The Cove was released in 2009 and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. The film focuses on the process wild dolphins endure when being forced into captivity so humans can be entertained at theme parks. Featured in the film is activist Ric O’Barry, who was one of the people who captured five dolphins for the 1960s television show, “Flipper.” The experience led O’Barry to become a voice for dolphins in captivity.
Blackfish directly takes aim at SeaWorld and its captive orca, Tillikum, held in captivity since his capture off Iceland’s coast in 1983. Since his capture, Tillikum has been responsible for three deaths at the amusement park. Particularly the most notable of those was the 2010 death of trainer, Dawn Brancheau, which prompted the film’s development.
The Cove paved the way for people to start thinking differently about marine mammals as entertainment, but Blackfish really drove the issue home. Since Blackfish’s release, SeaWorld’s stock has plummeted in just two years. In 2014, sales fell by 5.6 percent and its per-share earnings fell by 3.4 percent. These numbers keep falling, too. Recently, revenue fell 2.7 percent and attendance fell 2.2 percent. Last year, Southwest Airlines ended its partnership with SeaWorld and many musicians like Willie Nelson, Heart and Barenaked Ladies have spoken out against the park and boycotted performing there.
Despite these exposés and the backlash they’ve helped fuel, half the dolphins caught in Taiji, Japan have been sold. Between 2009 and 2014, there were 760 dolphins captured and sold. China bought 216 dolphins, the Ukraine bought 36, South Korea purchased 35 and Russia took in 15. Despite the mass outcry in the United States, one dolphin was sold to the country. These dolphins were primarily purchased by zoos and aquariums across the world.
The annual Taiji dolphin hunt is cruel in every sense of the word. The dolphins are driven into shallow waters by numerous boaters. These boats create a deafening sound that frightens the animals, with hunters banging metal poles against the boats. The boaters strategically place their boats in order to corral the dolphins into these shallow waters.
The dolphin hunt is not just for zoos, aquariums and amusement parks, either. From September to March, the Wakayama government permits up to 2,000 dolphins to be hunted and captured per season. Once the dolphins are ushered into shallow waters, they are tethered and large metal rods are driven into their spinal cords by the hunters. This technique results in a slow and painful death, with the dolphins bleeding out from internal injuries or drowning in their own blood.
While Japanese zoos and aquariums have voted in May to stop buying Taiji dolphins, there are still a number of other countries that contribute to this cruelty. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Waza), however, is currently fighting against the Taiji hunt. Earlier this year, the organization suspended its Japanese members (Jaza) and threatened expulsion if they continued to be associated with the annual hunt, which supplies 40 percent of the dolphins to its zoos and aquariums. There are currently 89 zoos and 63 aquariums that belong to Waza, which came under fire in March for its complicit stance on the dolphin hunt. Since then, the organization has worked to maintain a strong stance against the Taiji hunt, which will hopefully put a dent in the number of dolphins demanded from these cruel practices.