Saturday, March 27, 2010

Marine scientists talks about dolphins and other creatures during Water Expo

Marine scientist and Key Biscayne resident, Edward Keith, recently addressed students grades K-8 at the International Christian School at the 10th Annual Science Fair/Water Expo. Professor Keith of Nova University had just returned from Ecuador where he was studying manatees. Keith is known internationally for his studies in the area of marine mammals including whales, manatees, and dolphins.

Keith was able to find time in his busy schedule to be a part of ICS’s two day Water Expo in which students from K-8 presented research, studies and experiments all related to water. Rain, thunderstorms and babbling brooks could be heard as you entered the hall and display boards with facts and art related to water were snuggly placed from wall to wall. Some of the winners included using water in the creation of Solar Panels and studying pulse rates after drinking Gatorade. The 2nd Grade class conducted a water study with disturbing results in which they found Aquafina followed by Smart Water to be the cleanest, and Figi and Zephyrhill water to be the dirtiest after measuring it with a water quality (TPS) meter. All measurements were taken in parts per million. Aquafina, the winner, uses a reverse osmosis process.

Since the death of SeaWorld killer whale trainer, Dawn Brancheau on February 24th, students and the press alike have been particularly interested in Professor Keith’s insight on this tragedy. While addressing ICS students Keith remained neutral, merely conveying the recent official investigative results in which it was decided that the killer whale, Tilikum, would remain at Sea World.

Film develops awareness about the slaughtering of dolphins and whales

THOSE Boy's Own adventurers from The Cove have done it again. The lads who won an Oscar for exposing dolphin culling in the Japanese town of Taiji have just busted a Santa Monica sushi restaurant for illegally selling endangered whale meat.

Fearless Western filmmakers: two. Evil Asian dolphin killers and whale eaters: zero.


There's just one problem. Actually there's a whole bunch of problems, but let's start with the issue of animal magnetism. Why is it that some species attract so much more compassion and activist attention than others? Are dolphins and whales more intrinsically worthy of being saved than less glamorous animals such as the Markhor goat and Chatham albatross? Or have they -- like human stars -- achieved their celebrity status as a result of serendipitous circumstance, genetic luck and media spin?

At least some of the answers lie in The Cove, the 2009 enviro-mentary directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos. This movie opens with the story of Ric O'Barry, who caught and trained dolphins for the cult 1960s TV show Flipper before having a Damascene conversion. This turnaround, he says, was the result of watching one of the Flipper dolphins commit suicide in his arms rather than endure another moment of captivity.

O'Barry's admirable but obsessive concern for small cetaceans is universal but his specific fixation is the Japanese port town of Taiji. Here, local fisherfolk muster dolphins so international buyers can select the most photogenic, Flipper-esque specimens for their dolphinariums. Rejects of this aquatic casting coach are then herded into an isolated cove protected by snarling guards before being speared to death and sold for their mercury-filled meat. The Cove's covert footage of this carnage sparked international outrage.

Like daytrippers seduced by the colour and movement of the novelty whale boats in Taiji, it's easy to be taken in by the film's worthy and ostensibly ideologically innocuous externals. Most reviewers fawned, with The New York Times gushing over its audacious and adroit powers, and Time magazine calling it spectacularly compelling. Earlier this month, it was awarded an Oscar for best documentary feature.

This "living, breathing movie", however, has a dark secret. Deep in its hidden nooks and crannies, innocent facts, evidence and balance are rounded up and slaughtered like so many dolphin babies on their way to a bento box.

Oh, all right. This is obviously an over-the-top and insane claim. But it's not so different from The Cove's portrayal of Taiji's fisherfolk as callous murderers; the sort of vile bastards who think nothing of greeting Free Willy and Flipper with chopsticks and soy sauce. These men are depicted as every dolphin's worst nightmare despite being at the bottom of the dolphin "slave trade" food chain.

The fisherfolks' status as villains in the film is in direct and inverse proportion to the saintliness of the dolphins, which are subjected to a sickeningly saccharine anthropomorphism. They're repeatedly framed as non-human people whose kindness, intelligence and ability to enjoy sensuous tummy rubs from spunky freedivers with strap-on tails may even surpass our own.

No references are made to the animals' interest in infanticide, macho brawls and blow-hole sex. Presumably the filmmakers thought these facts might adversely affect their subjects' ratings on the concerned world's all-important cute-o-meter.

Unfortunately, overplaying or inventing dolphins' human-like traits in this context carries the implication that ugly, stupid, surly creatures -- creatures whose mouths aren't shaped like human smiles -- aren't equally entitled to continuing existences.

Few of us will find the time to develop deep, quasi-spiritual connections with every endangered species on earth (particularly if that species happens to be the eyeless blind cave beetle or the frumpy eastern bristlebird). But it'd be a shame if we directed our conservation efforts only to those planetary dwellers that looked pretty or could playfully balance coloured balls on their noses.

The other big problem with unexamined assumptions about creatures' killability is that such judgments aren't consistent across cultures and therefore run the risk of cultural insensitivity or outright racism.

