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Some Thoughts On The Cove

April 23, 2010

I just watched the notorious documentary “The Cove” about dolphin slaughtery at Taiji in Wakayama prefecture, Japan. I heard a lot about it in advance and my expectations were quite low. Some people said it was merely about some westerners trying to break in the restricted area around the cove to film the slaughtery to show how cruel it was and demonstrate how stupid the Japanese were to commit this kind of murder every year for cultural reasons. Actually, in the beginning of the documentary, I still thought my expectations would not be topped.

First, we see the cove at night and some blurry black and white shots of dolphins swimming in the water followed by scenes from a slaughterhouse. We see the trunks of big frozen fish tossed and turned and finally worked on with an axe. These are not scenes of the dolphin slaughtery, but scenes from Tsukiji, the world’s biggest fish market. Quite normal so to speak, but the blurred pictures mix with the secret takes of the cove leaving the unknowing viewer with a vague negative feeling about what is going on… I don’t like this kind of subtle manipulation in a documentary and think it is not necessary to convince the viewer of the documentary’s aim in such a cheap manner. If the aim is presented well, the viewer will agree, but manipulation like this only causes resentment (at least for me). However, I don’t want to tear up every single scene of the documentary here.

What we learn from The Cove is that there are basically two reasons why dolphins are hunted at Taiji. One reason is that selected dolphins get caught to be sold to dolphin shows all over the world (this can be watched by the public), the other is that those who were not selected will be slaughtered at a hidden cove to sell their meat. These are two very different problems, but they get mixed up and become one in this documentary, which is why The Cove is highly controversial.

Selling dolphins to shows is not a specifically Japanese problem as those shows are requested by people around the globe. So we all should think a minute before we take our kids to Sea World to watch dolphins jump out of a pool not even fit for a swimming competition. The other problem is far more complicated.

Japan was largely criticised for the massacre The Cove disclosures. Westerners screamed how Japanese could eat dolphin. They were majestic, very intelligent creatures and should not be eaten by humans. In my opinion, this is a weak argument. What is fit to eat and what is not relies on cultural or religious views. One culture cannot just go to another and claim that their cultural beliefs are not right. Of course, they can talk to them, show them what they found out about how great dolphins are and hope that their efforts will take effect. In fact, most Japanese don’t know about the slaughtery at Taiji and don’t regard dolphins as something to eat as The Cove reveals later. So this is not the point, but why then are dolphins slaughtered and sold to eat?

According to Ric O’Barry, who made The Cove, the fishermen of Taiji say hunting and eating dolphins was their tradition which westerners couldn’t understand. But these are lies as O’Barry says. And indeed, why would the fishermen need to hide their business from the public if it was an accepted tradition? It is not a tradition in the whole country and obviously not even in Taiji. At this point, the biased view on a dolphin hunting culture gives way to a really twisted story which made my opinion toward The Cove turn around.

In the second half of the documentary, we learn that dolphin meat contains high levels of toxic mercury. Some officials admit that dolphin meat shouldn’t be eaten in great amounts, but claim that it still contains valuable nutrients and Japanese food standards would keep meat with too high mercury levels out of the market. The maximum amount of mercury allowed in Japan is 0.4 ppm, but a piece of dolphin meat is presented that was tested to an amount of 4000 ppm. So who actually eats this toxic meat?

As very few Japanese consider dolphin as food and as less desirable compared to other whale meat, too, dolphin meat could only be sold cheap. Therefore, it is labeled as the more profitable whale meat, which is considered to be safe from mercury by the Japanese.  They buy dolphin meat unconsciously and don’t know that they are poisoning themselves…

It seems like the Japanese government is covering this practice up, although it should know better. Minamata is a town that has become infamous for severe mercury poisoning which lead to diseases and disabled babies. The poisoning was caused by a factory that dumped their toxic effluents into the sea. The victims of the so-called Minamata disease had to fight for decades until the factory was closed and forced to pay (very low) compensations. The question why the government still covers up toxic dolphin meat in supermarkets and even school lunches is left without answer until the end. At least dolphin meat was removed from school lunches afterwards, due to the efforts of two town councils of Taiji, but the slaughtery continues…

When O’Barry offered the fishermen of Taiji an amount of money equal to what they would get for the dolphins, if they stopped hunting, another reason for their hunt is revealed. They seem to believe that the dolphins like other whales would eat too much fish and therefore were the reason for the declining fish resources. So they think their business is necessary for the Japanese fishing industry and fish supply! We also learn that Japan pays poor countries to vote for Japan’s right to hunt whales at the IWC. This is said to be connected to Japan’s national pride and Japan’s will to not obey rules dictated by the west anymore. Well, I do understand this reluctance, but I cannot understand a government which is poisoning their own people and tells lies about declining fish resources which are in fact caused by humans. I know there are many other governments in the world that lie and harm their own people, but this is still no excuse.

