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Free the film, Free dolphins

Today, I went to see The Cove, a documentary centering around the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan.  As some reviewers have already said, the movie marries spy-thriller suspense with compelling investigative storytelling.  Because of the Japanese government and whaling interests not wanting the story to get out, the filmmakers had to secretly (and perhaps illegally) document the dolphin slaughter; in my opinion, a heroic act of civil disobedience.  As I learned on the  JET Programme, in Japan it is perhaps easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.  BTW, fellow ITP geeks will love the filmmakers use of hidden cameras designed by Industrial Light and Magic to blend in with the rocks and foliage around the Cove.

I am taking a pledge suggested by the film and now refraining from visiting aquariums and aquatic mammal shows.  I will also be sure to buy dolphin-safe seafood.  Here are some main points of the film:

  • Over 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered in Taiji every year
  • When the dolphins are caught, some are sold to aquariums and wildlife shows, while the rest are killed for meat
  • Dolphin meat, as well as the meat of other whales, contains dangerous levels of mercury, but the mayor of Taiji has tried to give away the contaminated meat for school lunches
  • Sometimes dolphin meat is deliberately mislabeled and sold as “cleaner” whale meat
  • Mercury poisoning from eating contaminated seafood could result in symptoms similar to those of Minamata Disease

Towards the end of The Cove, former Flipper-trainer-turned-activist Ric O’Barry walks into an International Whaling Commission conference with a video monitor strapped to his chest playing graphic footage of the Taiji dolphin slaughter, exposing the international delegates to the horrors of whaling.  In another scene, O’Barry stands with the video monitor playing the same slaughter footage in the middle of Shibuya crossing, taking the message directly to the Japanese people.   But how can the filmmakers increase their impact among the Japanese public?

O’Barry’s is accepting donations to help with targeted media campaigns and screenings of the film in Japan, but I don’t think the movie is available in Japan yet.   I would suggest that the filmmakers release footage of the dolphin slaughter (or ideally, the entire film) under a Creative Commons or similar open license, that would allow the film to be freely shared on the internet, allowing people to see it even if it is not playing in their local cinema.  Certainly this would be a way to get around powerful government and business interests in Japan who do not want the film to be seen by the Japanese people.  Imagine of video of the slaugter “went viral” on the internet.  Imagine concerned Japanese people being able to view the footage on their cellphones and sharing the video with their family and friends.  That is when real change will begin.

I realize that documentary filmmaking is not cheap.  Indeed, I do believe that the heroic people who made the film possible should be financially supported for their work.  But we cannot let the complications of copyright stand in the way of promoting an important story and saving the dolphins.  Perhaps the film can be freely released online under a Creative Commons license after the theatrical run is completed, or when a donation threshold is reached.

Some have criticized The Cove’s filmmakers and the dolphin freedom activists for being racist or neo-colonialist against the Japanese.  Indeed, Japan is not the only country that hunts whales.  “White” countries like Iceland and Norway hunt whales too.  I think all countries should be held responsible.  I lived in Japan for three years, I love the country, but I disagree with the dolphin hunt, that hardly makes me a racist (in any case, I’m Asian too).  It is unfortunate though that the film did not give more of a voice to Japanese people opposed to the dolphin hunts.  They do interview a few Japanese people opposed to the slaughter, but these Japanese people are not the main protagonists in the film.

It is interesting to note that while whale hunting has been part of Japanese culture for hundreds of years, it was the Americans who occupied Japan after WWII who encouraged the resumption of whale hunting as a cheap source of protein to feed the war-torn country.  But today, Japan is a rich country and they don’t need to eat whale meat for protein any more.  In fact, most Japanese people do not eat whale meat, and do not consider dolphin to be food.  When filmmakers showed people on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka footage of the dolphin slaughter, they were surprised and horrified.  Hopefully, the film will be available in Japan soon to raise greater awareness.

Go see the movie and take action!


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