I recently watched a documentary called The Cove. You may have heard its name in the past month for winning Best Documentary at the 2010 Academy Awards. In fact, that's what brought the movie to my attention.
Between Avatar and The Cove, 2009 was a year for hippie movies. And make no mistake, The Cove is a hippie movie. Those with any warm feelings towards oceanic creatures like dolphins---and I would assume that includes all scuba divers---will get at least a little riled up by this film. Those who don't care probably won't bother to watch in the first place.
The Cove's name comes from a small lagoon in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji. This village is small. So small you've probably never heard of it. Yet it's a small village with a big secret.
Dolphins migratory patterns bring them right by the coast of Taiji. They are so close that it is relatively easy for fisherman to herd hundreds of a dolphins into this tiny lagoon, as you'll see early in the movie. They do this by banging on long submerged poles, which interferes with a dolphin's senses. What awaits them in this lagoon? At first, the dolphins are greeted by trainers from around the world. These trainers represent the interests of just about every park, zoo, and aquarium that houses trained dolphins. The trainers pick out the "prettiest" dolphins from the bunch to be purchased at a price of \$150,000 a head---not bad for a day's work. These trainers are after the next Flipper, which leads to an interesting aspect of the story.
The documentary is centered around Ric O'Barry. O'Barry achieved success early in his life as the trainer for the dolphins playing Flipper in the US television series. This series is responsible for dolphins entering the world's consciousness as pets more than free-roaming sea creatures. After the dolphin playing Flipper died from deep depression, O'Barry entered into a depression of his own. He had launched an industry responsible for the captivity and eventual death of thousands of dolphins, and the unspoken thread throughout this film is him dealing with this guilt by dedicating his life to saving dolphins. He is seeking the dolphins' forgiveness.
Plenty of the movie is dedicated to O'Barry---an interesting character in his own right. He's been one of the most active environmentalists in the world. Not your Al Gore type activitist, either. He's been arrested more times than he can count, and is responsible for many changes in how the world's oceans are treated and perceived. Ric O'Barry's wikipedia page is a short account of some of his accomplishments.
Back at The Cove, however, the unchosen dolphins are herded into a secret cove that is not visible to any bystanders. What goes on over here? The movie uses a lot of CIA type spy-work to answer this question, with the fishermen going to great lengths to keep them out. We know from the beginning that the dolphins see their end here, but it is the manner in which it is done that is particularly gruesome.
This is not a film for light viewing. Be prepared to decide where you stand on things as you watch. I am far from a militant activist, but I went with this movie, and felt angry at the needless killing and destruction shown. Watch the movie, decide for yourself.
I have my convictions about various practices, like chumming water for sharks, where I've decided not to participate. This movie challenged me. I now know the cost of dolphin shows at Sea World and dolphinariums. What am I going to do about it? I don't know. The least I can do is not contribute to the problem by spending my money at these places, but is there more? I'd like to. This is a hippie movie, and maybe one day I'll be proud to be counted as one of the hippies.