For whatever reason—their delightful playfulness, their well-documented intelligence, their inviting perma-smile—dolphins are the aquatic species that humanity has taken most firmly to its bosom. Everybody loves dolphins, and therein lies calamity. Demand from marine theme parks has risen over the last half-century to the point where there’s now a lot of money to be made capturing the friendly cetaceans, and fishermen in Taiji, Japan, have taken this to a brutal extreme, herding thousands of dolphins annually into an isolated spot, cherry-picking a few to be sold overseas and then barbarically slaughtering the rest for cheap food, stabbing them again and again with harpoons until the waters are stained a hideous red.
Directed by a member of the Oceanic Preservation Society, The Cove, one of this year’s most acclaimed documentaries, isn’t really a movie so much as an anguished attempt to inspire political action. Headed by former Flipper trainer Richard O’Barry, who now regrets having been instrumental in making dolphins so popular, a team of activists plants hidden cameras off the shore of the killing zone; be advised that the footage they thus obtain, shown at film’s end, isn’t a whole lot of fun to watch. But that’s the point, of course. If you’re looking to be entertained, forget it; if you’re looking to be edified, I just told you the basics. But if you’re looking to get really angry about pointless death and suffering, trust me: This’ll do the trick.