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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

A documentary about dolphins called "The Cove" won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Festival. The film is structured like a detective thriller. But it struck Bob Mondello more as a real life horror story.

BOB MONDELLO: Some 37 years ago, Ric O'Barry helped spark a worldwide fascination with dolphins by training five of them to play "Flipper" on TV.

(Soundbite of song, "Flipper")

Unidentified Male (Singer): (Singing) They call him Flipper, Flipper, you'll see him smile...

MONDELLO: The TV show made audiences 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, capturing and selling 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 got the ear of 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 who use the dolphin's sensitive sonar to trap them.

Mr. RIC O'BARRY: There are migratory routes the dolphins have been using for thousands of years, and they just wait until the dolphins come by. The boats then put these long poles in the water, which have a flange on the bottom.

(Soundbite of banging metal)

And they just bang on these poles with hammers, and they create a wall of sound, which frightens the dolphins.

MONDELLO: Frightens them into these secluded cove of the movie's title, where a few dolphins can be isolated for sale to marinas at more than $150,000 each. The rest though never come back out.

Mr. O'BARRY: It's a dolphin's worst nightmare right there. Hundreds of thousands of dolphins have died there. You'll see the signs, keep out. The fishermen told me, they said if the world finds out what goes on here, we'll be shut down. Can you imagine that? They actually told us that. We need to get in there and film exactly what happens. We need to…

MONDELLO: The rest of the movie is an attempt to do just that. The director figured if no one would let him get near the cove during the months when dolphin roundups are taking place, he'd go there when they weren't - even then under cover of night - to do the sort of thing that folks associate with spy movies. In essence, he's making a real-life suspense film.

Mr. O'BARRY: I sort set up this team, this, you know, sort of this "Ocean's 11" team. Simon Hutchins created all these weird ways to hide hi-def cameras and hydrophones. You know, he's sort of a mad genius. We had a military-grade thermal camera, which, of course, you're not allowed to bring out of the country. It has a pulse, the thermal camera picks it up.

MONDELLO: The buildup to getting the shots they want has a good deal of natural tension. 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. The film's timing is designed for maximum effect. The next roundup will start in September.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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