After all, who benefits from the dolphin slaughtery (and over fishing)? As always, there are some people who can make a lot of money now without thinking about the consequences in the future, I guess. Thus, The Cove shows a good example for how problems that seem simple at first sight, are very complicated and involve a lot of interest groups, if you look behind the bias.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 02:14

    I have long wanted to see a source (other than The Cove) for the alleged labeling of dolphin meat as whale meat. Japan does have “truth in labeling” laws, meaning for example “milk drinks” cannot be sold as “milk” and “Aussie Beef” cannot be sold as “Japanese Beef”. Granted, the law has very small teeth, but people do still manage to get their wrists slapped for mislabeling food, and if they continue to do it they can get in real trouble. Besides, I have seen dolphin meat clearly labeled as such, although admittedly it was not Taiji dolphin. Plenty of other places in Japan catch and kill dolphin, Taiji is just the most well-known.

    Also, about bribery at the IWC: yes, Japan does sometimes make its foreign aid dependent on the recipient scratching Japan’s back. All countries do this, and I wouldn’t expect any different. I don’t see too many countries giving tax dollars to countries openly hostile to themselves. The whole idea is to “cultivate an ally”. What O’Barry and his allies won’t admit, or if they did they would doubtless defend it as “but Japan does it too!”, is that anti-whaling states do the exact same thing. They make their aid dependent on support for the anti-whaling movement, which is why you see some landlocked anti-whaling states in the IWC. They were “encouraged” to join as a condition of getting aid.

    • franeymoon permalink
      April 26, 2010 10:40

      Thank you for the comment! It gives me a lot of input to think about.
      Is it just the Taiji dolphin that needs relabeling to be sold? Because it contains more mercury than the dolphin catched somewhere else?

  2. Unit 731 permalink
    May 4, 2010 16:00

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731

    A nice link about Japanese “culture”.

    I am glad you enjoy studying obesity in Japan, now learn something new about the “culture” you are fascinated with.

    Continued over-fishing of the like seen in The Cove leads to the destruction of marine life in our oceans, and is unnecessary. The Japanese “culture” you are enamored with is part of the environmental problems our planet is experiencing, and should not be excused or condoned in poorly rationalized statements contained in your “blog”.

    • franeymoon permalink
      May 4, 2010 16:08

      That’s an interesting link, but can you show me how it’s related to The Cove?

      You’re absolutely right that over-fishing has to be stopped and cannot be excused on any cultural grounds. But you see, that is a different problem from what Westerners generally accuse Japanese of and is the main topic in The Cove. You can accuse Japanese of over-fishing, but not on eating dolphin and the like. Got the point?

      Thx for your comment anyways!

  3. Unit 731 permalink
    May 4, 2010 16:35

    I make no mention, or condemnation of the Japanese for eating dolphin.

    And as far as the “main” point of The Cove, one has to include the total eradication of dolphins in Ichi (sic?), even more so than the consumption of dolphin. Western society indulges in over consumption of its own domestic animals (beef and such), however, eradication of a wild species of animal is a separate issue, then that of livestock, which are replenished.

    Unit 731 simply lends itself as an example of the mindset of a culture that apparently has no issue with cruelty, torture, and slaughter, such as the Japanese carried out against the Chinese.
    This does not excuse similar abuses carried out by such cultures of those of Europe in the mid twentieth century (Germany for example), though the wanton killing of wild apex marine life for no legitimate reason in current times is to be expected from Japanese culture, and wholly unnecessary.

    • franeymoon permalink
      May 4, 2010 17:33

      Sorry, I still don’t see how war crimes are related to over-fishing, since over-fishing doesn’t happen out of cruelty. The Japanese hunt fish and buy the fish other countries hunt, because they eat much fish. That’s simple economics of demand and supply. Meat consumption is very much based on the exploitation of natural resources as well and has to be considered as much as fish consumption (as well as our overall food consumption). I don’t want to belittle the problem of over-fishing and you’re right that Japan plays a big role in this problem, but other countries aren’t better.

    • Left Wing Chinese permalink
      December 4, 2012 18:10

      Haha, you must be Chinese or Korean looking for every opportunity on the internet to condemn Japan. Good luck with that!

