The Cove

Provost's Film Series

December 6, 2010

Introduction by Craig Story



Bottlenose Dolphins

The Cove is a 2009 documentary film directed by National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos. The film won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary, and has been universally praised by reviewers for the quality of its storytelling. The story is a hard one to watch, however. There is plenty of action, as a crackerjack team of professional divers, special effects people, and camera and sound engineers work together to bring to light the killing of hundreds of defenseless bottlenose dolphins. This shocking and brutal killing is an annual event in Taiji, Japan, but normally is completely hidden from public view.

Bottlenose dolphins were made famous during the 1960s as the result of the TV show Flipper. In an interesting twist, the driving force behind the film is Ric O’Barry, who was Flipper’s trainer. In working with dolphins, O'Barry eventually came to a deep conviction that these creatures are self-aware and deserve to be free, and he has since worked tirelessly to stop the killing and keeping of dolphins in captivity.

Conflict is evident in this film at many levels: between O'Barry and those of the whaling community, between the filmmakers and the fishermen, between the fishermen and the community of dolphins. Killing of dolphins may even be considered a kind of warfare against nature. This has been seen before, and has resulted in the total loss of a once abundant species (passenger pigeon). Peace is seen in the film only in the moments when the dolphins are allowed to move about unhindered in their natural environment. This can be breathtaking to watch, and the contrast of this peace with the killing is a memory that will linger long after the film ends. 


Lots of Questions

The questions raised by the film include the obvious: Should we kill animals? But also the more complex: Is it only ethical to kill animals that lack human qualities such as self-awareness? Do dolphins have self-awareness? How would we know? Propaganda is often considered a negative term, but in this case, is this good propaganda? Why not show both sides of an issue in a documentary?

Is one example of a self-aware dolphin enough to convince you that all dolphins are self-aware? Is self-awareness a major aspect of humanness? What aspects of humanness are most important? Why? 

Is the film anti-Japanese? Or do you agree with the director Psihoyos that this is a “love letter” to the Japanese people, many of whom are unaware of what goes on in the Cove?