Urban Cinefile
"If anyone finds it difficult to reconcile my subject matter with my enthusiasm for the razzmatazz of Cannes, they are naive and take a very narrow view of things. Apart from anything else, the dinners are good."  -Mike Leigh, English director
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Not only are Japanese fishermen slaughtering tens of thousands of dolphins each year, their meat, made toxic by extreme levels of mercury, is sold to the Japanese population (as whale meat) unaware of the risks, as director of The Cove, Louie Psihoyos, explains to Andrew L. Urban.

There is an unexpected serenity to a man as angry as Louie Psihoyos as he reclines across an armchair, the Sydney Harbour Bridge outlined behind him through the window of a plush Sydney hotel, where he is doing the media junket to promote his team’s film, The Cove. It’s a film that will leave audiences anything but calm and reclined: audiences across the world, including those at Sundance, SilverDocs and Hot Docs as well as Sydney (June 2009) and Brisbane (August 2009) have been outraged by it. It looks hairy, but it was even hairier to make than it looks, says Psihoyos.

“We had to work mostly at night, undercover, trying to get into a cove where we could be killed or arrested and put in jail for months if we were caught. Such was the making of The Cove, a first-time director’s nightmare,” says Psihoyos, whose guerrilla team worked like the French Resistance to film the barbaric harvest of thousands of dolphins at the fishing village of Taiji in the southern Japanese Wakayama prefecture.

"Japan’s dirty little secret"

Taiji is Japan’s dirty little secret: this picturesque coastal town is a cause for anger and embarrassment to the Japanese – if only they knew about it. “But sadly, “says Phsihoyos, “it won’t be the slaughtering of the thousands of dolphins that will bring about any change … it’s the health issue, that Japanese, from kids to oldies, are being fed the toxic dolphin meat without knowing it’s toxic.”

Psihoyos is glad to see audiences angry about it. “I want the Japanese to feel a tsunami of anger.” He says it is ironic that Broome (Queensland) is Taiji’s Sister City. “It’s a bit like having Hannibal Lecter as a brother in law…” He wonders what the good people of Broome will say to their sister citizens after they’ve seen The Cove, which Psihoyos and his team will be screening for them.

The film’s executive producer, Jim Clark, has helped fund the US$2.5 million film, with Psihoyos himself borrowing another US$400,000 from a rich buddy to cover costs. The foundation Psihoyos head up, the Oceanic Preservation Society, is a non-profit organisation dedicated to stopping such behaviour around the world. “Jim is a talented visionary,” says Psihoyos. He has built three billion dollar businesses from scratch. He said to me, ‘just make a difference’ … ” The Cove has already started to do that.

Dolphin meat used to be part of school lunch programs in Taijin. But after Psihoyos and his team interviewed some local community leaders and explained the toxicity issue to them, “that stopped - just this year,” he says. “Ric [O’Barry] and our organization had a hand in that. Our work with a toxicity expert there eventually reached several Taiji town council members, who had their own children in the school system, and who did their own tests on dolphin meat. These confirmed our findings. School children across Wakamaya prefecture are no longer fed toxic dolphin meat for school lunch programs. As a result, the head of the fisheries, Hideki Moronuki, who had set the quotas for dolphins and porpoises and whales, has been fired but the hunt for dolphins is going on.... We hope awareness will shut the dolphin drive down by next year, once the Japanese people learn about it.”

Dolphins are the most social creatures on the planet; often both male and females stay in the same pod for life. Orcas, the largest of the dolphin family, stay with their mother for life. If the matriarch of the pod is killed or captured, much of the knowledge of the pod is not passed on to the survivors. “The Taiji dolphin hunters routinely slaughter every dolphin they can get their hands on, even mothers and their calf, a practice that is supposed to be banned,” says Psihoyos.


What he would like to happen is the “annihilation” of dolphinariums and the total cessation of the slaughter of dolphins. A US businessman has donated US$70,000 to dub the film’s narration into Japanese. And even if it doesn’t screen at the Tokyo Film Festival, the Japanese will be given a chance to see it. Psihoyos says, “we’re resourceful …we’ll get it out there.”

Published August 13, 2009

Email this article

Louie Psihoyos


Tokyo Fest rejects The Cove

In cinemas August 20, 2009

Using state-of-the-art equipment like night vision HD cameras camouflaged in fake rocks and shrub, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry of Flipper TV series fame, infiltrate a cove near Taiji, Japan to expose the shocking instance of perennial dolphin slaughter and the serious threat to human health with the toxic meat sold around the country labelled as whale meat. Directed by Louise Psyhoyos, Executive Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society.

More info

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020