Ocean guardians: father-son team Ric & Lincoln O'Barry reveal the truth behind dolphin trade in "The Cove" & "Blood Dolphins"
Ric O'Barry has been a leader against the cruelty inflicted upon dolphins since his days working with them during the 1960s television series "Flipper." One of the areas of the world that O'Barry, along with his son Lincoln, have targeted over the past few years is Taiji, Japan where a spot called "The Cove" became the basis of an Academy Award-winning 2009 documentary about their efforts to stop the slaughtering of dolphins. With their new three-part Animal Planet mini-series, "Blood Dolphins," the O'Barrys pick up where "The Cove" left off with the team again trying to save the lives of innocent dolphins from senseless slaughter. Besides Taiji, the men travel to the Solomon Islands, which has been labeled one of the worst areas in the world for killing dolphins for profit. Our Jim Halterman talked with Lincoln O'Barry earlier this week about the dangers of bringing cameras to further document the dolphin trade as well as how one part of the dolphin - its teeth - is viewed in some regions as more valuable than actual currency.
Jim Halterman: Your dad has been involved with saving dolphins for decades and now you're involved with his activism. Was this never a question that this was your path in life?
Lincoln O'Barry: Actually, I was more involved with the production side. Growing up with my dad, I was on the set of so many different documentaries and filmmaking and I went off and started my own production company.
JH: Is the primary point of this series to help spread the word on what's happening to these dolphins?
LO: To get the word out, yes, and when I pitched the show the pitch for me was anytime there's a dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world my dad's phone rings and it's sent us all over the world. I feel like because of the consciousness this year because of 'The Cove' there's a lot of different places and issues with dolphins that are at a tipping point and we're hoping with the series we can bring people over in favor of the dolphins.
JH: The first episode tells how your dad got involved with saving dolphins but when did it become a part of your life?
LO: In that first episode, you see a photo of me in Taiji for the first time when I was four years old. I've been going on these trips with my dad my whole life. It's interesting that that trip was in 1976 and at that time a lot of environmental groups were telling people to boycott Japan because of whaling. Because of that, Asian kids in America were getting beaten up on playgrounds so my dad went to Japan and threw a Woodstock-type concert called 'Celebrate the Whale.' Because he used the word 'celebrate' all the whalers came to the concert and once he had them all in the auditorium we were able to educate them in whaling issues and that's when you saw a big drop off in whaling.
JH: The term 'Giatsu' refers to bringing as much attention as possible to a cause so how has that approach worked for you between the movie and this series?
LO: My dad is actually about to go back to Japan for 'The Cove' and through our website he was able to get 1.7 million signatures from 165 countries that are opposed to what's going on in Taiji and my dad is delivering that to the American Embassy. That kind of constant external pressure of keeping the focus on Taiji.
JH: At one point on the show, it looked like the growing number of reporters covering the story actually were getting in your way. Did you ever think that would happen?
LO: We never once got that many Japanese press to ever show up and that was the first time it had happened and it was great but it was too much because we were trying to film at the same time. There were scenes that were cut out where at one point I had the production coordinator put on my dad's clothes and snuck him out and I had the bus go out and my dad and I jumped in the rental car and drove away. All we were trying to do was return the rental car but we didn't want the press to follow us because the rental car place would never rent a car to us again.
JH: Taiji is the focal point of the movie and part of the series. How important is the dolphin trade to the town of Taiji? Is it that big of a moneymaker for the area?
LO: It's not a huge moneymaker [for the town]. Taiji has about 3500 people but only about 26-30 total are involved in this and are making the money. How is it that Taiji is dictating Tokyo's policy in the world when they're getting so much negative publicity? You would think at some point somebody would say 'this has to stop.'
JH: What else unfolds over the course of the three episodes of the miniseries?
LO: You'll see the Solomon Islands and its indigenous hunters that hunt dolphins for the teeth and the meat and on the Solomon Islands the teeth is a form of currency. And when a man and woman get married, you have to buy the bride between a thousand and four thousand dolphins as a dowry. It's been going on for over 450 years. It varies from village to village. We also went to a village where they have a dolphin high priest and they mix dolphin worship with Christianity and Judaism and they almost equate the dolphin blood in the water to the blood of Christ in the water.
JH: In the first episode, you swim into 'The Cove' and you say that you can really feel what goes on there. Can you describe what you meant by that?
