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So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

By Brian Prisco | Film Reviews | August 6, 2009 | Comments ()


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Environmentalism typically drives me insane because it feels as if a group of well-to-do white people with nothing better to do than try to focus their efforts on improving the well-being of a fucking shrub or some goddamn fuzzy hamburger in training. I understand we're strip mining the earth, injecting everything with harmful chemicals, and turning Mother Earth into Joan Rivers in heavy sunlight, but it's always been hard for me to give a damn about spotted owls or the plight of a flower only found on the leeward face of a cliff in New Guinea. Especially when I'm slaving away at a menial job to put food on my table and keep myself of out of the hospital because I don't have health care. I care about nature. But it's never earned a high rank on the "give-a-shit-o-meter." Yet all it took was one small thing: dolphins. Louis Psihoyos's brilliant and startling documentary The Cove is like An Inconvenient Truth getting rescued by Rainbow Six. How'd you like a fucking carbon footprint upside your head? It manages to take a sledgehammer to all my cynical rambling arguments and demonstrates just what an atrocity the Japanese dolphin fishing is and why we need to stop it.

The Cove opens with an old man in a hospital mask racing a van through the streets of Taiji, Japan because he's being pursued by mysterious figures who will most likely kill him if he gets caught. This man is Ric O'Barry, the lead dolphin trainer for the television show "Flipper," who now spends his days making penance to his watery brethren through eco-activism. He's guilty because his work has led to the popularity of water park shows featuring captive sea life and indirectly resulted in the horrors performed in the small coastal community of Taiji. O'Barry's been arrested several times and has been banned from various panels and organizations because of his stances. He gathers Psihoyos to his cause, trying to reveal to the public at large what goes on behind the fences and guards in the secret cove.

Before it gets into the gruesome events, the documentary goes through the truly sketchy and shady nature of the Cove and the Japanese government's sinister and long-running efforts to essentially harvest dolphins for slaughter. After the efforts of Greenpeace and a recording of humpback songs, whale hunting slowly become a near extinct practice. However, Japan manages to skirt the issue by using the scientific research caveat to slaughter whales and "collect tissue samples." We know this as on-boat butchers are captured by surveillance cameras chopping up whale carcasses while other sailors hold up placards that read in English they can barely understand "We are Collecting Tissue Samples" and "This is Scientific Research." Dolphins, despite being essentially smaller whales and belonging to the same general species, are not protected by these laws. So Japanese fishermen herd the dolphins from migratory passages into protected coves near Taiji. The dolphins are kept as trainers from around the world can select the sleekest and supposedly best specimens to take to water-parks to caper for the amusement of fat tourists with camcorders and their sweaty fat children. The ones that don't make the cut? They get slaughtered and turned into cheap meat like the unchosen, younger Lohans.

Now as a fan of both gluttony and Red Lobster, this shouldn't have been an issue. What devastated me was dolphin meat is hardly a popular dish among anyone, especially the Japanese. Hardly anyone eats dolphin steaks. Mostly, it's served as a cheap substitute for people who can't afford better cuts of fish. The reason being dolphin meat is incredibly high in mercury. The recommended allowance for mercury in fish is usually around .04 ppm (parts per million). Dolphin meat typically has about 3000 ppm. Not only is it cheap and terrible, it's a motherfucking biohazard. So what does the Japanese government do? Naturally they attempt to get dolphin meat placed in the mandatory school lunches provided to children. I say mandatory because Japanese schoolchildren are expected to all eat the school lunches and to finish everything. Don't think the kids get to enjoy mercury poisoning alone! Loose packaging regulations are allowing companies to package dolphin meat as other cuts of whale and more expensive meats in secret. So even if you didn't want to intentionally poison yourself and your loved ones, you can do it by accident! Somewhere, a USDA regulatory commissioner just came in his Hugo Boss with jealous admiration.

The main thrust of The Cove is to get people outraged at what the Japanese government is doing to the dolphins. Activists have tried to breech the Taiji cove in protest and been arrested and/or viciously assaulted. This is where the much-maligned pictures of Hayden Panettiere crying on a surfboard came from. I have slightly more respect for her attempts at trying to get attention. Because the Taiji cove is protected with chain-link fences, razor wire, armed guards, and hired goons -- one of which has been coined Private Space, a ghoul with a camcorder who videotapes anyone attempting to take pictures or bringing attention to the small fishing community. Nobody really does anything because they can't combine the viciousness of the dolphin slaughter with the cute little bottlenoses doing backflips at Sea World, which obtains most of their animals from the Taiji cove.

Psihoyos and Barry assemble a crack team like some sort of Clooney to infiltrate and record the goings-on. They gather world champion free divers to plant underwater cameras and microphones. They get Industrial Light and Magic to craft hidden HD cameras in realistic boulders and shrubbery. They get high-tech night vision and heat-sensitive cameras to scope out for guards and danger as they go all Spy Tech on the fishermen. It's a tense and dangerous operation because they're going espionage on a multi-million dollar industry. Water park dolphins sell for a minimum $150,000. But their efforts work. We see the butchery first-hand, and it's unnerving. Essentially, the dolphins are harpooned to death, as the cove fills with blood. By the finish, they're hooking carcasses out of the water, and the cove itself is drenched with sanguine waters.

What makes this any different than a slaughterhouse? Why is this more brutal and less sketchy than the millions of cows and pigs and chickens suffering a similar fate at the hands of buzzsaws and sluicing floors in the Tyson and Cargill plants? Well, it's not, which is food for thought. What gets to me is the dolphin meat is not typically consumable and it's hazardous. Worse yet is that the players involved know this, otherwise they wouldn't go to such lengths to keep it hidden. And still they slaughter over 13,000 dolphins a year.

The Cove is effective in that I actually give a damn about the plight of the dolphins. It's another of the Take Part documentaries, which is steadily getting documentaries out in the public eye. Granted, they tend to use a little more sensational and hyperbolic means to get asses in seats -- the trailer had me convinced that by the end of the film I was going to see a fucking murder on camera. But I applaud their efforts. Even when they recycle information, as was the case for me with Food, Inc., it's still done in a responsible and informative method. I really hope people make the effort to get involved and get others to watch the Take Part documentaries. Sure, it plays on liberal guilt, but goddamn if they don't know how to strum the right chords. And now I really want a fish taco. Too soon?

Brian Prisco is a bitter little man stomping sour grapes into fine whine in the valleys of North Hollywood. He's a screenwriter who's never been professionally produced, an actor who's never joined a guild, and a director who made one bad film. He's one waiter apron away from a cliche, and he's available for children's parties. You can tell him how much you hate him at priscogospel at hotmail dot com.



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