In The Cove, O'Barry is appalled that visitors to Taiji can watch dolphins perform while eating them. But the pairing of these activities seems on par with Australians chucking kangaroo steaks on barbies in national parks. Dolphin defenders may point to The Cove's massacre scenes -- to the squeals of distressed beasts and a seething ocean of blood -- arguing that the manner of killing is as problematic as the killing itself. But, once again, industrial-strength double standards are at play here.

I've visited Australian cow, pig, sheep and chicken abattoirs and can attest that these are bloody disturbing, too. And at least the Taiji dolphins enjoy free-range conditions rather than battery farming before they meet their brutal unmakers.

So while The Cove's emotive and mono-sided treatment of its topic may help a smattering of one species in one part of the world, its helpfulness to the big picture planet-saving project is likely to be negligible. If anything, its aggressive cultural stereotyping may make Japan even more recalcitrant in the international stand-off over whaling.

It's also worth considering why so many cinemagoers are happy for such blatant polemic to be billed as documentary. This Trojan horsing of propaganda has a long history and is something most of us are quite cluey about.

But it's as if everyone turns off their bullshit detectors when they turn on The Cove because it involves appealing mammals rather than Michael Moore.

Perhaps Psihoyos gets away with it because -- like his oceanic subjects -- he's easy on the eye. What isn't attractive is the self-righteous and school-boyish glee he and his sanctimonious chums take in using their big boys' toys to outwit the Japanese and score their king-hit carnage footage.

This, for me, is the reason the most telling scene in the movie isn't the one with the dying dolphins. It's the shot where a Taiji fisherman -- a guy the filmmakers nickname Private Space because they say these are the only English words he knows -- is confronted by a wall of filmic technology and, refusing to go down without a fight, raises a tiny hand-held camera in his defence.

Private Space is not a likable character but this futile gesture of defiance does raise the question of whether the filmmakers, with their military-quality gear, and the dolphins, with their celebrity cheersquads, really are the underdogs in this picture.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Protecting dolphin's specie from extinction

Hon Jim Anderton

Member of Parliament for Wigram
Progressive Leader

19 November 2009
Media Speech

Does the law support sustainability of our fisheries?

A Law, Policy and Science Symposium, Otago University Stadium Centre, Wellington

Has anyone here eaten fish and chips recently?

Because apparently I’m the minister who took the fish out of fish and chips.

The fact that someone could even say that shows you how far we are from having a rational debate about the right of a minister to protect our fishing resource. Last time I looked, there was still fish in my fish and chips.

What I actually did, as Minister of Fisheries was introduce new rules in an effort to save the world's rarest and smallest dolphin from extinction. What I tried to do was pass an amendment to the 1996 Fisheries Act which would have struck the right balance between sustainability and the need to use and fish our oceans. It would have made it clear that the most important part of the minister’s job, on behalf of all New Zealanders, is to protect the sustainability of our fishing resource.

As the law stands today, it remains vague about when a minister can err on the side of caution, and act to protect a species like Orange Roughey (let alone endangered mammals like the Hector and Maui dolphins.)

Without this amendment, the Act bucks international best practice. It makes it almost impossible to come down on the side of sustainability. Because before a minister can do anything, the Act insists that the information and the science prove beyond doubt that a fish stock is at risk of catastrophic depletion.

In reality, the information we get is often incomplete and flawed. It’s very hard to follow the behaviour of a fish stock. It’s an imperfect science.

That’s why internationally, there is consensus that where information is uncertain or flawed, ministers should adopt a precautionary approach, and should not use the uncertainty of the information as a reason for postponing or failing to take measures to protect species.

This lack of clarity in the New Zealand law has allowed the fishing industry to take ministers to court when they come down on the side of protection, because they can claim that the proof is not absolute.

I couldn’t get the support across the House to get this amendment passed. This was a surprise to me, because when it had its first reading in parliament, I seemed to have the support of most political parties. Certainly the comments in the house were positive!

National MP Phil Heatley said he supported the Bill because it “provided a clearer direction to the take a cautious approach”. But between then and when the Bill was taken to Select Committee, something happened. The National Party, the Maori Party and NZ First all miraculously changed their minds. What happened? I’ll tell you what happened - certain lobby groups in the industry spoke to those MPs. The industry got to them.

And so here we are today, with nothing changed.

It’s ironic; this week, New Zealand was rated by a leading ocean studies journal as “the world’s top performing country for managing its marine and fishery resources.” The same Phil Heatley who back in 2007 allowed the industry to tell him what to do, the same Phil Heatley who made sure the Bill to improve the legislation didn’t make it out of select committee, is now the Fisheries Minister.

He couldn’t wait to tell everyone the good news about this award. What he didn’t say in his press release is that he is responsible, along with others, for the fact that we can’t implement those policies that helped us get the award, because he and others let the industry get to him before we could amend and clarify the law.

I want to make something very clear; commercial fishing is good for New Zealand. It creates jobs, and it creates exports, which help to grow our economy. But it must be done sustainably.

When I was asked to make the decision to close some of the in-shore fisheries to protect the Maui dolphin in particular and also the Hector dolphin, one of the first things I asked was - what effect would this have on the livelihoods of the fishermen affected? I felt that the economic analysis I was presented with wasn’t satisfactory. So I decided to get a full analysis done.