LO: When you're in there you can see that this has been going on for a long time. You can see the evidence of these big shackles on the rocks where they run wires across. They also create a whole system where they can run curtains from the top so you can't see from any vantage point what they are doing. We also go to this island where they hunt the dolphins and it's literally a bone yard and you swim over hundreds of years of dolphin bones.
JH: This is truly dangerous but would you say your determination outweighs any fear you might have?
LO: I've always believed that you stick with one thing and you do it well. We look at things that are realistic fixes and are possible.
JH: What can viewers do to help the cause and raise awareness?
LO: They can go www.EarthIslandInstitute.org to help. You can also sign petitions that are set up and there are other things there about how you can take action.
JH: Is the series also airing on an international level so everyone can see the continuation of the story from 'The Cove?'
LO: In North America it will be on Animal Planet but we just closed the international rights so it is going to air all over the world.
"Blood Dolphins" airs Fridays at 9:00/8:00c through September 17.
There are many recorded incidents of dolphins saving human lives throughout history. This Saturday, I am going to Japan to try to return the favor.
A little over a year ago while traveling, I ordered a movie called The Cove in a hotel room. Since then, there is not a single friend, family member, or twitter follower that has not heard me rave about this movie. I can say without a doubt, this is is the best documentary film I have seen in my lifetime. Earlier this year, it received the recognition it deserved when it won the Academy Award for best documentary.
I have never flown to the other side of the world because of a movie before, and I doubt that I ever will again. If that doesn't give you an idea of how powerful this film is, consider the fact that the filmmakers risked—if not their lives—their freedom, to get the footage. As one movie critic put it, "The film itself is an act of heroism."
The little town with the really big secret (which is not so secret anymore) is set to turn their cove crimson again, starting on September 1st. This is the reason I am flying to Japan where I will join Ric O'Barry, the hero of the film and the loudest voice for the 23,000 dolphins slaughtered every year in that bloody cove in Taiji. But Ric is not just speaking for dolphins, he is speaking for humans as well. I don't want to go into the issues addressed in the film too deeply because I would rather you see it for yourself—however, realize there are serious consequences for humans in this documentary as well. All of us - every human on this planet - has something at stake here.
With their smiling faces and well documented intelligence, dolphins seem to be loved around the world. In the ultimate irony, our love for the playful dolphin created the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry which in turn created the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world. This movie will open your eyes and once they are open, you can never close them again. Ordinary things will begin to look different to you, particularly dolphin parks.
Environmental writer Barbara Tufty once said, "Dolphins exhibit a friendly willingness to cooperate with other earth creatures - a rare attribute which another animal, Homo Sapiens, has not yet learned to do with any consistency." Ah, how the truth can sting.
[The Cove] has the power to change your DNA, to compel every molecule in your body into taking action. So do something important this week, watch this movie and then look in the mirror and ask yourself. And if you are so inclined, flights leave for Japan every day.
Unless you purposefully ignore pop culture news coverage, you're likely familiar with The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary revealing the annual dolphin hunts in Japan. The film made an incredible impression on global audiences and uncovered hidden secrets about dolphin and whale meat in Japanese fish markets. However, Animal Planet knows the story can't be held in just one documentary film. Blood Dolphins is a miniseries that delves deeper into dolphin hunts.
The Blood Dolphins three-part series features Ric O'Barry, the leader behind ending dolphin hunts, and his son Lincoln as they travel across the world trying to stop the slaughter.
The first episode shows O'Barry returning to the cove where last year's hunt was delayed, thanks to the impact of the documentary. The second episode sees the advocates off to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, which has become a central part of the blood trade in wild dolphins. The third episode shows the progress they try to make in ending the trading in this part of the world, which could have far-reaching impacts on ending slaughters and round-ups on a large scale.
Dolphins are considered sentient beings, and scientists who recognize the self-awareness and complex social structure on par with that of humans argue that they should be granted non-human person status, complete with the rights to life, liberty and well-being. In other words, they're one notch away from humans, so please don't eat them.
Days ago, I was surrounded by a pod of Spinner dolphins off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. There must've been at least fifty of them, including babies that looked like silver nerf balls skimming the surface as they bounced up and down, budding their small heads. The dolphins were not in any hurry, so they flipped and dived around us in almost choreographed repetition, some flipping airborne at least three feet above water. Our small eco tour group cheered at each leap and delighted as they swam close enough to our raft to touch them.
