A Date With Dolphins, And Death, In 'The Cove'

Mandy-Rae Cruickshank in 'The Cove' i i

Free diver Mandy-Rae Cruikshank swims with dolphins — and plants the hidden cameras that will help record their fate — in Louie Psihoyos' documentary The Cove. Oceanic Preservation Society hide caption

itoggle caption Oceanic Preservation Society
Mandy-Rae Cruickshank in 'The Cove'

Free diver Mandy-Rae Cruikshank swims with dolphins — and plants the hidden cameras that will help record their fate — in Louie Psihoyos' documentary The Cove.

Oceanic Preservation Society

The Cove

  • Director: Louie Psihoyos
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

Rated PG-13: Disturbing content

With: Richard O'Barry, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Joe Chisholm, Simon Hutchins

Forty-odd years ago, Ric O'Barry helped spark a worldwide fascination with dolphins by training five of them to play Flipper on TV. The series, about a bottlenose who kept company with a Florida park ranger and his kids, made people want to reach out and touch these seemingly sociable creatures, and marine parks sprang up to cash in on that desire.

A whole industry was born, in fact — a lucrative trade in captured dolphins — and as trainer O'Barry saw what Flipper had wrought, he had a radical change of heart. Cooping up these sensitive, intelligent creatures now seemed cruel to him, and overnight, the man who helped start the dolphin craze became an activist trying to undo what he'd done.

A few years ago, he gained the ear of photographer-filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and took him to the Japanese town of Taiji. The place looks like it loves dolphins — there are dolphin-shaped buses, dolphin billboards, dolphin balloons.

But O'Barry points past all that to what's happening nearby in the water: the fishermen using the dolphin's sensitive sonar to trap them in the cove that gives Psihoyos' movie its title. In that secluded inlet, a few dolphins will be isolated for sale to marinas at more than $150,000 each.

The rest, though, will never come back out.

"That's a dolphin's worst nightmare," O'Barry says, pointing to the cove from a hillside highway, his face concealed behind a surgical mask for fear the locals — who resent his activism — will recognize him.

"Hundreds of thousands of dolphins have died there. ... We have to get in there and film exactly what happens."

Fisherman in Taiji, Japan i i

Fishermen in Taiji stab at dolphins trapped in the cove. They usually remain far from the public eye. Oceanic Preservation Society hide caption

itoggle caption Oceanic Preservation Society
Fisherman in Taiji, Japan

Fishermen in Taiji stab at dolphins trapped in the cove. They usually remain far from the public eye.

Oceanic Preservation Society

The rest of The Cove is an attempt to do just that.

The director figured if no one would let him get near the cove in the months when dolphin roundups are taking place, he'd go there when they weren't — and he'd do the sort of things folks associate with spy movies, under cover of night.

He recruits champion free divers to plant underwater microphones. A friend at Industrial Light & Magic builds fake rocks to conceal high-def cameras. The film crew even launches a remote-controlled blimp — named Cathy, a homage to one of those five original Flippers — to snag aerial footage.

Louie Psihoyos i i

Psihoyos (left, with crew members Joe Chisholm and Charles Hambleton) used state-of-the-art equipment and a commando-style shoot to capture the fishermen at work. Oceanic Preservation Society hide caption

itoggle caption Oceanic Preservation Society
Louie Psihoyos

Psihoyos (left, with crew members Joe Chisholm and Charles Hambleton) used state-of-the-art equipment and a commando-style shoot to capture the fishermen at work.

Oceanic Preservation Society

Psihoyos describes his troops as a kind of Ocean's Eleven team, and that's apt enough: He's making a real-life action caper, a heist with potential consequences in the real world. The buildup to getting the shots they want has a good deal of natural tension. And the payoff — well, let's just say it's devastating.

The filmmakers show how Japan fights bans on the killing of dolphins as part of protecting its whaling industry. And international opinion notwithstanding, a country can do more or less what it wants in its own territorial waters.

O'Barry maintains that things will change if the world learns what happens to Flipper's cousins so that Flipper can entertain them in a marina. The Cove makes his case about as strongly as it's going to be made, and the film's timing is designed for maximum impact: The next roundup will start in September.

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