Ironic night for a save-the-dolphins movie

"The Cove" shown on same day as fatal attack by SeaWorld whale

| Feb 25, 2010

COVE TEAM Four members of the Boulder-based team that made The Cove appeared at Dairy Center after KGNU-benefit screening Wed. night. Left to right: Gina Papabeis, Eric Abramson, Brook Aitken and Joe Chisholm. (Boulder Express photo)
Radio station KGNU’s hosted a benefit screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary film The Cove Wednesday night at an ironic time: mere hours after an orca “killer” whale had grabbed and drowned a 40-year-old female trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla.

The film, a project conceived and directed by Boulder resident Louie Psihoyos, pays lyrical praise to the graceful, highly intelligent dolphins. But it intersperses that with secretly obtained footage of the long-practiced roundup of dolphins in the waters off a small Japanese town named Taiji. Some of the dolphins are sold alive to entertainment venues like SeaWorld; the rest are slaughtered and often mislabeled as tuna, masking the dangerous level of mercury toxicity found in dolphin meat.

About 180 in the audience at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder gave four participants in the documentary film’s making a standing ovation as the screening ended, then stayed for a 45-minute question-and-answer session moderated by KGNU’s Maeve Conran.

Not meant for captivity

Commenting on the ironic day’s news from SeaWorld, panelist Gina Papabeis, a staff member at Psihoyos’s Oceanic Preservation Society (OSP), said: “We think it’s really tragic, but it’s a tragedy that could have been prevented if they weren’t keeping these animals in captivity.”

“SeaWorld’s a bad place,” added Eric Abramson, a Nederland-based filmmaker who participated in the project. “They’re promoting a culture of entrapping animals in order to entertain us. Does that say more about dolphins’ level of intelligence or about ours?”

Richard O’Barry is featured prominently in the movie. In an earlier life, he had helped capture and train the dolphins used in the TV series Flipper, only to later spend 35 years working for dolphin welfare worldwide and playing a key role in the filmmakers’ covert filmmaking in Japan. In the movie, he recalls how one of the six dolphins who’d acted the part of Flipper had died in his arms. He was convinced she had consciously chosen to end her life.

The next documentary from Oceanic Preservation Society, said Papabeis, will focus on how the burning of carbon is making the world’s oceans more acidic, wiping out the plankton at the bottom of the sea’s food chain, with dire implications for the world’s food supply.