(Roadside Attractions) Richard O’Barry, Louis Psihoyos, Hayden Panettiere, Dan Goodman, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Isabel Lucas, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Paul Watson. Directed by Louie Psihoyos
Since the advent of “Flipper,” most people generally look favorably upon dolphins. Research indicates that dolphins are highly intelligent and even self-aware. There are many reported instances of dolphins saving humans from harm in the ocean, and anybody who has seen dolphins in the wild playing and cavorting will know that these are creatures who know what joy is, perhaps better than we do.
Most civilized nations deplore the killing of dolphins and certainly the eating of them. It is in many ways similar to the taboos we have about eating dogs and cats, but there is also a medical reason for it as well – dolphin flesh is highly saturated with mercury, and repeated ingestion of dolphin can lead to mercury poisoning and eventually, death.
There are also those who love dolphins above the affection the general public gives them. Richard O’Barry is one, and he comes by that love honestly. At one time, he was considered the world’s foremost dolphin trainer. When the creators of “Flipper” were looking for someone to be their dolphin guy, Richard O’Barry was that guy. He trained five of the dolphins used in the store, including Kathy, the one among them who was his favorite.
After the show was canceled, the dolphins were sent to places like the Miami Seaquarium where they would perform in shows, captivating large audiences who thrilled at their stunts. The dolphins seemed happy enough – after all, they were always smiling.
That smile, according to O’Barry, is one of nature’s greatest deceptions. Dolphins smile because their facial structure is built that way – it is not a reflection of their emotional state, which is communicated through a body language that O’Barry eventually learned to read. What his dolphins were telling him, said Barry, was that they were stressed and desperately unhappy – to the point where Kathy committed suicide in his arms by deliberately closing her blowhole so she would stop breathing.
From that moment O’Barry would devote the rest of his life to tearing down a business he had helped to build up – the captivity of dolphins. Needless to say, he is not one of Sea World’s favorite people.
But even that has taken a back seat to his most recent focus. Japan is one of the few countries left that condones whaling; whale meat is consumed in Japan and whale by-products are used in various products. Despite a worldwide ban on whaling, Japan continues to do just that and thus television shows like “Whale Wars” depict the ongoing struggle between Japanese whalers and opposing activists from such organizations as Greenpeace and the Cetacean Society.
Even more shocking, however, is the secret in a small town called Taiji. Beautiful, quaint and charming, set into the rocky and hilly slopes leading to a beautiful shoreline, the fishermen of Taiji have every year lured thousands of dolphins into their Bay, where female bottlenose dolphins primarily are selected to be sold to Sea World and other such parks; it’s a lucrative business, with each dolphin netting upwards of $150,000 U.S. from the parks.
While that in itself isn’t a good thing, it’s what happens to the rest of the dolphins who aren’t selected for theme park use that is truly horrible. Whatever it is, it takes place in an isolated cove where the security is tighter than Fort Knox. Angry fishermen protect it with ferocity; the police and the town mayor is in on whatever it is that’s going on. As recently as this past week, O’Barry has received death threats for his activities, forcing him to cancel face-to-face meetings with the leadership in Taiji.
O’Barry knows the secret; the dolphins, instead of being released back into the wild, are slaughtered, and for no good reason. Ostensibly, it’s for their meat but because of its toxicity dolphin meat fetches next to nothing on the Japanese market, so the good citizens of Taiji mislabel it as whale meat and sell it for quite a bit more. Lies upon lies upon lies – it’s like a small child who is trying to hide their stolen cookies. It’s pretty obvious what they’re doing.
However, there’s no real proof, so O’Barry enlists Psihoyos, a National Geographic photographer and co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society, a non-profit group that tries to save the ocean and its inhabitants from man’s degradations. Once O’Barry shows him the security in Taiji and Psihoyos has drawn his own conclusions, they decide the world must see what’s going on behind figurative closed doors – in that secret cove, protected by razor wire and guards.
What follows is as tense and entertaining as any Mission: Impossible movie and worthy of the Best Documentary Oscar that it won earlier this year. A team of experts, including world class free divers, adrenaline junkies, technogeeks and audio experts are put together to hatch an insane plan to capture footage of the cove. They enlist some geniuses at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’ special effects group, to create cameras that can be disguised as rocks. Special underwater cameras and microphones are brought in.
Planting them won’t be easy. The team, particularly O’Barry, is being watched night and day by the police. When they go out to place their equipment, it is under cover of darkness and they use decoys to throw off the cops.
Although it’s a bit of a spoiler, I have to tell you that they get their footage and when it is revealed onscreen, it is absolutely horrifying. The entire cove turns red with dolphin blood. It is one of the most sickening things you will ever see, and those who are sensitive to such things should probably turn away or even leave the room when the footage begins to show.
However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t see the movie. It’s an important message and one that will shock and outrage you. The Japanese excuse their behavior as it being a part of their culture. Well, slavery was a part of our culture too and that got stamped out – at great cost, yes, but stamped out nonetheless. That’s something the good people of Japan need to impress upon their leadership and they can do it by refusing to eat whale meat, and refusing to eat anything that comes from Taiji. That’s how you change hearts and minds.
Of course, that’s for the Japanese people. If you’re interested in helping, you can either go to the movie’s website (just click on the picture above) or you can go to Richard O’Barry’s new organization at this website http://www.savejapandolphins.org/ for updates on O’Barry’s crusade.
WHY RENT THIS: It’s an important documentary that tells a shameful story; after seeing it you are certain to be up in arms over the situation. Psihoyos directs this almost as a thriller more than a documentary and it is a wildly successful gambit.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the scenes of dolphin slaughter are very disturbing and go on a bit longer after the point is already made.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some truly disturbing scenes of humans perpetrating dolphin slaughter, as well as some harrowing true-life suspense. The very sensitive little ones, particularly those who love dolphins, should be forewarned that some scenes may be too graphic for them.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This documentary inspired a new Animal Planet series called “Blood Dolphin” starring O’Barry; it made its cable debut on the network in advance of the new series.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an informative piece on the effects of Mercury poisoning, as well as some additional details on the special cameras used in the making of the film.
FINAL RATING: 9/10