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The Cove 

Documentary that illuminates the dark underside of the dolphin biz

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Ric O'Barry trained dolphins for the hit 1960s TV show Flipper. Since then, he's become a highly visible fighter for dolphin rights, advocating for their release from theme parks and swim-with programs, and working to prevent their needless slaughter. One such site of concern is Taiji, a picturesque fishing village in Japan, the source of most of the world's "working" dolphins. There, such animals can sell for up to $150,000 each, but the majority – netted in huge sweeps – go for a couple hundred dollars and are killed for meat. 

All this and more comes to light in Louie Psihoyos' muckraking documentary about Taiji's secretive cove. The narrative is driven primarily by an undercover operation O'Barry spearheads to discover exactly what happens behind Taiji's fences.  

The film is never not interesting, but suffers somewhat from a scattershot approach. The drama turns on three bitter ironies that, while discussed, could have been honed more sharply. Irony No. 1 is O'Barry's singular role in popularizing the use of captive dolphins as entertainment. No. 2: Killing dolphins for food is a Pyrrhic game, since their flesh is extraordinarily high in mercury. And No. 3, and least explored: Dolphins are mammals, smarter and more sentient than our beloved, pampered dogs, yet they suffer greatly from their resemblance to fish, to which we credit little.

The film picks up steam when O'Barry and his crew begin their covert surveillance of Taiji's dolphin cove. It's a real-life action thriller, complete with neat-o high-tech gadgets. The fun stops, though, when the videotape is reviewed: What happens to the dolphins is shocking and horrifying. It's not easy to watch, but we should see: This is dark side of that supposedly fun stuff dolphins do for our amusement. In English, and some Japanese, with subtitles. Manor

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