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Filmmaker Takes On Billion-Dollar Dolphin Industry

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Filmmaker Takes On Billion-Dollar Dolphin Industry

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Filmmaker Takes On Billion-Dollar Dolphin Industry

Filmmaker Takes On Billion-Dollar Dolphin Industry

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/111377218/111464447" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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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. hide caption

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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.

Director Louie Psihoyos and Assistant Director Charles Hambleton painted their faces and used a camouflaged thermal camera to film the annual dolphin slaughter in a remote Japanese cove. Oceanic Preservation Society hide caption

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Oceanic Preservation Society

Director Louie Psihoyos and Assistant Director Charles Hambleton painted their faces and used a camouflaged thermal camera to film the annual dolphin slaughter in a remote Japanese cove.

Oceanic Preservation Society

Psihoyos is a veteran photographer for National Geographic and other publications. Oceanic Preservation Society hide caption

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Oceanic Preservation Society

Psihoyos is a veteran photographer for National Geographic and other publications.

Oceanic Preservation Society

From 'The Cove'

'Creating The Team'

'The Sound'

'Dolphin's Worst Nightmare'

Moviemaker Louie Psihoyos dodged deportation, evaded arrest, and put himself in serious danger to make the new documentary The Cove.

He had to: He and his crew were spying on fishermen who are key to a multibillion-dollar business — and who every year slaughter thousands of dolphins off the shore of Taiji, Japan.

Every day during his clandestine shoot, Psihoyos tells NPR's Guy Raz, he worried that he and his crew would be caught and thrown out of the country. Now that he's done, the director says he won't be going back to Japan anytime soon.

"You take on the world's second biggest economy and a $2-billion-a-year captive dolphin industry — you know, I'm still scared. There's arrest warrants out for us. The charges are trespassing and conspiracy to disrupt commerce."

The crew originally set out to make the documentary legally, focusing on the cultural differences that inform how various populations consider the dolphin. But the Japanese government refused to allow it, and the story suddenly got bigger.

"Our culture — Western culture — reveres the dolphin as something kind of holy. But then you have this village where they treat them as large fish. They don't regard them as sacred at all."

Harrowing footage of fishermen stabbing at dolphins as the water turns red with blood was obtained from afar by camouflaged cameramen. Psihoyos says it was difficult to keep the film at a PG-13 rating.

"We did our best to make this the Disney version of what goes on there," he says. "Taiji is the dolphin's version of Dante's Inferno. It's hell for them."

Dolphins, Psihoyos says, are remarkably intelligent, with brains that are bigger and more loaded with neurons than the human brain.

"They're more sensitive than us on multiple levels," Psihoyos says. "They have an extra sense. Their sonic ability is legendary. They can see right through you. They can see your heart beating — they can see if you're pregnant. These animals, I think, are superhuman."

Superhuman or not, dolphins are consumed widely, though not always knowingly, in Japan: The meat is marketed and sold as whale meat, at great risk to consumers. As creatures at the top of the aquatic food chain, dolphins are substantially more affected by ocean contaminants than bottom-feeders.

Many dolphins have died in this cove in Taiji, Japan. Fishermen herd the marine mammals into the inlet with a fleet of noisy boats; once trapped, some dolphins are captured for sale to aquariums, while the rest are slaughtered for meat. Oceanic Preservation Society hide caption

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Oceanic Preservation Society

Many dolphins have died in this cove in Taiji, Japan. Fishermen herd the marine mammals into the inlet with a fleet of noisy boats; once trapped, some dolphins are captured for sale to aquariums, while the rest are slaughtered for meat.

Oceanic Preservation Society

"These animals are toxic," Psihoyos says. "Not just a little bit toxic, but through-the-ceiling toxic. There's anywhere from five to 5,000 times more mercury [in their flesh] than allowed by Japanese law."

So why is the practice of dolphin-hunting — an adjunct to the captive-dolphin trade that supplies marine parks in China and elsewhere around the globe — apparently sanctioned by the Japanese government?

Psihoyos believes that in a country as small and dense as Japan, people have no choice but to look to the ocean for food. And unless global pressure can stop it, the slaughter will begin again in September.

"I'm not going to predict when it's going to stop — [but] it will stop," Psihoyos says. "I'd like to be a catalyst for that."