On Thursday, July 8, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum hosted a special showing of the award-winning documentary The Cove which included a Q&A session with Ric O’Barry, one of the main activists featured in the film. To commemorate the showing, the museum was decked in whale gear. There were tables with wooden whales, painted whales, and paper whales, but beneath the colorful ornaments laid a very serious issue: dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan.
The Cove first premiered on April 25, 2009 at the Newport Beach International Festival, and has since won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Documentary. It features a group of eco-activists, lead by O’Barry, who hope to expose Taiji, Japan for capturing and killing over 23,000 dolphins a year and then selling the meat which contains dangerously high levels of mercury. The documentary follows the activists’ journey to infiltrate and film a sequestered cove where the dolphins are killed. The film climaxes when the activists successfully sneak in their cameras, and film the cove’s blue waters literally turning blood-red during the brutal dolphin hunt.
Afterward the screening, O’Barry discussed the film and its message with the audience. O’Barry was a dolphin trainer on the original television series Flipper, and he says his activism to free and protect dolphins was inspired when the Flipper dolphin died. He has been arrested multiple times for stealing and then freeing dolphins. Mike DeGruy lead the public interview.
In the interview, O’Barry discussed the film, the Japanese, and mercury poisoning, which O’Barry believes is the biggest environmental issue, bigger even than the recent oil spill in the Gulf. He explained that almost every fish eaten in the United States has mercury which comes from coal particles dissolving in the clouds and entering oceans and rivers. He also noted that while the mercury message was not his original goal, it was the most persuasive argument in the film to stop the dolphin slaughter.
Although O’Barry made clear he was not involved in the filmmaking, he did remedy some of the film’s minor faults. He emphasized that the villains in the film were the fisherman, not the Japanese people, even saying “We love Japan, we love the Japanese people. The vast majority are very respectful of nature. ” Criticism has been hurled, not necessarily unjustly, at The Cove for an unfair portrait of the Japanese and not just of the portrayal of fisherman. A flashback of 1960s whale-killing protests featured a Japanese flag burning prominently on screen. However, when asked if he would have changed anything about the film, O’Barry said he would not, explaining that while the film was a bit of a one-sided portrait, the facts and film were accurate.
The event was “free,” but at the door, curators requested a $10-20 donation, all proceeds going to SaveJapanDolphins.org. According to George Gorga, Executive Director of the museum, 225 people attended the showing with around 80 people watching the upstairs exhibit and 140 watching the downstairs exhibit. Some viewers were children, most were adults, and many were activists themselves. Prior to and after the movie, there were information and donation booths featuring, among others, Peggy Oki’s Origami Whales Project, Earth Island Institute California Student Sustainability Coalition, and the UCSB’s Associated Students Environmental Affairs Board. The museum also hosted a silent auction with all proceeds going to SaveJapanDolphins.org.
In an interview, Gorga explained that the museum hosted the evenr because they “look at maritime as anything involving interaction with the ocean, and Ric is interacting in a big way with the creatures of our oceans.” Gorga also expressed that the Maritime Museum is “all about education” and raising awareness about issues that plague the oceans. In response to the packed crowd which brought in around $2,500 of donations at the door, Gorga said, “It was wonderful that Santa Barbara turned out for this, and that there was so much interest for the film and meeting Ric O’Barry. It was a nice turnout.”