As the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, approaches, activist Ric O’Barry is getting ready for a four-hour interrogation by Japanese police and immigration officials when he arrives in the country.
The grilling has become part a gruesome Kabuki that plays out every year as fishermen in Taiji herd hundreds of dolphins into a cove and slaughter them, sparing only a few young animals that will be sold to aquariums for six-figure prices. The mercury-contaminated meat from the dead dolphins, meanwhile, ends up in supermarkets and restaurants across Asia.
It’s been five years since O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer, focused the world’s attention on Taiji in The Cove, the Academy Award–winning documentary that has now been seen by millions of people in more than 45 countries, according to the film’s producers.
“It was and continues to be successful,” said O’Barry. “People all over the world have seen the movie. New people see it every day.”
O’Barry said that he and his Dolphin Project cove monitors will be in Taiji from Sept. 1 until the dolphin-killing season ends in March or April.
“I can’t share the details of what, where, and when,” he said. “Your article will be read by my detractors in Japan before I get in the country.”
As the countdown begins, TakePart is launching a new Cove campaign to draw attention to the continuing carnage.
Japan, O’Barry said, is where The Cove’s message needs to be heard the most.
“The success of the movie outside Japan doesn’t help those of us who are working inside Japan,” he said. “In order for the Japanese to step up, they would need access to information that we Westerners take for granted. They need to see The Cove more than any country on Earth.”
This will be O’Barry’s 12th consecutive year in Taiji, he said, “and I will continue to return until they stop or I drop.”
The film’s director, Louie Psihoyos, also said the film’s impact continues to be felt.
“Countries are now banning the import of wild dolphins for dolphin shows. Vancouver has banned the aquarium’s breeding program,” he said. “The National Aquarium in Baltimore is shutting down their displays. Southwest Airlines is repainting their orca-painted planes after announcing their breakup with SeaWorld.”
Most significantly, “Taiji is killing 60 percent less dolphins,” Psihoyos said.
The film’s influence has spilled over into the captive killer whale debate.
“The Cove and now Blackfish have spawned a movement that reverberates through the world today,” said Psihoyos, referring to the 2013 documentary about the treatment of captive orcas at SeaWorld. “Just this morning I awoke to the news that SeaWorld’s stock plummeted some 30 percent. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”
The director’s organization, Oceanic Preservation Society, mailed copies of both documentaries to every board member at the top 10 investment firms holding SeaWorld stock. The company on Wednesday said attendance at its parks has fallen in part because of media attention surrounding proposed legislation in California to ban killer whale shows in that state.
“The idea is that once you see these films you can’t unsee them,” Psihoyos said. “And once you see a film like The Cove it’s impossible to hold stock in a company like SeaWorld without feeling like a whore.”
Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, believes the film laid the foundation for the continuing backlash against SeaWorld.
“Blackfish wouldn’t have hit the public as hard as they did if we hadn’t already had The Cove,” she said.
Courtney Vail, campaigns and programs manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, also praised the film but added a caveat.
“Despite all the international attention, dolphins and small whales continue to be subjected to extreme cruelty in Taiji,” Vail said. “But as more and more individuals within Japan become aware of and engaged in the issue, there is always hope for an eventual end to this cruel practice.”
Psihoyos acknowledged that his film doesn’t wield the power to stop the slaughter, but that doesn’t diminish its contributions.
“Some people think The Cove was a failure because they’re still killing dolphins in Taiji, but you never know where change will occur,” he said.
“It’s a totally different world than it was five years ago,” he added. “An informed public is the captive dolphin industry’s worst nightmare.”