You all probably remember, or at least know of, the beloved television series “Flipper.” An integral part of the success of “Flipper” was Richard O’Barry who, in the 1960’s was the world’s leading authority on dolphin training. The Flipper lagoon, dock and house were actually O’Barry’s and it’s where he trained and cared for the dolphins who took turns playing Flipper. Well cared for and free to swim in open waters, it all came to a screeching halt with the cancellation of the tv show and the dolphins being sent to a seaquarium. It was there that O’Barry’s special dolphin, the one who played the majority of Flipper scenes, Kathy, died in his arms. Contained in a small tank, unable to swim free, engage with humans and exercise properly, according to O’Barry, he truly believes that Kathy finally just gave up from depression. And in that one moment, O’Barry knew what his life’s calling would be – making certain that cestaceans (whales, dolphins) be kept free. Now a self-proclaimed “abolitionist” of dolphin captivity, it is O’Barry’s advocacy and activism that bring us THE COVE.
I had a chance to sit down with Rich in late June to talk about dolphin advocacy and THE COVE.
DLE: Hello again Ric. Hello
RO: Hello! It’s like “Groundhog Day”! I just saw you.
DLE: I know. I’m like a bad penny that keeps coming back.
DLE: I am a great admirer of yours and the work you have been doing over the years.
RO: Oh, thank you. What publication are you with?
DLE: I’m actually with 135 different publications, locally and around the world. I’m self-syndicated.
RO: Wow! Well, I hope you get our website information out so people can actually take action there to do something.
DLE: I’ve already been on the website and it’s very informative.
RO: We’re gonna fine tune it before the film comes out. Hopefully, if Obama gets enough e-mails , messages, etc., he will actually pick up the phone and do something which no president has ever done.
DLE: [U.S. government] has been a very lame duck over the years in terms of the whaling issues and preservation and things along those lines.
RO: Yes. Definitely.
DLE: A big question that I know comes up when I talk about the film already to people is that they find it very surprising that even after hearing your story that you’re such an advocate on behalf of non-captivity for dolphins. Do you believe they should not be in captivity at all?
RO: I’m an abolitionist. They do not belong in captivity. Some animals just don’t do well in captivity. Dolphins, which have a larger brain than humans….consider this. If you go to the zoo, any zoo, take a look at the snake exhibit. The snake has a very small brain. Yet a cold-blooded snake is given more consideration than the dolphins in captivity. The snake has got tree limbs to climb on and rocks to get under and something similar [to its natural environment]. But for the dolphin, which is a sonic creature whose primary sense is sound, is in a concrete box. You wouldn’t do that to a snake. You wouldn’t do that. It just wouldn’t fly. And how we were able to get away with this, I don’t know. Is it stressful [to the dolphins]? Of course, it’s stressful and that’s why the mortality rate of captive dolphins is so high because of the stress-related deaths and stress-related diseases. You go to Europe where it’s cold much of the year and Belgium and France, you find dolphins in Germany, Switzerland…dolphins are inside of a building. They were born in there. They have never seen a wild fish. They have never experienced the rhythm of the sea and the tides and the currents and they think that the roof is the sky. What are they doing here to being with. And the idea is, well, they’re supposed to be educating us. When, in fact, they don’t represent dolphins in the real ecosystem anymore than Mickey Mouse represents a real mouse. It’s a caricature of a dolphin. So it’s all about money. I am opposed to it. I am an abolitionist.
DLE: Do you see the day ever coming where humans, and I have to use the term very loosely, do you ever see the day when humans will take the time to actually be able to communicate with dolphins in their language with clicks, whistles, and learn that?
RO: Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t really think about that much. I know people are working on that. With computers, it probably will happen in our lifetime. But communication is a tricky word. You look back to the Greek era when this coin [a solid gold ring made from a Greek coin depicting a dolphin which O’Barry wears] was minted in 225 BC, and the reason it was minted – it was a very common coin at that time – there were many stories of dolphins saving the lives of human beings. If you are going to save the life of somebody, that IS communication. So it depends on what you mean by communication. That is altruism and it’s something that we reserve just for humans, but actually dolphins have been doing that for, we know, thousands of years. Those stories comes from Aristotle and Plato and other reputable sources. That should tell us that [dolphins] don’t belong in captivity.