Plenty of people were telling me not to; they said it would only provide ammunition for the fishing industry. But I wanted all of the facts.

The economic analysis showed that 380 jobs would be lost. That to me made the decision agonising. I certainly didn’t go into politics to destroy jobs. And therefore I was very careful to minimise the impact on people affected, by taking as hard a line as I could on which areas would be protected.

In the end, the rules I introduced were not the most severe of the options proposed to me. I had to strike the best achievable balance between fishing activity and the protection of two iconic species.

We ended up with a variety of regional bans and other restrictions on set netting, trawling and drift netting in coastal waters. Set netting was banned around much of the South Island's coast, and there were new trawl restrictions close to shore on the east and south coasts.

On the upper North Island's west coast existing set net bans were extended, and new trawling and drift netting bans were introduced.

We had to do something. Alongside the economic analysis I had, the other piece of advice I was given was that we were facing the imminent extinction of these species of dolphin. At the time there were fewer than 8,000 Hector dolphins, mostly around the South Island. And the North Island Maui's dolphin was estimated to number only around 111 dolphins. It was classified as "nationally critical" by the Department of Conservation.

In all of the discussion about my decision to protect the dolphin I am yet to hear anyone say that it’s a good idea to be blasé about making an entire species - let alone a species of mammal - extinct on our watch.

Instead those who thought I was wrong claimed they’d never seen dolphin in the area of the fishery that I closed. That’s plainly because the number of dolphin has significantly reduced; there are hardly any Maui dolphins left! So of course you’re not going to see, let alone, catch them very often. But you only have to catch one in five years to risk the entire future of the Maui dolphin species.

Therefore, it was shocking to me that the law allowed the industry to use the courts to override my decision to reduce the risks to such an iconic species of mammals - native only in New Zealand.

It’s hard to understand why the fishing industry won’t see that taking a cautious approach in the short term is best for the industry too. We all benefit in the long run, when the resource grows.

That’s why the Act needs amending. It must be clear, so that lawyers and judges can’t fill the gap where there is any uncertainty. While the Act has two purposes - to provide for the utilisation of the oceans, while preserving sustainability, its paramount obligation must be to protect any species of fish or mammal where ever there is a need, even when the information is uncertain or limited.

After the courts overturned parts of my decision to close certain areas to commercial fishing, the industry seemed to think they’d won a victory. Of course this was only an interim decision, and we are still waiting for a final ruling from the High Court. I still hope that commonsense will prevail.

But at the time, I still got a letter from the fishing industry gloating that no dolphin had been recorded as caught during the interim moratorium. The letter was signed off - smugly- “We all make mistakes don’t we Jim...?”

We do all make mistakes - but this was not one of mine. The smug arrogant attitude of the fishing lobby clearly shows in how much peril the dolphins remain.

I had another letter from a commercial fisherman that was written in a different tone. The fisherman wrote to tell me that he had once caught a dolphin, and not declared it. He had felt guilty ever since, and he wanted the minister of fisheries to know that dolphins and other endangered species do end up in the nets of commercial fishermen.

To be fair, the parts of the coast that the judge kept open were areas where the evidence of peril to the dolphin was weakest. On the other hand, I’d already made my decision to exclude from the closure some areas where a case existed for closure to protect the dolphins. I did that because I wanted to reduce the affects of job losses as much as possible.

For that, I was vigorously attacked by sections of the conservation movement. Their attacks were not wholly unjustified because there certainly was some small risk. But in my view it is unacceptable that the law allowed a greater risk to be taken than the one I’d already accepted; because I’d already pushed the boundary back as far as I considered reasonable and balanced.

The policy that the law allows today is a grotesque abdication of parliamentary responsibility and, in my view, was never intended to be the outcome when parliament passed the Act in 1996.
Section 10 of the original Act fails to make it clear that when the information about a fish stock is incomplete, but on balance the evidence points to a looming crisis in stock numbers, the minister must not use that flawed information as a reason to delay or fail to protect that species.

That failure to spell out the priorities clearly has meant that nearly every minister of fisheries in recent history has ended up being taken to court by the industry. The fuzziness around priorities has been a field day for lawyers.

If we decide that our priorities surrounding sustainability of our fisheries are important to us, then parliament should make that policy very clear in the law. The risk of extinction is not a risk we should take by mumbling obfuscation in the statute. Therefore the act needs to make protection from extinction explicit and not leave it to interpretation by the Courts.

This point is obscured by the case a lot of people seem to make that marine mammals should enjoy absolute protection.

Instead we should focus on protecting a mammal from extinction. This is much more clear cut than shielding a species from any potential harm at all.

No-one wants dolphins to be caught and killed and we can pass various rules about fishing practice that ensures that we minimise the dolphin by-catch. It’s reasonable to have a debate about the balance between those rules and the need to enjoy our ocean resource.

It is not reasonable to simplify the issue to a choice between utilisation of the resource on the one hand, or the complete extinction of a species on the other. Not all mammals need absolute protection.

Let me give you the example of sea lions on Auckland Island. I know there are a range of views on the sea lions, and I didn’t have any advice that they were endangered. I became very familiar with these sea lions, because for much of my term as fishing minister, I received postcards from cute little baby sea lions, that read “Dear Jim, please don’t kill my mother”!