After this experience, I couldn't help but think about "Blood Dolphins," a three-part series on Animal Planet produced by Ric and Lincoln O'Barry, the father/son team featured in last year's Oscar award-winning documentary The Cove. I recently attended a Television Press Tour Q&A with the filmmakers, where a reporter queried, "Why save dolphins?"
The elder O'Barry responded with the thoughtful passion that bears out his five-plus decades of marine work: "[Throughout history] dolphins have saved the lives of humans. That's special. That's altruism. That's communication." He believes they are highly intelligent, self-aware and complex creatures. The surreal experience of these seemingly foreign creatures practically performing, and interacting with my raft group, made me appreciate their supreme nature all the more.
Witnessing dolphins swimming free in their habitat first-hand is one thing, but O'Barry is vehemently opposed to captive environments. "We've been brainwashed into thinking that dolphins belong in a concrete tank doing tricks for us, and somehow that translates into conservation," says the ocean crusader who once trained Flipper, America's favorite dolphin. "Flipper was a blood dolphin. Shamu is a blood dolphin. That is the reality of it. My hope is that with 'Blood Dolphins,' viewers will think twice about seeing a captive dolphin show."
"One of the dirty little secrets is, where did these animals come from?" offers the younger O'Barry. "They didn't just magically appear in these aquariums. In countries where they allow the slaughter of dolphins, typically they're also allowing the export of dolphins."
"Blood Dolphins" tracks the dirty secrets of dolphin hunting and slaughter in Taiji, Japan and the South Pacific's Solomon Islands. "The largest slaughter takes place [in an area of the Solomon Islands] and has been going on for 400 years. They kill about 2,000 dolphins a year," shares the senior O'Barry. The natives use dolphin teeth as a form of currency. So O'Barry and his crew worked with the chiefs to end the slaughter. "We find ways to subsidize them by giving money to each family to get involved in sustainable projects, like bee keeping." Just last year, three chiefs signed a contract to terminate dolphin slaughter.
For every victory, however, saving dolphins is a dangerous business, especially when it means meddling in organized crime. "In Japan I have become a marked man," explains Ric O'Barry. "There are groups we have to stay out of their way [such as] the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, who are very involved in whaling and fisheries industry. And two right-wing violent groups [with] a history of violence. We're trying to shut down the traffic in captive dolphins and that is a multi-billion dollar industry." To emphasize the point, he adds: "I've lost two associates who were murdered."
The O'Barrys anticipate that "Blood Dolphins" will be a game changer in how we see our relationship with dolphins and, ultimately, with our relationship to the planet. After all, Ric O'Barry notes, "There is no point in saving the dolphins without saving their habitat."
"Blood Dolphins" three-part series premieres on Animal Planet August 27, 11 PM ET/PT.
The Cove first television broadcast on Animal Planet August 29, 9 PM ET.
A year after Ric O’Barry’s efforts to expose the shocking clandestine massacre of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, were chronicled in the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove", the man who once captured and trained dolphins is continuing his crusade to save them from slaughter and captivity - his efforts documented by his filmmaker son Lincoln for a new Animal Planet series, "Blood Dolphins".
Premiering Aug. 27, the series picks up where the film left off with a return to Taiji in September 2009, the O’Barrys armed with cameras and accompanied by reporters from Japanese and world media. Alas, publicity couldn’t change the outcome, but the O’Barrys are encouraged by new developments such as their success in stopping dolphin slaughter in the Solomon Islands, the subject of subsequent episodes. On the eve of the 2010 Taiji dolphin hunt, Ric and Lincoln bring MNN up to date on their activities, goals, and how they plan to achieve them.
MNN: Your return to Taiji in the first episode drew media attention. Has 'The Cove’s release in Japan made a difference?
Lincoln: Yes, it’s doing phenomenal numbers and selling out at every screening. It’s becoming more of a human rights and freedom of speech issue: ‘See the movie they don’t want you to see.’ A lot of young people are seeing the movie and they didn’t grow up eating whale and dolphin. They’re the ones that are going to get behind it.