DLE: How pleased are you with the final product with THE COVE?
RO: Very. The film represents to me, the light at the end of the tunnel. And the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train. It’s the sunshine. It’s the thing that will bring this dolphin slaughter down. It’s the thing that will get people to think twice before they buy a ticket for a captive dolphin show. Most people don’t even think when they go to these places where the dolphins come from, how’d they get here.
DLE: I have refused to ever go see them.
RO: Good for you. We’re a nation of spectators. We expect to be amused and we are teaching our children to do that. So, this film, to answer your question, represents a lot of hope in terms of educating people about that issue and I believe people will think twice before they buy a ticket now to swim with a captive dolphin. That industry, which is huge, is going to be really really pissed. And they are going to do something. They are going to react. Every action has a reaction. And they are going to feel it in their pocketbook now; at least from the people who buy the tickets. So, yeah, I am very pleased with the film. It’s better than I expected. I brought other filmmakers there, or journalists like the BBC, CNN and so forth, but this thing here took off. Now they’re talking about Academy Award.
DLE: Yes. I was going to say, I thought of that yesterday when the Academy made the announcement that they are opening up the Academy Awards for 10 films a year now instead of 5 for the Best Picture category. I immediately thought of this film as being another “March of the Penguins” but with even more. . .
RO: “An Inconvenient Truth” and “March of the Penguins” were shown at Sundance and they didn’t get eight standing ovations. But THE COVE did. So, if that’s any indication of what’s out there…. yeah, I’m very very pleased. I didn’t think that it would even get into the theatres because I’m on the ground at least six months out of the year and I know what Louie filmed because I was there. I thought, “well, that’s great if we can get this out there into a theatre. But with a theatre, people have to get in their car and drive to the theatre and stand in line to buy a ticket. Now you have to entertain them. You can’t show them this.” And so the challenge was, I was thinking, that’s the challenge – how do you make this entertaining. But Louie [Psihoyos] surrounded himself with really talented people like [producer] Fisher Stevens.
DLE: Fisher is wonderful.
RO: He’s a special guy. Then, Mark Monroe. Geoff Richman. They made this entertaining and they are winning all the awards based on this entertainment value.
DLE: They really go for that Hitchcockian thriller, building up, building up, building up. People like that. For the benefit of the film and for the dolphins, I think it’s a fantastic way to present this material.
RO: It’s the best thing that ever happened to the film. I think,
DLE: Are there any places besides Taiji where these dolphin slaughters take place?
RO: Yes. There are two more places. I work for Earth Island Institute. We’re working in the Solomon Islands and also in the Faroe Islands where something similar happens. We have limited resources, so we’re concentrating on this one cove. If we can close it, it will close for a reason and you can take that reason to the Faroe Islands and Solomon Islands and use it against the slaughter and against mercury fishing. They kill the dolphins for meat also. That’s the Achilles Heel. That’s what’s going to bring the thing down. Faroe Islands gets all the money from Denmark. For all the problems in the Faroe Islands, the solution is Copenhagen. Now when this film plays in theatres in Copenhagen, people will make the connection with the film, so it has an impact.
DLE: Ric, I can’t thank you enough. I’ve already seen the distribution list of the countries that are going to be showing THE COVE.
RO: Luc Besson in France, he’s quite supportive and distributing in France. And he also has a Japanese distribution company, so he’s going there this week.
DLE: I read about Besson’s involvement and distribution. Do you think he’ll have any luck in getting the film into Japanese theatres?
RO: I don’t know. He only owns one-third of the company but, if he can convince them there is money to be made. If they’re interested in that. . .[ laughter]
DLE: Thank you so much, Ric.
RO: Thank you Debbie. An absolute pleasure.
For more information on the dolphin slaughter, Save Japan Dolphins and Ric O’Barry’s involvement with the Earth Island Institute, go to http://www.savejapandolphins.org. For more information on THE COVE Campaign to save the dolphins, go to http://www.takepart.com/thecove/. To learn more about Louis Psihoyos, Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society, and OPS’ mission to our oceans, our creatures and our planet, go to http://www.opsociety.org/about-ops.htm.