a
longtime activist who was responsible for training the dolphins on the
sixties TV show Flipper. Indeed, The Cove is also the story of O’Barry’s
journey, documenting how he came to be a self-described “abolitionist” for
dolphins. He spoke to Vulture about his new film, watching TV with Flipper,
and the increasingly elaborate disguises he has to wear when he goes to
You know, when I was a kid, I always wanted to live in the Flipper
I used to live in that house! It was right in the Miami Seaquarium
there. I have such wonderful halcyon memories of those days. There wasn’t
even a fence around the Seaquarium. It was like magic. Until the wheels fell
You had captured the dolphins on Flipper, right?
I captured the five dolphins that collectively played the part of Flipper. I
trained all of them, from the very beginning of the first show to the last
show. I lived with all five of them in the Seaquarium. And on Friday nights,
at 7:30, I would take the TV set, with a long extension cord, out to the end
of the dock, so Flipper could watch Flipper on television. And that’s when I
knew they were self-aware. I could tell when the dolphins recognized
themselves and each other. Cathy, for example, would recognize the shots she
was in, Suzy would recognize her shots, and so on. Dolphins are hard to
read, because you have to look at body language. Almost all other animals
you can read by looking at their faces. But dolphins have this built-in
“smile” that makes it look like they’re always happy.
your ideas about captivity turn around?
Cathy died in my arms,
of suicide. It was just before Earth Day, 1970. The next day, I found myself
in a Bimini jail, trying to free a dolphin for the first time. I completely
How do you know it was suicide?
to understand, dolphins are not automatic air breathers like we are. Every
breath for them is a conscious effort. She looked me right in the eye, took
a breath, held it — and she didn’t take another one. She just sank to the
bottom of the water. That had a profound effect on me.
footage of the dolphin slaughter you filmed in The Cove is pretty
staggering. Has anyone else seen it yet?
The world will see it
Sunday, at Sundance. Even the Japanese don’t know about this. I went onto
the street in Tokyo, and I showed the footage to a hundred people walking
down the sidewalk, and none of them knew this was happening. That’s the only
hope, to expose this to the world. It won’t be easy. The film will probably
be banned in Japan. I’m hoping Jim Clark, who is our partner on this, can
figure out a way to get it seen there. If he can invent Netscape, he can
figure that out, as well. In the meantime, we also have our website,
people can learn more about this issue.
But killing dolphins
is actually legal in Japan.
Yes, but let’s not forget that the
place in question here is a national park. They’re killing the wildlife in a
national park. They don’t have jurisdiction there. They’re just a bunch of
thugs. As for the broader issue of legality: One percent of the Japanese
population eats whale meat, and a very small percentage of that one percent
eats dolphin or even knows that people eat dolphin. That’s one of the
reasons I’m opposed to a boycott of Japan. In the seventies and eighties,
there was a big effort to stop whaling by taking out full-page ads in
newspapers that said, “Save the Whales. Boycott Japan.” Japanese people are
not guilty of this. They don’t know it’s happening. Japanese papers and
networks do not cover this story.
So if nobody is eating
dolphin meat, why is this slaughter happening?
I think it’s
really about over-fishing. It’s a worldwide problem. Basically, they’re
killing the competition, because each of those dolphins eats 25 to 30 pounds
of fish. As for the dolphin meat, nobody really knows where it goes. They
kill 23,000 dolphins a year: I have no idea where that meat goes. You can’t
really even buy it in Taiji. I’m thinking it might be exported to places
that have a protein shortage. We had this meat tested, and the mercury
levels on it is through the roof. It’s contaminated.
you been back to Taiji since you shot this footage?
I go five or
six times a year, during the killing season, which is six months. I’m
constantly there. I’ll go anytime anybody will go with me — CNN, BBC, you
name it. It’s gotten so dangerous now that I have to wear disguises when I
first get there. The last time, I was wearing a long black wig, sunglasses,
my Michael Jackson mask over my mouth, a dress, and lipstick. I had to dress
as a woman because they’re looking for a man.
What will they
do if they catch you?