I can tell you definitively - my receptionist received no item of correspondence more frequently each morning than these heart-felt pleas, many of them from school children insisting it would be heartless, matricide were I to authorise the slaughter of these defenceless mothers.

I’m sure these postcards were great revenue raisers for sections of the conversation movement, and for NZ Post! I have no doubt the donations poured in. I am a little more doubtful that the recipients of these generous donations were making it clear that the sea lion population in this area was not endangered; in fact it was growing satisfactorily.

On the other hand, the fishing industry does itself few favours. When I was minister we put observers on 4% of all fishing boats. That’s one out of every twenty-five fishing boats. What a coincidence it is that 100% of all reported by-catch of birds, seals or dolphins occurs only on these boats with the observers aboard!

No-one ever reports catching a dolphin, a sea lion, an albatross or any other protected species when they don’t have an observer on-board. Perhaps the fishing industry has a point and these observers are the real threat to endangered species.

Or perhaps there’s another explanation. We’re left today with a situation where the law does not clearly support the sustainability of our fisheries.

The industry should take a good hard look at itself before it takes another minister to court. Because a fish in the sea is a fish in the bank. Many fish are long lived, and if not they are generally prolific breeders. We all benefit from a cautious approach.

My story with the Maui and Hector's dolphins is a good example of why the Fisheries Act continues to need changing. The requirement for the minister to keep allowing fishing to continue until he or she can PROVE beyond doubt that the environment or an entire species is in peril - must go.

We all know that the information gathered about the state of fish stocks is rough and anecdotal, as it was when we were trying to establish exactly how many hector dolphins remain.

The industry pays for much of the research, and it should think twice before it continues to insist that we spend more money on gathering yet more information. If they give us no choice, we might just have to do that.

A minister must be able to take a precautionary position and decide to lean towards the protection of a species where there is a risk. It is our parliamentary obligation to do so.

A judge, as an interpreter of the law, should not be expected to choose between sustainability and utilisation. Sustainability should, in law, be our most important objective in fisheries management. If our fish stocks become unsustainable there will be no fish for the industry - or anyone else - to catch.

This must surely change, and I will continue to fight for that change.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Dolphin and young girl connect!

The connection between a young girl in Texas and a dolphin in Florida is inspiring that young girl to triumph over her disability.

From the time they met, it was love at first sight.

"I thought since she just loves me and I love her, we could talk to each other often and see each other," said McKenna McGough.

It is an unlikely source of encouragement for a girl who always felt different.

"Lots of my friends didn't have hearing aids, and it made me feel really uncomfortable about it," said McKenna.

Born hearing impaired, McKenna was always embarrased to wear her hearing aid or to talk with others about her condition.

Just two years ago is when a trip down to Clearwater, Fla. changed her whole world.

"It did surprise me how she was just relaxed and just loving on me," said McKenna.

There, she said she found strength in a little dolphin that could, named Winter. The dolphin was rendered tail-less after an accident.

"She's not so shy to show her stump, so why should I be shy to show my hearing aid," McKenna.

"It was a big blessing because after we saw her for the first time, McKenna started wearing her hearing aid," said McKenna's mother. "She started talking to people openly about what was wrong."

After McKenna met Winter, she wanted to know everything about the dolphin, much of which she learned in a little book. She even said she wants to be Winter's trainer when she grows up.

"I want to give back to Winter because of all the things she's done to help me," said McKenna.

That meant going without on her birthday so that Winter could have.

"She invited all of her friends and said, 'You know, just bring money or make a donation to the aquarium for me so that I can do presents for Winter,'" said McKenna's mother.

For McKenna, it was the least she could do, and she said it was a way to thank Winter for everything the dolphin did for her.

"She's helped me in not being afraid to be different," said McKenna.

McKenna has been able to see Winter six times in the last two years and said she looks forward to many more visits.

She's even had a chance to watch Winter's trainers fit the dolphin with a prosthetic tail.

"The Cove" the best place to learn about dolphins

The extraordinary documentary The Cove is a celebration of dolphins and a damnation of Japanese policies and indifference that allow the unconscionable slaughter of these exceptional animals and the proliferation of mercury poisoning in humans who are tricked into eating toxic dolphin meat disguised as whale meat.

Amongst other environmentally related themes, The Cove is specifically about the horrific slaying of dolphins in the small, picturesque tourist hub of Taiji, in the southern part of the Japanese archipelago. Its grim theme aside, the film is immensely entertaining—a kind of eco-adventure thriller—and is sure to be regarded as one of the most important films of 2009.
The Cove also looms as one of the major commercial successes for the documentary genre this year. Suggesting a strong critical response, the film has already won a slew of audience awards at festivals like Sundance, Seattle, HotDocs, Toronto, Sydney, Nantucket, Silverdocs, Newport and, just recently, the Maui Film Festival.

With Roadside Attractions handling the theatrical release, Lionsgate the DVD and Participant Media overseeing the social-action aspects, The Cove will reel in audiences and not a little controversy. But director Louie Psihoyos and the Cove team are most hopeful that the film will heighten awareness of the tragic plight of the dolphins in Taiji specifically and, globally, as captives for amusement shows and as examples of the overall depletion of fish stock in the world’s oceans.

