Dolphins are cute and smart. Cows are big and dumb. The former should therefore not be killed for their meat. The latter, though, are fair game. Literally.
I couldn’t help having those thoughts run through my head while watching the 2009 Oscar winning documentary The Cove last week.
Admission #1: I’m completely late to the game watching the film. I first heard about it while managing the social campaign for Hopenhagen more than a year ago. At the time, it was garnering a lot of love not only for the story, but also for how it was marketed: a lot of support driven through social media channels. It had been in my Netflix queue all that time but, well, things happen. It finally showed up last weekend so that’s how I spent Sunday night.
Admission #2: I eat meat. Of all mainstream varieties. But I’ve also strayed off the beaten path from time to time. One of those times had me exploring horse meat in Germany. The other, which is more pertinent to this post, was when I ate whale meat while on a trip to Iceland.
Admission #3: I liked the movie. A friend thought it was the whole Indiana Jones element to the story. Ric O’Barry, the man who brought us the Flipper sitcom, literally, turns coat on the industry he helped launch. It makes for a perfect script: Ragtag band of misfits (military dude who builds helicopters, adrenaline junkie who scales skyscrapers for fun, Hollywood props master and the couple who free dives) subsequently team up to help Ric stop the dolphin slaughter in a tiny, hidden bay on the Japanese coast. As they face off against a team of bad guys (sinister government staffers misleading the International Whaling Commission, teachers feeding their children poisonous mercury-laden school lunches, vigilante security personnel with nicknames like Private Space and the hapless local police crew) you can’t help but root for Ric’s own Ocean’s 11.
But the underlying message of the movie–that dolphins are smart and so should not be killed for their meat–still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It risks hinting at an unspoken rule that only dumb animals may be slaughtered for human food consumption. By doing so, the film opens the door to speciesism and risks preying upon our own willingness to practice it.