I’m not gonna lie: Watching The Cove was kind of a harrowing experience. I’ve always been a sensitive soul, so watching footage of senseless dolphins slaughter in grueling HD left me feeling pretty numb with horror by the end of it.
It’s been a good couple of years since my last trip to SeaWorld, and a few since I visited a dolphinarium with my family when I was 16, but even then something felt… off. Many of the killer whales had collapsed dorsal fins. A lot of the dolphins had faded scars from skin lacerations. The shows were all fun and spectacle, and SeaWorld loves painting the relationship between the animals and their handlers as nothing but loving and immensely enviable to any child wanting their own friendly sea puppy, but the change of behavior in the whales and dolphins after they were sent back to their tanks, listless, aimless sad-eyed swimming, was apparent and mildly upsetting to me as a child.
Many people are aware of the dolphin’s impressive intelligence, but the fact that they are capable of more than just basic math and simple tricks, that they have the capability and capacity to exhibit the same emotional range as humans, seems to still escape many. Ric O’Barry’s story of witnessing Kathy, one of the dolphins who played Flipper on the eponymous TV show, slowly descend into depression and willing commit suicide in his arms, drove the point heartbreakingly home and served as an eye-opening reminder of the inherent humanity of these animals. There are still many controversies surrounding The Cove as a legitimate documentary due to its portrayal of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji as a very clear cut, black and white issue. And these are conversations to be had.
But some critics, like David Cox of The Guardian Film Blog, are of the opinion that “Westerners… kill and eat cows. Easterners eat dolphins. What’s the difference?”
And here is where there cannot be any room for debate. Dolphins are sentient, self-aware creatures, and their killing for meat or for cruel sport must be seen for what it is: murder. Scientists who have researched dolphins have proposed that their acute intelligence in comparison to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as non-human persons who should have their own specific rights, and that it is morally unacceptable to kill them or keep them captive for entertainment purposes. India, Hungary, Chile and Costa Rica have all declared dolphins to be “non-human persons” and have banned the capture and import of live dolphins for entertainment
There are certain inaccuracies in the film that have hurt its reputation among certain critical circles. SeaWorld has reportedly not collected a dolphin from the wild in decades, and 80% of their dolphins were born and bred in captivity. There have been no permits issued to facilities in the United States to import dolphins acquired through drive hunt methods since 1993. But no inaccuracy can disguise the footage of the dolphin slaughter in the Taiji Cove. And no inaccuracy should stop people from taking notice, taking up arms, and stopping this for good.