Psihoyos’ journey to the project was the result of personal concerns, skills, friends in good places, dogged journalistic curiosity, and an adventurer’s thirst for the chase that led to the first-ever filming of the ritual dolphin slaughter in Taiji’s once ultra-secret cove.
Also noteworthy is that Psihoyos, a celebrated still photographer, makes his directorial debut with the film. “I had never made a film before but took a three-day crash course in filmmaking a few years ago with a local filmmaker in Boulder. I learned on a prosumer HD camera and then we graduated to Sony HD.”

Prior to undertaking The Cove, Psihoyos had made his reputation as one of the top still photographers in the world. Hired directly out of college to shoot for National Geographic, he spent 18 years with the iconic yellow-bordered, nature and location-focused magazine.

Continuing in the “still life,” he has been under contract with Fortune magazine and shot hundreds of covers for other magazines including Smithsonian, Discover, GEO, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, New York, Sports Illustrated and Rock and Ice. His work has also been seen on The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television and The History Channel. And museums and private collectors around the world collect his photography.

But while his early years with National Geographic hooked him on geographic and environmental concerns, it was Psihoyos’ love of diving and diving photography that afforded a lens on what was happening to the world’s waters—the planet’s crucial resource.

In 2005, when the urge to motivate change really hit, he created the non-profit organization The Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) with tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jim Clark as a way of affording the public and media a window into the beauty as well as the destruction of the oceans.

The Cove, the inaugural OPS film project, is an unabashed celebration of dolphins, highly sentient and highly intelligent mammals, famously exploited for entertainment in the worldwide TV show “Flipper” and now, as captives, in amusement and theme parks worldwide. But it’s their routine luring, trapping and slaughter in Taiji that is the film’s central concern.
The Taiji authorities have worked hard and ruthlessly to keep what goes on in the cove a secret. After all, dolphins caught that are suitable for shows can bring as much as $150,000 each. Unlucky ones that are slaughtered can earn their killer fishermen from $600 to $1,000 each.

Psihoyos learned of the awful ritual from former “Flipper” producer turned dolphin activist Ric O’Barry after seeking him out at a San Diego convention. Psihoyos was hoping to catch O’Barry as the advertised keynote speaker, but convention sponsor Sea World ultimately banned O’Barry because he is so vocal against their captivity.
Disappointed by his non-appearance, Psihoyos made a blind call to O’Barry. Recalling the conversation, Psihoyos says that “I couldn’t imagine any civilization killing dolphins, so Richard invited me along the following week to see the little town with the big secret.” Clark also joined up.

The eponymous cove is off-limits to outsiders, yet, paradoxically, is located in the center of Taiji. In spite of its location, it is carefully guarded and cut off from the public.
Another paradox is that Taiji, with so many dolphin monuments and statues, pretends to celebrate the species. Observes Psihoyos, “Our first impression was that the town is right out of a Stephen King novel. Outwardly the town is about reverence and respect and love of dolphins and whales, but what was happening in the secret cove told a horror story that I was determined to get.”

What Psihoyos saw was that outsiders were not permitted to see. It was then that the idea struck to try to infiltrate the cove and film what had eluded others like the BBC and Time magazine. Thus, thanks to O’Barry’s invitation, the big adventure—and the Cove movie—began.

O’Barry, who figures prominently in the doc, explains that he spent ten years as dolphin trainer for the “Flipper” show before going to the other side where, for 38 years, he has been active on behalf of dolphins, campaigning tirelessly against their captivity and extolling the virtues of these amazing yet sadly endangered creatures.

The Cove makes clear that beyond the dolphins’ high intelligence, deep emotional capabilities and preternatural physical dexterity as exemplified by their huge leaps and swimming speed, they are the only wild animals known to come to the rescue of humans. They are also highly communicative and their sonar capabilities—their unique ability to hear and detect—are unique.

But The Cove is hardly just a nature piece extolling the dolphins. What makes it the entertainment powerhouse it is and gives the film its structure and momentum is the adventure surrounding the filmmaking team’s infiltration of the Taiji cove so that the unconscionable slaughter can be filmed for the first time and shown to the world.

This “mission” to get past the Taiji perps—local government, police, guards and the bullying, murdering fishermen—has aspects of Ocean’s Eleven and even Man on Wire. Says Psihoyos, “We had the same variety of characters as Ocean’s Eleven, the same crazies, techies, millionaires, etc., but a very different model because we are on the documentary side. It wasn’t just about getting into the cove. We are a vehicle for change, for informing people about what’s going on there and in the oceans. It was about our struggle to get footage to put all this across.”

Besides the plight of the dolphins regularly trapped and slaughtered in the cove, the film addresses other themes, including growing mercury content in food and the mounting danger of mercury poisoning in humans, depletion of the oceans, the failings of the International Whaling Commission, the tragedy of whale hunting, and the Japanese government’s cover-up and promotion of toxic dolphin meat as edible.