The biggest danger is not so much the
fishermen, although they are angry and some of the younger ones have said
they would kill us if they could get away with it. But it’s really the
yakuza, who are very connected to the whaling and fishing industries. In
Japan, that’s how problems like me are solved, how people who cause trouble
are often dealt with. Especially in a lot of these small towns, you don’t
call the police, you call the yakuza.
What about people who
say that, while the footage in The Cove is quite grisly, a regular
slaughterhouse would also look pretty horrific to people if they could see
They’re absolutely correct. The one difference is that the
dolphins are terrorized for days, as the fishermen intrude on their
migration patterns and then chase them into the lagoon with loud noises. But
yes, the slaughterhouse is an absolute horror show. It’s a separate issue,
and some of us are working on that as well. But that doesn’t justify what
they’re doing to the dolphins.
Wow, that's great, the USA has a new sacred cow that the people of the
world must be made to worship. It must be wonderful to know which animals
are sacred; then you can point out the evildoers who want to eat them
instead of worship them.
lanny on 01/16/2009 at
well lanny--the dolphin is a warm blooded--intelligent(you could look it
up) mammal---with a brain a third larger than ours-that communicate with
intricate vocalises-like we humans--sacred?--not-!-wonderful and very
humanistic--yes!--and deserving of more than slaughter--just like us--ya
think??--do the research and save the smarmy for politicians and others that
need it--peace-! vince martin
vince37 on 01/17/2009 at
Also, it's important to point out that dolphins, are basically feared by
all sea life, including great whites and other predators. I usually applaud
japan with it's technology smarties and it's anal like atmosphere and
manners, but their refusal to leave dolphins and whales alone to live
completely baffles/ires me in sort of the same way as deviant priests do.
on 01/17/2009 at 3:03pm
The slaughter in Taiji cannot be compared to an abattoir or
slaughterhouse, it is better compared to running a herd of bison or horses
over a cliff – except that the terrifying fatal plunge lasts for days and
ends with the blade of a knife or the point of a spear. If you're a lucky
dolphin you get to see your offspring hauled off to an aquarium for a life
of servitude before they slit your throat.
Although some people, like
the proprietors of the Dolphin Research Center, hate O'Barry and badmouth
him in their public programs, I admire him and wish I could do more to help
him. I interviewed him in the 1970's, when he was still Ric O'Feldman, and
he told me he trained the dolphins for Flipper by telepathy. "There wasn't
time to do it any other way," he said. "It takes you as long to train a
dolphin as it takes to get across the idea of what you want it to do. As
soon as the dolphin understands, it will do it."
As for me, if
anybody who reads this is interested in publishing "Wet Goddess," my novel
about my 1970's love affair with a dolphin, you can read a chapter on
Angelfire under my name, below. I think if I could get it published in
Japan, where people aren't so hung up about zoophilia as they are in this
country, it could have a profound effect and make some lucky publisher a
hell of a lot of money too. – Malcolm J. Brenner, Punta Gorda, FL
01/18/2009 at 12:37pm
The slaughter in Taiji is brutal and cruel. Imagine your nearest and
dearest being hounded for days with loud noises that are totally
disorientating and distressing. Then you are trapped in a cove and all
around you your friends and family are being hacked to death and you are
swimming in their blood.
Then because you look young and fit you are
chosen by one of the many aquarium officials who are in the water watching
the masacre, but their job is not to save the dolphins but to select them
for sale to aquariums in Japan or for export. The rest of your life is then
stuck in a tank being forced to perform for stupied human beings. The
aquariums tell the families about the wonderful conservation work that they
fund, what a pack of lies!!!!
01/19/2009 at 4:57am
The Japanese should be deeply ashamed by the continued dolphin killings.
A tiny market for the meat, the risk of mercury poisoning (the meat from
these near-shore dolphins has been tested over and over and literally has
hundreds of times the already questionable "accepted" mercury level of 0.4-1
ppm (varies by country; max. levels lower for pregnant women). With the
majority of whale species populations on the decline, and with many
near-shore species threatened by toxins in the water and the ocean
food-chain, this continued killing of dolphins by a small number of Japanese
fishermen is short-sighted and absolutely without honor.
paul08 on 01/26/2009 at
WRITE TO THE JAPAN EMBASSY!
Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki
Washington D.C 2008-2869
nkat on 01/29/2009 at
The issues related to Taiji are disturbing and highly emotional, no
argument there. But let’s not forget that hunting and killing dolphins takes
place all over the world, Japan is not unique in that aspect. North American
tribes hunt marine mammals, most islands in the Caribbean hunt dolphins and
nearly 300,000 dolphins are killed every year in by-catch fisheries
worldwide. The people of Taiji will not stop what they have done for
hundreds of years because of a bad image in US media. In fact, Japanese are
notorious for thumbing their noses at American values.
O'barry gets out of this is notoriety ...otherwise how would he raise
donations? What’s amazing is with the Internet at our fingertips, no one
does any real research on the people we shamelessly seek to worship. Richard
O’barry’s real name is Richard Feldman, then Richard O’feldman and finally
Richard O’barry. He never captured any of the Flipper dolphins, never worked
with them and never had one die in his arms. Richard Feldman was a
maintenance worker on the set at Miami Seaquarium and left as a disgruntled
employee. He was then hired as a trainer at the killer whale stadium and
fired after only one year. The man running all of this was Arthur Hertz, the
now owner of Miami Seaquarium.
In Monroe county and Grassy Key, the
history of Flipper is well known. Look it up. No where will you find the
name Richard O’barry. The man has made a living on a compelling, but
completely fabricated story. Taiji drives won’t stop because a fraudulent
extremist says so…they’ll stop when younger generations of Taiji fisherman
learn the value of dolphins and resource management. You don’t change
someone’s mind by painting them as the devil on the world stage. Richard
O’barry sells dirty laundry for donation. If that’s what you want to buy,
then do it with eyes wide open.
umashank on 06/15/2009
Ric Feldman/O'Feldman/O'Barry was convicted of violating the U.S. Animal
Welfare Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1996, causing the willful
and deliberate suffering and death of dolphins in the Florida Keys. This
legal case is well known, but strangely wasn't mentioned in this one-sided
fabrication of a story. Your "animal rights" advocate caused just as much
suffering to dolphins as the fisherman in Taiji do. So let's kick him off
his high horse and label him for what he is...an attention seeking extremist
who needs attention, even if it costs dolphins their lives. Get real people.
By tursiopst on
06/16/2009 at 10:39am
UMASHANK: I am really interested in what you are saying about O'Barry's
fabricated life. Who do you claim was the dolphin trainer on Flipper? I
attempted to find the information myself but couldn't. All I'm seeing is Ric
O'Barry. He is credited for the series in the IMDb but as as an actor
("Veterinarian") and "technical advisor"... however, the IMDb Glossary
states that this term means "A person with expertise in a particular field
who provides advice for the production" so this could refer to an Animal
Traininer. There is no other "Animal Trainer/Handler/Wrangler/Owner"
credited. Could you please post links to your sources as I would love to
look into this further! I too value the truth. :-)
LANNY: So what you
are trying to say is "How dare they try to save wild dolphins and keep
humans from getting poisoned??"... Really? Try reading the article next
time. The dolphin slaughter is thought to be more about fishing than selling
the meat. And although the meat is most likely being sold to make more money
this is a problem too it contains TOXIC LEVELS of mercury. In other words:
it's poisoning people. And it's NOT America's fight, it's the fight of
O'Barry and his team.
TURSIOPST: Before you post next time, do your
homework!! What you are referring to was when O'Barry was convicted of
releasing TWO captive bred dolphins who were not yet ready to live in the
wild. Consequently, the dolphins obtained severe injuries. Was a stupid
thing that he did? You bet. Does a stupid mistake he made *19 years ago*
somehow disqualify him from fighting to end the annual torture & slaughter
of *thousands of dolphins annually*?? Of course not. By the way, regarding
your comment: "Your "animal rights" advocate caused just as much suffering
to dolphins as the fisherman in Taiji do." ... all I can say is, do the
~ Lana K.