As activists go, Rick O’Barry is surely one of the most extreme you’re likely to meet. An oceanographer who worked on the 60s television show Flipper as a dolphin trainer, he has taken an enormous burden upon himself. Convinced that the mania surrounding the hit TV show he worked on has led to the explosion in popularity of oceanariums and zoo dolphin shows, O’Barry has gone out of his way to stop the illegal sale of these mammals in Japan. While the export of dolphins is awful a more heinous crime is occurring as those not sold are being senselessly slaughtered in a hidden cove, far from sight of the international community.
Part espionage thriller, part environmental nightmare, director Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove chronicles O’Barry’s efforts to stop this tragedy as his personal martyrdom drives him to amend a situation that has become his obsession. Recruiting a crack team of marine experts, special effects makers and adrenaline junkies, O’Barry sets out to expose those in the Japanese fishing industry who turn a blind eye to these atrocities. The extent that this team goes to rivals that of a covert military operation in terms of both expense and daring.
As we see O’Barry and his crew infiltrate the area around the cove to set up cameras that will film the slaughter, Pshihoyos folds in background on the entertainment industry that has grown around dolphins and traces what happens to those that have been slaughtered. What he shares is not for the weak of heart as the footage of the dolphin killings and its aftermath is as gruesome as you might imagine. However, the ripple effect of these actions, with the meat from these mammals being canned and shipped to Japanese schools as part of their lunch program has tragic and unforeseen results that require the locals to finally come to terms with the crimes they’ve turned a blind eye to for far too long.
Without question, Pshihoyos’ film will infuriate environmentalists but what’s so unexpected is that it succeeds in raising the ire of those who would normally give such matters a second thought. Lack of foresight and common sense are the true culprits here as the powers that be in Japan fail to take into account the ripple effect of their inaction. While O’Barry and his crew are to be commended for their efforts, two Japanese councilmen wind up being the true heroes. Risking their livelihood and perhaps more these two men do what their contemporaries fail to, namely act with a conscience and in an unselfish way that takes the well-being of their community and those in it into account. Ultimately, acts of heroism, both big and small provide The Cove with a sense of hope that will hopefully be nurtured in a society where it seems to be in short supply.
Click here for a story on the upcoming screening of The Cove at a film festival in Japan and its possible repercussions.