Page Updated 28 September 2015
The Cove is the 2009 award-winning documentary exposing the annual drive fisheries hunt of dolphins and whales in the whaling village of Taiji, Wakayama, Japan.
Drive fisheries are not historically new and several countries aside from Japan also hunt (or have hunted) animals by this method such as the Solomon Islands, the Faeroe Islands and Peru. The drive fishery at Taiji is believed to have been in existence for more than 350 years. The Cove was actually not the first to document this controversial hunt which has been highlighted over the years by magazines such as the National Geographic and in the television series by the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau in the mid-1970s. Many have rightly been very concerned regarding these hunting methods and questioned both its operation on moral, ethical and animal welfare grounds.
However, one aspect of the film that has also proved to be controversial is that in recent years a percentage of animals from this fishery has not been killed but selected for live display in public aquaria and marine parks. In 2007 (the year The Cove was made) official figures show that 13,170 dolphins and whales were hunted and killed in Japan. Of that number 1,239 were hunted in by the drive fishery method and 90 (7.3%) removed alive for aquaria.
Unfortunately, the makers of the film have taken the position that suggested that this supply of animals to aquaria and parks was the prime purpose of the hunt and that if it ceased so would the hunt itself. This is not surprising as one of the main protagonists in The Cove is animal-rights activist Ric O'Barry who is stridently opposed to dolphins being held in the care of humans in zoological parks.
Moreover, the film suggests that animals from the hunt are being transported globally to countries such as the USA and that persons visiting these parks are in fact support the killing of dolphins and whales in Japan which is basically untrue. In fact, it should be noted that most of the popular cetaceans held in both the USA (and mainland Europe) are sustained via captive breeding and therefore these populations have no need to acquired animals via live capture operations from the wild. Animals from hunts such as Taiji are generally supplied to aquaria in Asia and the Middle-East and it has recently been alleged that 15 dolphins from a Japanese drive fishery have also been imported into Turkey in 2010.
The Cetabase web site has produced a contemporary map of global facilities that currently house animals derived for drive hunts HERE.
Further, several zoological collections and organisations involved in the captive care of marine animals have made clear statements against drive fishery hunts and consider them inhumane.
Only one drive-fishery animal has until recently been held in the USA. It is a false-killer whale called Kina originally imported by the US Navy's Marine Mammal Program from Ocean Park, Hong Kong in 1987; it was transferred to the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology in 2000. This animal was used for research and was not on general public display. In September 2015 Kina and her two bottlenose dolphin companions were transferred to SeaLife Park in Hawaii. Studies on these animals echolocation and biosonar abilities will continue at the park in partnership with the University of Hawaii. Kina died at Sea Life Park in October 2019.
An attempt to import false killer whales to a US marine park acquired from a drive fishery in 1993 was blocked by the National Marine Fisheries Service as they considered such operations inhumane which has effectively banned further imports of animals into the USA from drive fisheries.
Animal rights supporters elsewhere have also cited that Sea World in California was granted an import permit for a captive pilot whale from a Japanese aquarium which joined its current group of pilot whales at San Diego on in 2012. It should be pointed out that this animal is an alone stranded animal that was rescued in January 2004 and is deemed unsuitable for release. It should be noted that this animal was not acquired by deliberate capture nor from a drive fishery.
The two facts anyone who watches The Cove should remember are: