The Cove was put together very well, making for an entertaining and moving film. It fit a lot of different information into its runtime. It’s a shame that it didn’t seem to accomplish much, but hopefully it will have a gradual positive effect that we can’t quantify — like getting more young people into ocean conservation, or at least interested in the issue. I was struck by just how much they had to do to get to the cove and record what went on there, considering it is such a large outdoor spase. Living in the U.S., I think sometimes we start feeling like people can get into any place they want, with a bit of work. Of course, this is not true, and especially in a foreign country where the government and locals are invested in keeping you out.
What was happening to the dolphins was definitely upsetting and cruel. And I think that an animal being aware and intelligent is enough of a reason not to kill it. Plus, even if you don’t care about dolphins, the mercury poisoning is something that undeniably should be stopped. The activists in the film, especially Ric O’Barry, seemed well-meaning and devoted to their cause. So I’m not trying to dismiss the movie’s message at all, just working through a few questions that I had.
The film was almost too perfect, too clean of a story, seeming much more like a Hollywood story than other documentaries I have seen. And it was completely biased in the activists’ favor. And everything lines up very neatly. This doesn’t make it wrong, but it does make me wish we could confirm their information and research from an objective source. There is a reason that scientific and medical studies should not be performed by people heavily invested in one side or outcome — to avoid confirmation bias. Of course, the unfortunate truth is that any test by the Japanese government (about the level of mercury poisoning, the potential economic importance of the dolphin trade for Taiji and the rest of the country) would be biased in the other direction. And they don’t seem like they’d ever allow a third party to conduct research either.
I also agree with Diana’s post, that dolphins are far from the only intelligent animals that we kill in large numbers. Pigs especially, but also other kinds of livestock, have much more intelligence and personality than we give them credit for. (One could also argue that lack of intelligence is no excuse for cruelty or brutality…) The meat industry in America and elsewhere is notorious for horrible treatment of animals. When we exceptionalize dolphins, we can conveniently forget our own culpability in animal cruelty. And the fact that the dolphin slaughter takes place in Japan potentially enables a sort of “look at how savage and insensitive those foreigners are” attitude. (I thought it was pretty rude and dehumanizing that they didn’t give a real name for “Private Space.” Most likely they never knew his name, but it’s still turning a real person into a cartoonish villain.)
So here’s my personal goal: watch movies like The Cove. Get angry. But also think critically. Question anything that seems too simple or clear-cut. Reach your own conclusions, whenever possible, and stay informed.