Los Angeles, California (March 10) – Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was not just a big night for fashion and entertainment. It also helped to bring light to an environmental topic from the dark ocean depths. The Cove received an Oscar for Best Feature Documentary, an honor which will help bring awareness to the controversial issue of dolphin capture and slaughter.
In The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos takes the viewer to the Japanese coastal village of Taiji and follows as a team of freedivers, activist and filmmakers covertly reveal a cultural practice of rounding up dolphins into a cove, whether to provide dangerously mercury-laden meat or to bring in commercial entertainment dollars as performers. The film also features dolphin activist Ric O’Barry, who trained the dolphins used on the television show Flipper before redirecting his efforts during the last thirty-eight years to freeing dolphins from captivity.
The annual dolphin hunt involves rounding up and harpooning about 2,000 dolphins annually, where each animal can be sold for $500. Japan has defended the practice as a food tradition being conducted in a legal and appropriate manner and questions the scientific determinations reported in the film, particularly concerning the mercury content of dolphin meat and it’s consumption by Japanese children. The village of Taiji has a population of 3,800 and claims to be the birthplace of the Japanese commercial whaling industry.
Though haunting in its imagery, the film is a well-told story with a purpose to inspire the audience into activism and protection of all graceful and intelligent marine life. The Cove has been recognized for its powerful style and message throughout the year, receiving awards for best documentary of 2009 from Environmental Media Award and National Board of Review as well as a Critics Choice Award and three Cinema Eye Awards in New York. Producers Fisher Stevens and Paula DuPres Presman were also acknowledged by the Producers Guild of America. Furniture maker IKEA even created a special edition ‘Klippan’ sofa cover using The Cove as inspiration after awarding the film the IKEA Green Prize at the Rome International Film Festival.
The documentary’s focus is particularly impactful considering the recent tragic death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by captive killer whale Tillikum. The filmmakers continued their quest to free the dolphins even during the acceptance speech for their Oscar by holding up a banner that read ‘Text Dolphin to 44144’ as a means for the audience to learn about and take part in their cause of discontinuing the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan. The New York Times reports that Japan has reacted to the film’s success by threatening legal action. The film only recently gained permission to be shown in Japan in April, where the director hopes that the Japanese people will decide to stop supporting this cultural practice.
Cable channel Animal Planet plans to screen the feature later this year. Plans for a television series version of The Cove are also under production for the network by Mr. O’Barry and his son. The film’s creators continue their activism in the wake of their win, as a March 8, 2010 New York Times article reported the group’s exposure a California restaurant’s illegal practice of serving whale meat. Santa Monica sushi restaurant The Hump could face $200,000 in fines and a prison time if those involved are convicted of possession or sale of marine mammals in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Congratulations to The Cove creators for their success in both filmmaking and raising environmental awareness. Dolphins everywhere can swim a little easier tonight.