But the main focus is on the stealth filming in Taiji. Notes Psihoyos, “About 23,000 a year were killed [at the cove] until recently. Now it’s less only because there are fewer dolphins as a result of the slaughters. The Japanese government is going through dolphin stock like they’re going through whaling stock.”

He provides some insight into Japanese thinking: “The Japanese cannot rely so much on land for their food, so they look to the oceans, to the sea, for their nourishment and the government promotes the notion that the oceans are sustainable, which they are not. I did have an interesting encounter on a long plane ride when I met by chance the guy in Japan in charge of all slaughter of dolphins and whales. He’s aware of the horror that is happening, but he’s worried about food security for his country.”

For The Cove, the “overriding, first achievable goal,” he says, would be to shut down the infamous cove and its activities. “This won’t happen because the government is offended by the slaughter,” he says, “but that it realizes the very real danger of mercury poisoning and the harm it is doing in promoting and serving toxic meat to consumers. A second goal with the film is to make people think twice about going to an animal park where these beautiful, sentient animals are trained to do stupid tricks.”

As a documentary and one fraught with so many important themes, The Cove hardly suggests the term “buddy movie,” but Psihoyos’ buddies were instrumental in making the film possible.

For years, Cove executive producer and entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jim Clark, perhaps best known as the force behind Silicon Graphics, Netscape and WebMD, has been Psihoyos’ diving “buddy.” Explains Psihoyos, “As divers, we’ve together seen the degradation of oceans. Jim thought up the idea of starting OPS, which was founded and now headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, as both an organization and studio. Asked about addressing oceanic concerns at a landlocked home base and film studio, Psihoyos jokes, “We’re conveniently located between two oceans.”

Clark was with Psihoyos when he first went to Taiji with Ric O’Barry and, most importantly, agreed to get on board and provide the initial funding when the idea struck Psihoyos to do the film.

Charles Hambleton, Psihoyos’ clandestine-operations director and first assistant on the film, is his “best buddy.” On a subsequent trip to Taiji after it was decided to make a film, “he and I went to the Taiji mayor’s office for cooperation. They told us ‘No’ and were kind of threatening us. We feared we’d come away empty-handed like everyone else who has tried to film the cove. So it was Charles’ idea to bring in the military-grade thermal camera that was rigged for shooting video.”

Other “buddies” on the film include actor/director/producer Fisher Stevens, producer of The Cove who is a diver and knew Clark and Psihoyos, and Boulder native Paula DuPré Pesmen, the other Cove producer, who worked on many big Hollywood projects before joining OPS. Psihoyos describes Stevens as “the closer” because he brought in the finishing team for the film and Pesmen “the pitcher,” because “she made sure we were being economically responsible.”
But quick to credit the entire Cove team, including writer Mark Monroe, editor Geoffrey Richman and composer J. Ralph, Psihoyos says, “Everyone was instrumental. As John Ford is reputed to have said, ‘Making a film is like painting a picture with an army.’”

Participant Media came on board after its entrepreneur founder Jeff Skoll saw a screening at “buddy” Norman Lear’s house a month after the film’s Sundance premiere.

Like the best of “buddy” films and in spite of its serious subject matter, The Cove is powerful entertainment. The concerns are contemporary and immediate, but much of its style is inspired by the best in filmmaking tradition.

O’Barry and the many dolphins seen, including archival material of those used in the “Flipper” series, are among the film’s most memorable heroes. The villains are equally vivid, whether they are the brutal, aggressive Taiji fishermen involved in the killings, the conspiring authorities or the International Whaling Commission lawyer Dan Goodman, a seemingly toady mouthpiece for IWC interests. About Goodman, Psihoyos comments, “What a spin doctor! He’s out of central casting.”

But Psihoyos is careful to note that the IWC isn’t all bad. “They are half and half, both good guys and evil.”

Also in the traditional vein, The Cove is the story of a journey, really two journeys. One is that of O’Barry, who is prominently onscreen in the archival footage from his decade with “Flipper” to his reborn, 38 years as an activist fighting dolphin captivity and working for their welfare.

But the film’s biggest journey is that of Psihoyos’ team, who successfully plan and execute their nighttime “Mission: Important.” Ingeniously and with great difficulty, the team enabled the first footage of the cove activity. They included several top free-divers who helped set up the underwater cameras and hydrophones, and special-effects wizards at Kerner Optical/Industrial Light & Magic, who built rock casings to hide cameras.

The cameras, which were also crucial to keeping the team from getting arrested, included state-of-the-art, military-grade thermal cameras for night viewing and gyro-stabilized cameras for the aerial footage from helicopters. Psihoyos calls the thermal cameras “most interesting because they gave us the security of knowing where the guards and police were.” The thermal footage is black-and-white, whereas the more conventional night-vision camera delivered green-tinted material. Psihoyos explains the difference between these cameras, which both capture footage in the dark: “The regular night-vision camera uses a different spectrum of wavelength of light, while the thermal uses heat.”

“The police,” recalls Psihoyos, “were constantly on the hunt for us,” but on the all-crucial night of the shoot, he and covert-operations director Hambleton, in what was one of the filmmaker’s scariest moments, managed to escape them by driving through a tiny mountain road.

