Fans of the old TV series Flipper might not know about Ric O'Barry, a one-time dolphin trainer who trained the two female bottlenose dolphins featured on that show. But that could change with the release this weekend of The Cove, a hard-hitting documentary O'Barry made with former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyas about the "dolphinarium" market -- the worldwide trade in captive dolphins.
The dolphins featured in Flipper, and at aquatic theme parks around the world, are the fortunate ones, according to O'Barry's film, which debuted earlier this year at Sundance to rave reviews, and sober contemplation. He and Psihoyas raided a secluded cove in Taiji, Japan, and planted hidden cameras. That cove is where hundreds of dolphins are herded each year so trainers can pick the best physical specimens, paying upwards of $150,000 per animal. The "losers" are slaughtered and sold for meat in Japan -- often illegally labeled as something else entirely.
O'Barry and Psihoyas are hopeful their film can raise public awareness of this unnecessary massacre of one of the most highly intelligent animal species on the planet. It has already had an impact: Japanese schools no longer serve dolphin meat, and as a result of the expose, the fisheries minister was forced to resign. They hope it may also make people think twice before buying tickets to captive dolphin performances.
* They sleep with half their brain plus one eye closed, then switch for the rest of the day. This enables them to conserve energy by slowing down everything in their body.
* Dolphins hunt in herds for their preferred food: fish and squid. Since they are at the top of the food chain, in that respect, dolphin mean tends to have higher mercury levels than other seafood.
* Just like bats, dolphins use echolocation to navigate and hunt, emitting high-pitched sounds that bounce off of objects, and using the returning echoes to determine their position.
* In 2005, a team of scientists conducted studies with dolphins at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida and taught a male bottlenose dolphin to "sing" part of the theme from Batman ("Bat-maaaaaan!"). While these vocalizations were learned, and not consciously "musical" behaviors, it is the first time a nonhuman mammal has shown an ability to discriminate rhythmic patterns, lending further credence to the high intelligence of these ocean creatures.