Commando Filmmakers Expose Secret Dolphin Slaughter in Japan

By Eliza Strickland | August 3, 2009 4:43 pm

dolphin killingA new documentary film that has all the intrigue of a thriller is giving the world its first glimpse of what goes on in the scenic waters near the coastal town of Taiji, Japan. The Cove tells the story of a skilled group of activists who reveal the slaughter of dolphins by Japanese fisherman, with scenes so bloody that the cove’s waters are dyed red. This killing may be legal — dolphins and other small marine mammals are not protected by the ban on commercial whaling — but … the methods used are so nonchalantly brutal and gut-churningly primitive that Taiji officials are understandably publicity-shy [The New York Times].

In an effort to keep the dolphin killing off film, mysterious individuals follow, harass, and confront the filmmakers. The cove where the slaughter takes place is private property and strictly off-limits, but the movie makers are more than willing to break the law for their cause. To ensure they get their footage, the team includes a “clandestine operations” organizer, two of the world’s best free-divers, and a former avionics expert with the Canadian Air Force. This cloak-and-dagger crew makes use of such tools as a military infrared camera for night cinematography, unmanned aerial drones, a blimp and fake rocks specially designed by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic to hold secret cameras [Los Angeles Times].

Dolphins are a major source of income for the people of Taiji; some are sold as performers for the Sea Worlds of the world, while the majority are sold for meat. Local fisherman drive the dolphins to the cove, an area that’s protected from the prying eyes of outsiders by high fences and razor wire. Then trainers, who have flown in from seaquariums all over the world, line up and take their pick of the candidates for $150,000 per animal. Finally, those dolphins not selected as future performers are simply butchered as part of a clandestine market for dolphin meat [Los Angeles Times]. The Japanese government estimates that about 23,000 dolphins are killed each year, and argues that dolphin meat is a cultural institution. But the filmmakers counter that dolphin meat contains atrociously high levels of mercury, and say no one should be eating it.

The Cove was directed by Louie Psihoyos, a photographer for National Geographic, and it stars the activist Ric O’Barry, who gained fame in the 1960s when he trained Flipper–or rather, the five dolphins that played that beloved cetacean. He became a passionate opponent of keeping dolphins in captivity after the death of one of the Flippers, a bottlenose named Kathy [Time]. O’Barry has campaigned against dolphin shows and marine mammal parks ever since, which eventually led him to the dolphin industry in Taiji. The two men teamed up to reveal the bloody secrets of the little town. Psihoyos says he ended up with hours of graphic footage of his crew defying the dolphin killers and filming the slaughter. Only about two minutes of it ended up in the film. “Sitting through that footage,” he said, “was the hardest month of my life” [The Seattle Times].

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Image: Oceanic Preservation Society

MORE ABOUT: dolphins, ocean
  • adam tupas

    > nice website!! tsk!! stunning..

  • Woody Tanaka

    The opposition based on the fact that the Japanese shouldn’t eat it because it might harm them is, to me, the least of the reasons to oppose it. I wish it was deadly to the Japanese. That they are so barbaric as to choose to kill these magnificent, intelligent creatures is the primary reason to oppose them.

  • Jumblepudding

    bah, intelligent creatures. Have you ever seen a dolphin engineer a spacecraft? I am absolutely kidding. This is the japanese equivalent of bush meat gorilla killings in Africa.

  • http://MSN Cecile Schoonover

    I can hardly stand the thought of all this. Reading this makes me very angry. I see RED. Some cultures, have no respect for any typed of life.
    But let’s not forget about some of our slaughter houses in the USA that have been cought being inhuman. And the way we slaughter horses, there are absolutely no codes or rules for the slaughter of these animals. Optrosities will continue as long as man exhists

  • Arbitrary Arbiter

    Why do some people keep confusing animals with people? If you want to do some real good in the world, feed starving African children for a few bucks a week. There are bigger global concerns than the manner in which we slaughter chickens, horses, or dolphins. To WoodyTanaka:You cannot wish death to human beings because they are “barbaric” to animals without displaying a much more disturbing and serious disregard for life. Your position is thoroughly ironic. Human and animal life DO NOT EQUATE.

  • Tristan

    Not all people agree with that, obviously.

  • Arbitrary Arbiter

    The fact that they do not agree does not make them any less wrong. Try to defend the point logically, rather than emotionally.

  • Illydar

    Let the barbarian step in here.

    I, for one, have more compassion for an animal than I ever will for a human. Does that make me a sicko? Hardly. It means I understand animals do what they do because of instinct. We choose to destroy them for all the wrong reasons and breed like locusts when we know we should not. You wanted logic instead of emotional argument so I shall give it to you.

    As a species, humans are the most destructive creature that has ever existed on this planet. That’s proven by the simple damage we do daily to the environment and the number of species that disappear forever (est. at 1 every 20 min).

    We are destructive because we developed cognitive thinking, expanded intellect, tool usage, and a “morality” of right and wrong. We use all of these things to the betterment of our own personal situation and give little thought as to the consequences that may stem from them. That is historical fact.

    The continual expansion by us into the animal habitat is short sighted and atrocious. Our continued population explosion goes unchecked even though our resources are reaching an unsustainable level. Because we have a unique choice as a species to be better and as a species we choose to not be, we are the lowest animal on the planet.

