The Cove is an American documentary film that describes the annual killing of dolphins at a National Park in Japan from an anti–dolphin-hunting campaigner's point of view. The film highlights that the number of dolphins and porpoises killed in Japan every year is 23,000, a figure several times greater than the number of whales killed in the Antarctic each year. The migrating dolphins are herded into a hidden cove where they are netted and killed by means of spears and knives over the side of small fishing boats.
The documentary won the US Audience Award at the 25th annual Sundance Film Festival in January 2009 and went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Film in this year's Academy Awards ceremony in March.
Three months after receiving its Oscar, the film is now starting to make waves in Japan. Following the Awards ceremony, The Cove received little press attention in the Japanese-language media in Japan. Boyd Harnell of the Japan Times was reported as saying that Japanese news editors had told him that the topic was "too sensitive" for them to cover.
No screenings in Japan
Since then the film has not been shown in Tokyo due to the successful vetoing by a nationalistic group known as Shuken Kaifuku wo mezasu kai . A proposed screening scheduled for 26 June at Theater N in Shibuya was canceled after the cinema's staff were harrassed by right wingers. Another cinema in Tokyo and one in Osaka have subsequently also declined to screen the film. In response, a group of 61 media figures including journalist Akihiro Ōtani and filmmaker Yoichi Sai released a statement expressing concern over the threat to freedom of speech by the intimidation of right-wing groups.
As a protest to the cancellation of screenings of the film in movie theatres in Japan, Japanese video sharing site Nico Nico Douga will screen the film for free tonight over the Internet.
This public viewing will give the Japanese a chance to witness for themselves the documentary which follows an elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers as they embark on a covert mission to penetrate a remote and hidden cove in Taiji, shining a light on its "secret" yearly dolphin drive.
The film makers describe their film as "Utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, including hidden microphones and cameras in fake rocks, to uncover how this small seaside village serves as a horrifying microcosm of massive ecological crimes happening worldwide. The result is a provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and arresting imagery, adding up to an unforgettable story that has inspired audiences worldwide to action."
When the film came out as well as creating an outcry among animal lovers it also received several unfavourable reviews, usually describing the film as well-made propaganda. David Cox of The Guardian Film Blog called it a "piece of evangelism", surmising that from a Japanese point of view "Westerners... kill and eat cows. Easterners eat dolphins. What's the difference?"
Other critics of The Cove point out that the yearly dolphin drive is nothing new. It has been carried out in this area since the 1600s. They say that it is, obviously, still not something that the residents of the area want to publicize hence their unwillingness to have cameras in on the annual event that takes place each September.
The town mayor of Taiji and the chief of Taiji Fishery Union have commented that :"The hunt is performed legally and properly with the permission of Wakayama Prefecture (local government). It is regrettable that the film won the Oscar as it describes some scientifically ungrounded issues as if they were facts."
Several people who appear in the film, including Taiji assemblyman Hisato Ryono and Tetsuya Endo, an associate professor at Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, say that they were lied to by the documentary's producers about what the film would contain.
Japan not alone
Japan is perhaps the best known country that refuses to ban whale hunting, but it is not the only land that partakes in dolphin drives. These also take place in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, Peru in South America and the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic.
The renewed interest in the massacre of the dolphins has resulted in online petitions on the Care2 website (which has received around 20,000 signatures) and e-mail led petitions, against the islanders of the Faroes, which belongs to Denmark.
On the Faroe Islands drive hunts officially round up Pilot whales but other species, such as the Northern bottlenose whale and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin, are also killed on occasion. The hunt is known by the locals as the Grindadráp.
There are no fixed hunting seasons, as soon as a pod of whales is spotted close enough to land the fishermen set out to begin the hunt. The animals are driven onto the beach with boats, blocking off the way to the ocean. When on the beach, they are killed by cutting down to the major arteries and spinal cord at the neck. The time it takes for a dolphin to die varies from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the cut.
As in Japan the marine mammals are killed for their meat, despite the risk of mercury poison associated with eating it.