GUY RAZ, host:
Earlier this week, I spoke with the director of "The Cove," Louie Psihoyos, about the industry behind the dolphin catch and the obstacles he faced making this film, including 24-hour, seven-day-a-week surveillance.
Mr. LOUIE PSIHOYOS (Director, "The Cove"): We checked into a hotel in the neighboring town, and we had five hotel rooms for the crew, the police had five hotel rooms. We would go out, they would go out.
RAZ: Were you worried that you were going to be caught and thrown out of the country?
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Oh, yeah, daily.
(Soundbite of laughter)
I mean, you take on the world's second biggest economy and a $2 billion a year captive dolphin industry, you know, I'm still scared. Yeah, there's arrest warrants out for us. You know, the charges are trespassing and conspiracy to disrupt commerce.
RAZ: There are arrest warrants in from the village of Taiji?
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Wakayama Prefecture, yep.
RAZ: Oh, wow. So if you went back to that area or you went back to Japan at all, you could be arrested?
Mr. PSIHOYOS: We would be arrested, yeah.
RAZ: And originally, you had planned to do this legally. I mean, you went to the town officials and you said, we'd like to film this. And they said, impossible.
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Yeah. I mean, really, at that point, we didn't want to get in the cove. The point was to get this cultural difference where, you know, our culture, Western culture, you know, reveres the dolphin as something, you know, kind of holy. But then you have this village where, you know, they treat them like large fish. They don't regard that they're sacred at all.
I mean, to say I'm not - this is not an indictment against the Japanese people. The Japanese people don't even know this is going on. That's one of the points of making this film, is to inform them of what their government and the media over there has failed to do.
RAZ: Now, the dolphins that are slaughtered are the ones that are not sold to aquariums and to amusement parks. There's a point in the film in which we hear the sounds of the dolphins screaming, literally, as we watch these fishermen spear and slaughter the animals. And the water, the sea water turns red, like almost like a muddy river. And it's very shocking to see that.
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Well, you know, this a PG-13 rating, so it's, you know, we did our best to make this sort of the Disney version of the horror that goes on there. You know, we protect the audience pretty well from all that.
RAZ: Is dolphin meat widely consumed in Japan?
Mr. PSIHOYOS: It is consumed, but people don't know they're eating dolphin meat. It's sold under the pretext of being whale meat. You know, the issue I think here is, you know, we're not going to win the argument on a animal rights issue. We're going to win it because we're going to prove that it's inhumanity to man, because these animals are toxic. Not just a little bit toxic, but through the ceiling toxic with mercury.
RAZ: In terms of mercury.
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Yeah, it's anywhere from five to 5,000 times more mercury than allowed by Japanese law.
RAZ: Why is dolphin meat more toxic than, for example, tuna meat or other kinds of fish?
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Dolphin and whales are at the very top of the food chain. Basically, every tropic level of the food chain, you put on another zero, so you have a million times more pollutants.
RAZ: And so, as far as you're concerned, this is not about killing dolphins for their meat. It's about the fact that their meat is unsafe to eat.
Mr. PSIHOYOS: That's how we're going to win the argument. I'm concerned about, you know, the animal welfare issue, as well.
RAZ: Mr. Psihoyos, we obviously eat all kinds of animals. Some people eat horses. In the U.S., we eat cattle; they don't do that in India. Why is it different to kill and eat dolphins and not cows or pigs, for example, which are also intelligent?
I mean, I must admit, I feel a little bit awkward because I eat all kinds of meat. But I was horrified by this film and what happens to the dolphins, but obviously, a little bit conflicted, as well.
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Yes, it's really typical to, you know, to say they're intelligent so they should be saved. You're right. You know, it's really hard to win that argument. But, you know, a dolphin has a bigger brain than a human being. It has more surface area for gray matter for neurons. They're more sensitive than us on multiple levels; they have an extra sense. Their sonic, you know, their sonic ability is legendary. I mean, they can see right through you. They can see your heart beating. They can see if you're pregnant. You know, these animals, I think, are superhuman.
RAZ: The slaughter will begin in September. I mean, it's going to start again.
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Unless we stop it, yes. I'm not going to, you know, predict when it's going to stop. It will stop. You know, I'd like to be a catalyst for that.
RAZ: Louie Psihoyos is the director of the new documentary, "The Cove." Mr. Psihoyos, thanks for telling us the story about this film.
Mr. PSIHOYOS: Thanks for having me.
RAZ: We contacted the Japanese Embassy here in Washington for their response. A spokesman told us that those who see this film should take into account, quote, "national and cultural differences between Japan and Western countries."
This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.