    “At the present time there are about 5,000 species of animals and more than 25,000 species of plants facing extinction. Some of these are already poised on the brink of completely disappearing and may well be beyond all hope of salvation now whatever attempts might be made to save them. With the human race multiplying at the rate of one million more people every six days; the destruction of tropical rain forests at the frightening rate of 50 acres per minute; and the probable loss of approximately 800 square miles of wild habitat each day to human needs – it is hardly surprising that there are so many endangered species of animals and plants.”

    An emotional response isn’t “wrong”. It’s human. We choose to kill for selfish and immoral reasons the creatures that share this planet with us. And, we too can become extinct.

  • Arbitrary Arbiter

    Then sterilize yourself and breed pandas.

  • LPW

    Arb Arbiter,
    Sorry, you just discredited yourself with that snip response.
    I thought you had some substance there for a minute. Illydar shares some
    undeniable logic there.

  • Sterile Panda

    When we feed all of the people on the planet , and they make more open mouths, what is eventually left to feed them- soilent green?
    I don’t like watching millions starve every year, but if all we do is feed and breed, there won’t be any resources left to sustain Arby and his armchair piety.

  • Pat

    I agree, sustaining the human species requires sustaining the millions of other species out there, since that’s part of the environment that we’ve coevolved with. Merely trying to “feed and breed” as panda put it would simply accelerate the destruction of the other species around us, and I think we’re at a point in our civilization where we understand that we shouldn’t be that selfish or immature (or, from responses in these comments, maybe not). It’s this same selfishness and greed that leads to the slaughter of these animals, when people only care about the commercial profit they can obtain from them.

    It’s not really shocking anymore that people react like Arby does, whenever they come to the stunning revelation that the entire world does not see eye to eye with them.

  • Devil’s Advocate

    Failing to see eye to eye with the view that human life is more valuable than animal life simply indicates that you are a depraved, sick individual.

  • blaire hunter and jacob

    how could people live with such a thing as killing dolphins on their consious? I would never do such a thing how could you japanese people?

  • Narodnik

    Feed starving Africans so that they grow up (like the last starving millions did) – to rape and kill each other and we see MORE starving millions. Let them starve and kill each other off. Then maybe things will settle down. The European “world” should get the hell out of Africa – and STAY out.

    As to slaughtering the dolphins – yeah, I hope they croak from the mercury, too. They also strip the fins off sharks and then let the crippled sharks loose in the ocean where they starve. You’d think they’d at least EAT the damned sharks? Shark meat tastes really good, too, if they are caught correctly.

    But dolphins? Eating them is like cannibalism.

    And to the environmental dude on here – humans are NO more destructive than the other 99% of the species that long ago went extinct before humans were even around. We are a species too.

  • Corinne

    >>There are bigger global concerns than the manner in which we slaughter chickens, horses, or dolphins. …. Human and animal life DO NOT EQUATE.<<

    Human's are animals, didn't you know? The difference is that the other animals come here with nothing and leave nothing behind when they go unlike the human animal which leaves mountains of trash and garbage in their wake.

    The human animal and the other animals do equate in the way of balance and counter balance that maintain a cycle of life for the continuance of our planet and everything on it. When we, in our ignorance, disrupt that balance we put our planet and our survival in jeopardy.

    With the tremendous overpopulation of the human animal on this planet and the severe depletion of our resources to maintain that human population we are seriously putting everything at risk. We have polluted in a multitude of ways, over heated, over fished, over inhabited, raped and stripped the earth and because of our great 'progress' we are the lords of destruction. And with all that we add torture and mass slaughter within our own species and the others. This must stop. We cannot continue without retribution. We will suffer the consequences of those balance and counterbalances. We will no longer have dominion over the earth and nature will reclaim through water, wind and fire and the animals will again take their rightful space. We call ourselves the intelligent ones and hold ourselves above the others. If that is true we can and we must stop the slaughter, the overpopulation, the greed and the stresses on earth, now.

  • Charlotte

    I for one am a huge animal lover, yes i do eat meat – but not alot, hardly anything. It’s not just that they are killing Dolphins it’s the way in which they are killed – slaughtered in fact, it’s not sudden or painless – far from it. I can just about cope with eating meat because i know to a certain degree it is sudden (shot to a head for a cow and breaking of the neck for a chicken) and done as ‘humane’ as possible, not that slaughtering any animal can be ‘humane’ though. I hate the thought of what happens to animals and how much of a waste their lives are. I’ve always been a big Dolphin lover, our families bathroom is called the ‘Dolphin bathroom’ cos’ we have Dolphin tiling, towels etc. And seeing Dolphins in the flesh (in the Florida Keys at the Dolphin Research Centre) it repulses me what people can do to such inteligent animals, surely after years of slaughtering them there would be none left? It’s horrific and barbaric, if it was okay to do it why are they so secretive about it? We should be protecting them not killing them, i do not understand why every animal has to be killed, why can’t we just leave them alone? But what the Chinese do to cats and dogs to me is alot more horrific and sickening, it’s beyond me, people must have something wrong with them to do such a thing with no remorse.

  • deadly

    How can one wish death upon another living being while preaching for the life another living being?

  • CiCi

    So true. We can’t preach “kill this one, but not that one” when it comes to killing animals. Humans’ consciousness evolved to see how wrong it is to hold each other in captivity (slavery), we evolved (hopefully) to get that women are just as valuable as men in society, and now we need to evolve to realize that consideration for the well-being of ALL animals is important. The simple fact is, we don’t even need to eat meat to sustain a healthy life. In fact, eating meat causes many diseases that afflict us. I am presently making this transition, as I am not vegan yet, but as my consciousness grows, so do my food choices.


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