Ric: Every time we leave, they’re exposed more on an international level. Because of the Internet, they know they’re in the spotlight. The TV series will help even more. What you’ll see in "Blood Dolphins" is real results. In the Solomon Islands, we signed a contract with three chiefs and the dolphin slaughter that went on for 400 years is over. It’s not sustainable, and they admit that. We told them we will support change and alternatives, and that’s what we will do.
What do you hope "Blood Dolphins" will accomplish?
Lincoln: Because of the popularity now of dolphins in captivity, there are so many places in the world where dolphin slaughter and exports are happening. It’s kind of at a tipping point, and I think the added pressure and bringing attention to them can shut down a lot of these things. A lot of aquariums claim education; that they’re letting people know about the plight of dolphins, but you’re not to going to see any behaviors that a dolphin would do in the wild.
Ric: They’re not performing circus clowns and they’re not domesticated animals. They are self-aware, with a brain larger than the human brain, and they don’t belong in captivity. The dolphins are not actually owned by the aquariums. All the aquariums have is a permit to display them and the regulation is you can only display them if it’s educational. They’ve bastardized the definition of education. It’s casual amusement and it’s really illegal.
Lincoln: People think dolphins magically appear in the aquarium. It’s a very dirty, ugly business where they come from and we’re going to show that in the series.
Ric: It’s an optical illusion. The dolphin is smiling, the water is turquoise, you have your family with you. Most people don’t get it. "Blood Dolphins" will change that. It’s supply and demand. If people see it, they’ll think twice before they buy a ticket. It has to come from the consumers, not the International Whaling Commission or the government. We’d like to see all dolphin captures stop, and implement birth control for those that can’t be released into the wild. There’s no reason for a dolphin to be born in captivity.
Lincoln: Somebody that sees dolphins in their natural habitat is more likely to protect dolphins and their habitat, which is equally important. We also hope that just like "The Cove", we create a legion of new activists. I hope what people get across from this show is that an individual person can make a difference. My dad has been doing this by himself for so long and now he’s finally getting the accolades. You can actually change things. You can go to www.savejapandolphins.org for more information.
Ric: We want to be put out of business, not needed. That’s the goal.
Animal Planet is premiering Blood Dolphins, a show inspired and created by the makers of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. In the documentary, Ocean Preservation Society co-founder Louie Psihoyos and dolphin trainer-turned-dolphin-savior Ric O'Barry teamed up to expose the secret annual slaughtering of 20,000 dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Now, O'Barry and his son O'Barry have developed a three-part TV miniseries to continue spreading their message. I spoke with the father-son duo about their mission, their Ocean's 11-style setup, and bringing their cause to TV.
Have you seen any changes in Taiji as a result of the documentary? Why was it important to continue your mission with a TV series?
Ric: The dolphin killing season begins September 1st every single year and lasts through March. So it will begin again soon and we’ll be there. We have to keep the pressure on Taiji and in the news until it stops.
Where else have you traveled as part of the show?
Lincoln: The Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. It happens [there] for a different reason. In that episode, there’s an indigenous tribe that, for 400 years, has hunted dolphins for their teeth and meat. In the Solomon Islands, the teeth are actually a form of currency. When a man wants to get married he has to give the bride’s family between 1,000 and 4,000 dolphin teeth. But the villagers do realize that years ago, they were able to get dolphins right off of the coast near their village. Now they have to paddle their one-man canoes 20 miles to find the dolphins and then bring them back 20 miles in. They realize that this is not sustainable, they want to change and don’t want to buy bribes with teeth anymore. They want to use currency. So we were actually able to negotiate a deal the day that we were there filming. The hunt officially ended after 400 years. And it was probably the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world.
Ric: We didn’t put out a press release although it’s a historic moment. After, can you imagine, 400 years? It came down like the Berlin Wall. And we want people to see it on Blood Dolphins. This is big news.
Lincoln: What we found is that, typically, countries that will allow the slaughter of dolphins will allow the export of dolphins. So by doing this series, we’re closing the circle. We are making the chances smaller for dolphin dealers to to supply dolphins to the aquarium industry.
Who else is on the team that you've assembled? What are the different roles?
Lincoln: I have my sort of Ocean’s 11 team. There’s four of us: There’s my dad and me, and then there’s someone named Kate Tomlinson who is a still photographer. She and I usually go on the first mission undercover, as a sort of goofy tourist couple. And we’re able to film things in the raw form. And then later, I bring the rest of the team. One of the other main team members is a guy named Peter Zucalini, who’s probably the top underwater cinematographer in the world. He shot underwater sequences for all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Into the Blue, and Jumpers. In each place, we use a lot of technology and hidden cameras. The technology that we use to film is also a sort of character on the show.