The Cove doesn’t just generate solid entertainment and crucial awareness of critical issues. It also provokes questions like: Might the final bloody scene of the dolphin slaughter be too tough for many viewers who are too young or already so sensitive to human abuse of helpless animals?

Psihoyos reminds that the film is rated PG-13. “We could have made it unwatchable,” he says, “but some of the sequences of the killing are beautiful in a horrific way—so strange and surreal, like a Bosch painting.”

Other questions arise. When, for instance, will The Cove be shown in Japan? Psihoyos says the film is being considered for the Tokyo Film Festival but notes that the director of the festival just wrote to say that the event is controlled by the government. The filmmaker is also working with filmmaker/producer/distributor Luc Besson, who picked the film up for France and has distribution partners in Japan that he’s showing the movie to. Says Psihoyos, “One way or another, we’ll get it shown in Japan.”

The director is quick to point out that the general population of Japan appears to be ignorant of what is going on with the dolphins. “The Japanese we show the film to are shocked and embarrassed. And we’ve done about 100 random interviews with people about the slaughter and no one seems to know what is going on.”

But what is going on in Taiji these days? “They’re getting very nervous,” Psihoyos reports. “It’s now even harder to penetrate the cove because there are taller fences and more security.”

And what about the mercury poisoning from eating toxic fish (dolphins especially) that has already felled the Japanese village of Minimata? Psihoyos knows something about this because he too has some degree of poisoning. It has shown up in his blood and he also has the symptomatic hearing loss.

“What’s interesting,” he says, “is that from so many long conversations we recorded [surreptitiously] with the Taiji fishermen, it’s obvious that they are riddled with mercury themselves. Their brains are addled and their perceptions very much affected. They are villains and very ignorant and we’re not going to win over them or the other Japanese on any animal-rights issue. But we can win on the toxic-meat issue because that is very, very real. The Mayor of Taiji recently mandated that everyone in the town get tested for mercury poisoning, but the town has not released the results.”

With its first project, if not the issues, behind it, Psihoyos and Clark’s Oceanic Preservation Society is looking at several other projects in the works, the first being about how ocean reefs are disappearing. Psihoyos states, “There have been five major extinctions and reef extinction is the sixth.”

But for now, all eyes will be on The Cove, set to begin its run July 31 in Los Angeles and New York. With the release, many will be thinking more and more about the plight of dolphins and, for better or worse, may be giving second thoughts to our Japanese friends, casual and intimate and in low and high places. By virtue of geography and the painful facts presented in The Cove, they are the ones who must begin exacting the change so desperately needed, whether by speaking out or helping to change their country’s evil, harmful policies.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Paris Hilton swims with dolphins in Dubai!

She may be in Dubai to find herself a 'new best friend forever' but it seems Paris Hilton is having plenty of fun on her own.

The Hollywood socialite has only been in the country a week yet already she has fitted in a clutch of once-in-a-lifetime activities.

She has posted photos on her Twitter page of herself enjoying a camel ride, going skiing on a huge indoor mountain and swimming with dolphins.

Dubai is huge! Paris Hilton swam with dolphins in Dubai and posted the picture on her Twitter page

Dubai is huge! Paris Hilton swam with dolphins in Dubai and posted the picture on her Twitter page

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bored dolphins playing sharks volleyball?

When dolphins tire of manmade toys, they have no problem with using baby sharks as a volleyball, officials at a Florida research center said.

The activity triggers a scramble for staff to rescue the sharks at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, 58 miles north of Key West, Media Relations Coordinator Mary Stella told UPI on a recent visit.

The center has 90,000 square feet of lagoons on the Gulf of Mexico. Staff developed a plastic mesh that is used as fencing to keep the center's 19 resident dolphins in and other larger species such as predator sharks out, Stella said. She said occasionally, baby nurse sharks find their way into the lagoons and staff have to rescue them from the dolphins.

The center was home to the five dolphins that shared the lead role in the 1963 hit film "Flipper," and now has several third-generation offspring of the stars. It's also home to Theresa, who is more than 50 years old, a U.S. Navy "employee" until 1968 with a classified background, Stella said. She said the center's staff also assists in manatee rescues but has no permanent facility for them.

The center offers an assortment of "dolphin experiences" for visitors, including 20-minute, waist-deep, in-water visits in which a trainer works the mammals through routines such as a flipper-shakes, flipper-splashing and pairs towing visitors who hold onto dorsal fins.

There are also programs offering daylong courses in training and managing dolphins, marine research and special needs programs for the disabled.

During a recent visit, spectators watching small groups of visitors enter the lagoon area remarked to UPI that "as soon as people see dolphins, they smile." Indeed, the animals appeared healthy and happy and could be seen frolicking on their own without a trainer's instructions. Visitors who touched the dolphins described the feeling as being like "wet hot dogs" or "wet suede."

However, such facilities have their enemies, the biggest being the Humane Society of the United States.

In 1996, Naomi Rose, HSUS marine mammal scientist in Washington told UPI the society "strongly disapproves" of any swim with dolphin programs.

"I'm not denying there's probably therapeutic value to interacting with these animals but there's also therapeutic value in interaction with puppies, kittens, goats and sheep," Rose said.

