As far as the movie goes, it was a lot of buildup, not much payoff. The comparison that came to mind is Man on Wire – assembling the team, figuring out equipment, evading detection, etc. – but there the climax was moments of pure exhilaration and triumph, here it was a scene not too different from what had come before. Maybe the dolphin slaughter film that resulted was too distressing to show us, but the footage that Ric O’Barry carried around on his chest-TV monitor didn’t seem all that compelling, to us or to the millions of Japanese pedestrians who streamed by without stopping.
Why is the dolphin slaughter in Japan morally worse than the slaughter of cows in America (not that the Japanese don’t slaughter cows as well), a question the Japanese raise in the film, and a question that particularly resonates after one has just seen Food, Inc. If it is because dolphins are more intelligent than cows – which seems to be the movie’s response – then where do we draw the line? And how do we judge the “intelligence” of pigs, swordfish and other creatures we routinely devour? I can’t imagine shooting a moose, but I have many fewer qualms about deer hunting. Is rarity the test, or sustainability of the population, or whether the animal appears cute or charming to us humans? Obviously, we shouldn’t be feeding mercury-contaminated dolphin meat to our schoolchildren, but that is a side issue for the crusaders of The Cove. Just as obviously, we shouldn’t tolerate lying to justify killing whales, or bribery to buy votes at the IWC. But are we morally justified in condemning the Japanese for simply killing dolphins because they are such appealing animals?