What we saw in the documentary - the mass dolphin slaughterings taking place in Taiji - was overwhelmingly disturbing and graphic, albeit necessarily so. Will Blood Dolphins be similar, footage-wise? Have you experienced any restrictions in terms of what you’re allowed to show?
Lincoln: No, but we are careful to not lose the viewers by showing anything too graphic. We try to water down the slaughter as much as possible. The name Blood Dolphins doesn’t pertain so much to the slaughter as it is a reference to the trafficking and trade of dolphins, just like Blood Diamonds.
How are you liking the father-son collaboration so far?
Ric: Well, we do different things. I’m not a filmmaker and Lincoln is. I work for the Earth Island Institute, so I’m not really paying attention, I’m just doing my sort of normal day job. But it’s a wonderful thing, working together. I have to be reminded. Like I hear "Hey dad, we’re trying to do a TV show here"”
Lincoln: I found that after The Cove, a lot of people asked me questions and wanted to know a lot more about my dad. And so it’s coming from a father-son relationship. It's more of a personal point of view, giving insight into his personal life and motivation.
What would you recommend to viewers who would like to take action and support your cause?
Ric: Real education is about getting all the information to make up your own mind. Having said that, we’re hoping that the viewers of Blood Dolphins, will think twice before buying a ticket for a captive dolphin show. Because that’s really the solution. The consumers have all the power, but they don’t have the information. They’ve been brainwashed by this industry into thinking dolphins actually belong in captivity. They’ve been brainwashing people since 1938 into thinking that there’s some connection between performing dolphin shows and conservation. It’s a big lie and I think that’s exposed in Blood Dolphins.
Lincoln: People can also go to the Earth Island Institute website and get involved in letter writing or other forms of support. For instance, in the Taiij episode, we focus a little bit on a man named Mr. Ishii, who was a former fifth generation dolphin hunter. One day, he had his moment of epiphany and couldn’t do it anymore. And now he’s converted his dolphin hunting boat into dolphin watching. So it’s about supporting people like that.
One thing we really hope to expose in this show is the one question people don’t ask when they go to aquariums. They ask, 'What are the dolphins’ names?' and 'How long do they live?' But they don’t ask, 'Where do these dolphins come from?' And we’re going to reveal where captive dolphins that are supplying the aquarium industry are coming from. And you find how these dolphins are captured and how these dolphins are slaughtered. I think people will never buy a ticket again.
So, what’s your next mission?
Lincoln: We are currently in production on a few other countries, but I can’t say where just because of the nature of the filming that we’re doing. We’re in surveillance mode and I don’t want to jeopardize the crews that I have there. [Dolphin slaughter] is not just isolated to Japan or the Solomon Islands. It happens all over the world. So we will be going to all these places.
Blood Dolphins premieres on Friday, August 27 at 11 p.m. on Animal Planet.
These are dark days in Taiji, Japan, as far as conservationists are concerned, because this week marks the beginning of the annual dolphin hunt in the remote village made famous last year by the Academy Award-winning documentary, "The Cove." The hunt began Wednesday despite widespread international opposition and protests in Tokyo.
Ric O'Barry, who trained dolphins for the 1960s show "Flipper" and helped produce "The Cove," traveled to Tokyo and delivered a petition of opposition, signed by 1.7 million people from 155 countries, to the U.S. Embassy. The activist, who also has produced an Animal Planet miniseries called "Blood Dolphins," was forced to cancel a trip to Taiji amid alleged threats from an ultra-nationalist group. "I wish all these people could be in Taiji," O'Barry told The Associated Press. "It was too dangerous. The big losers are the people of Taiji."
O'Barry, 70, and the group Save Japan Dolphins have produced a celebrity-studded public service video -- Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Robin Williams are just a few to lend a voice -- intended to tug on heartstrings and convince citizens who appreciate dolphins as intelligent mammals to become involved in the campaign to end the hunts. The video, which has been viewed by 500,000 people, is linked above. Please share your thoughts.
Photos courtesy of Animal Planet, Junji Kurokawa/AP, and TV.com
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