The society's Web site takes a more aggressive stance against marine facilities.

"Experience has proven that public display does not effectively educate the public and that profit is the main motive for conducting traumatic and stressful captures," the site says.

The DRC's Stella acknowledged the criticism and said there remain some questionable facilities in the United States and elsewhere. She pointed out, however, the center is not-for-profit and quoted the mission statement: "The health and well-being of DRC's dolphins hold absolute precedence over all other interests."

She denied claims that dolphins must perform to be fed, saying the center goes through some 300 pounds of fresh fish each day, with vitamins and antibiotics added when needed.

"We ask dolphins to participate -- we don't force," she said. "The truth of the matter is, you cannot make a dolphin do anything it doesn't choose to do."

Stella said the "Flipper" movie was integral in her personal career choice. The New Jersey native said after seeing the movie as a child, her parents brought her to the center in the 1960s and her passion for dolphins began. She said the 70 largely part-time staff and 20 volunteers often spend far more hours at the site than scheduled, and as with the visitors, UPI observed near-permanent smiles on workers' faces.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Two dolphin species gain state recognition

And the winner of the battle between the North Atlantic right whale and the bottlenose dolphin is ... Alice Drive Elementary School.

It was the efforts of Alice Drive students that ultimately led to the passage of legislation recognizing three official state animals — the bottlenose dolphin as the state marine mammal, the Northern right whale as the state migratory marine mammal and the wood duck, also known as the summer duck, as the state duck.

“It was because of our efforts that two mammals got recognized,” said Lynn Eldridge, the art teacher at Alice Drive who started the schoolwide project on the Northern right whale. “If it wasn’t for us, bottlenose dolphins wouldn’t have gotten recognized. Now, they both are.”

All they were originally after was recognizing one, the Northern right whale, which has been known to give birth to calves off the South Carolina coast as it migrates from its summer home of New England to its winter home of Florida.

“I was completely impressed with what all the young folks at Alice Drive had done and all the effort put into it by the principal, Mrs. (Lynn) Eldridge and others,” said Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, who sponsored the original bill that would have recognized the Northern right whale as the state marine mammal and who helped forge the compromise in the last couple of days of the legislative session.

“We all know the reason that teachers do that is to give students something to identify with and, hopefully, get them involved in the learning process,” he continued. “She certainly did a great job with that.”

The students found out about the compromise Wednesday morning. Principal Debbie Thomas made sure to include in the daily announcements that the bill became law without Gov. Mark Sanford’s signature.

For the most part, they were happy with the outcome. But some students said the bottlenose dolphin doesn’t deserve the recognition because it is not endangered, and it pales in size and majesty to the Northern right whale.

“I was disappointed we had to split with the bottlenose dolphin because we started the whole thing with the right whale,” said David Cooper, 10, a fourth-grader. “We put a whole lot of work into it, and (the bottlenose dolphin supporters) came in halfway through it.”

It all started as a desire on the part of art teacher Lynn Eldridge to decorate a large wall in the cafeteria. It evolved into a schoolwide project in which students of all grade levels learned about the Northern right whale and other South Carolina symbols. Leventis agreed to sponsor the legislation after visiting the school in December and being impressed with the students’ work.

They came up not only with murals of whales, and facts about them, on school walls, but also a song and dance.

Leventis introduced the bill Jan. 14. But two weeks later, Sen. George E. “Chip” Campsen III, R-Charleston, introduced a rival bill to name the bottlenose dolphin as the state marine mammal. Both measures ended up languishing in committee throughout the legislative session.

Then, in the final week, Leventis noticed a bill that would name the wood duck the official state duck. He approached Campsen about adding amendments to that measure that would recognize both mammals. After some negotiation, they came to the compromise, and the amendments were included on the bill that was approved by both the House and Senate on May 21, the last day of the session.

Campsen said Wednesday he was satisfied with the compromise, but he wanted to make clear his motives. Leventis had theorized that the South Carolina Ports Authority was behind the bottlenose dolphin drive because in its view, naming the Northern right whale as the state’s official marine mammal would hurt business. The authority has opposed federal regulations passed in December requiring ships not to approach a Northern right whale any closer than 500 feet except in limited circumstances.

“Everyone who thinks I’m a stooge of the Ports Authority ought to look at my opposition to rail access on the northern end of the port,” Campsen said. “This purely flows from my lifetime of passionate experience in our marine ecosystem. I hunt in it, surf in it, have spent my whole life in it. I just felt like we should have something more endemic to the area as the state marine mammal. ... And the whale really is a migratory mammal.”

In the end, the students said they learned a lot about the legislative process and the need to be persistent.

“If you want something, you’ve got to keep going,” said fifth-grader Christian Hithe, 11.

Contact Staff Writer Jason Wermers at or (803) 774-1295.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stop Risso's dolphins' slaughter!

In March 09 it was reported that the people of the Feroe Island in Denmark were caught slaughtering many Risso's Dolphins in celebration of their toughness. Risso's Dolphins are of friendly nature, and trust only humans, therefore when they get close to shore, they are caught in nets and slughtered. Tell Anders Fogh Rasmussen to say no to this, and stop these rapid and heartless killings at once.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"