  4. gorilla jack permalink
    May 5, 2010 05:28

    Well if a culture can separate itself from other human beings in suck a way. It begs the question is this a culture that that is to be admired in any way. The romanticism of the Japanese is no more profound than that of Arthurian legion but at least western culture doesn’t mire half it’s population to being reciprocals for masculine seed (and other vices of blatant hate) the samurai culture would, in it’s admiration rise all kinds of social concerns that are present in all cultures past the age of agriculture. In the end they are nothing new under the sun, but if you are a gal that can use chopsticks and want to be a culture other than your own….good for you!!!

    • franeymoon permalink
      May 5, 2010 12:35

      Well, if I look at what is going on in this world today and what has happened in the past, I have to say that to separate oneself from other human beings in such a way is not a cultural trait but inherent to human mankind. It is very sad, but look at what’s going on in Bolivia these days or Russia or Somalia or Iran or [insert random name of country here]. So if you would only like “cultures” which are free of any misbehaviour you might not be able to like many. Keep in mind that “culture” is a shallow word. It contains a vast amount of aspects, some are good and some are bad. And as a person we get in touch not with a whole culture but with single persons who have their individual character traits, thoughts and history. I don’t know what you’ve read or know about Japan, but it seems like you have a very narrow view. Of course, they are nothing new under the sun, Japan is a country like every other and I can assure you my admiration is not merely based on cherry blossoms or Hello Kitty or whatever you might have in mind. I am able to use chopsticks but I do not want to be a Japanese. There are many things in Japan which drive me up the wall or seem irrational to me, but that doesn’t keep me from likeing the good things. In the end, it’s not different from my home country, where there are as many things I don’t like.

  5. Nbunce permalink
    May 19, 2010 15:39

    I have to say I found reading this blog post an interesting introduction to the film ‘The Cove’ and functioned as a review, and background to the issues of dolphin fishing, andof course the whale fishing industry. I find other comments about Japan’s ‘culture’ somewhat detractory and irrelevant to the blog post.

    I also feel it is an unnecessary attack upon the author of the piece, as she states, yes she may enjoy and like many aspects of the Japanese culture, nation and its little quirks, but that does not mean she condones past war crimes, or ills it has committed. And this is not in defence of Japan, or any human rights abuse, but show me a country which has a perfect record? I admit I was unaware of the sheer extent of the war crimes carried out by the Japanese and shocked, but equally as much when I read up a lot on the bombings of Nagasaki and Hirsohima. Of which I won’t go into at this juncture since this blog post is about the film ‘The Cove’. I find the diversions from the main thrust of this blog post from other commenters as petty and unfocused.

    To return to the main topic of the post, it has motivated me to watch the film, read and research more on this practice and draw up my individual conclusions.

    • franeymoon permalink
      May 19, 2010 15:52

      Thank you so much for your comment!
      Maybe next time, I should mark my article as a review in the title.
      Anyways, I’m glad you found it useful.

  6. aciara14 permalink
    June 23, 2010 03:02

    I didn’t read this until now, but you make a lot of interesting points. Nice work. I definitely agree that there are always more nuances and factors to a situation than may appear at first! So true.

    • franeymoon permalink
      June 23, 2010 08:35

      Thank you! Also for reading my older posts, too 🙂

  7. Left Wing Chinese permalink
    December 4, 2012 18:12

    Nice writing, have very good insight to the lies the film made. Documentaries are mere perspectives I hope everyone knows that and be aware of the film like this (or by Michael Moore or Mike Daisy sort) only Wows people who have no background knowledge of the issue it self. 🙂

    • franeymoon permalink*
      December 5, 2012 02:48

      Thank you very much for your comment! I think you’re absolutely right about being careful when watching a documentary – or any other sort of visual media. Better not trust what you see.

  8. May 7, 2013 10:30

    Thanks for any other fantastic post. Where else could anybody get that kind of info in such
    a perfect approach of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I am at the look for such information.

    • franeymoon permalink*
      May 8, 2013 13:54

      I’m glad you like it! But unfortunately I don’t know of other texts like this though I guess that a lot has been written on the topic…

  9. May 10, 2013 09:04

    I have not heard of the film before your post but to me it seems like there are people who try to gain personally from controversial stories at the same time tweaking the facts to suit their needs. An open minded and intelligent person will try to understand the culture even if he/she doesn’t agree with it. I think pigs are extremely intelligent and cute animals and boy they taste great 😉 Brilliant post!

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