Ric O’Barry – Moviehole

Ric O’Barry

Ric O’Barry is a bloody hero – and I don’t use the term loosely. He is a true Saint, a man who’s put his own life many-a-time to save those in need. In this case, O’Barry – a former trainer on TV classic “Flipper” – isn’t rescuing small children from house fires, or using shielded telekinetic powers to help the police find wayward amnesiac grandmothers, he’s out to save the Dolphins! And as you’ll see in the riveting new documentary “The Cove”, that’s a task easier said than done.

In the ‘60s, O’Barry was the world’s leading authority on dolphin training, working on the set of the popular television program ‘’Flipper”. Day in and day out, O’Barry kept the dolphins working and television audiences smiling. But one day, that all came to a tragic end, with O’Barry losing his dear friend, a Dolphin named Cathy, who played ‘Flipper’, in very sad circumstances. “The Cove” tells the amazing true story of how director Louie Psihoyos, O’Barry and an elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers embarked on a covert mission to infiltrate a hidden cove in Japan, shining light on a dark and deadly secret.

Clint Morris caught up with O’Barry in Australia – a country, he says, that can definitely help play a part in shutting down the immoral hell-hole known as ‘The Cove’.

Ric, this movie has really affected me. Has me wondering what I can do to help – but more so, I’m just mortified by what goes on in Japan. As my wife made sure to tell you, you’re a fuckin’ hero for trying to do something about this.

Oh that’s so nice. Thank you. I really mean it. But I don’t see myself as the hero… I think the heroes [in the film] are the two Japanese council workers who stopped Dolphin and Whale meat from being introduced into lunches at schools. They stuck their neck out.

So let’s back-track… you got interested in helping Dolphins when you were working on “Flipper”?

When I was working on Flipper I was part of the problem – I was capturing dolphins and training them. Since 1970, I’ve been doing the exact opposite…. Rescuing them from Guatemala, Columbia, Brazil, places like that… and untraining them and putting them back.

Do you do it to redeem yourself – if even in your eyes?

Originally, I think I was coming from a place of guilt. But forty years later, not any more – It’s just like breathing; it’s just what I do.

Where did the interest in Dolphins originally come from?

My first interest was probably when I was 3-feet high, standing on the sand in Miami Beach, holding my mother’s hand, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and she told me how Dolphin’s saved the lives of humans. The second World War was going on then, and sometimes fliers would be shot out of the sky and Dolphins would actually get them and push them ashore. And that was very special. We had never heard of wild animals coming out of the jungle to save the life of a human. There are a lot of stories coming out of Australia, New Zealand, the United States, as well as the Greek area – Aristotle and so on – about Dolphins’ saving humans, so there’s something special about that.

Now does stuff like this go on here in Australia – what we saw in “The Cove”?

No. No it doesn’t.

That’s great that we at least appreciate the dolphins.

Yep, probably more than any other country. Australia has a very special connection with the Sea, and the Dolphins and Whales.

There’s a couple of Australians in the movie too.

Yep, Dave Rastovich and his lovely bride, Hannah Mermaid… or Hannah Fraser….and the guy that actually put up the money to make this movie, Jim Clark, is actually married to an Australian – Kristy Hinze; in fact we had dinner last night with Jack Thompson. Both [Hinze and Thompson] are going to get in touch with the Broome Shire Council.

Broome, you say?

Broome has a special role in all of this. Broome is the sister city to Taijii, and they have the power to stop this by severing their relationship, or suspending it. Then this genocide stops. I went up to Broome a few days ago, and there’s a theatre with 300 seats – the oldest outdoor theatre in the world – that we packed the local community into [to listen to our plea for help]. Unfortunately most of the local politicians stayed away – they’re probably hiding under their beds where they don’t have to make a decision. They want to remain neutral, and they really can’t. Broome is not Baron, and Australia is not Switzerland. Broome is the sister city to Taijii, and if they don’t do anything about this, they will be condoning it. I’m hoping your readers will contact via the internet the Broome Shire Council. They need to stand up and be counted. There’s an urgency to this because the clock is ticking – midnight of September 1st, which is what, twelve, thirteen days away, is when [the dolphin slaughtering in Taijiii] starts up again – and it will go on for six months. So Broome has the power to stop this before it starts by putting out a press release that says ‘If you do this, we will not be associated with you any more’. In Japan, losing face is a big, big deal. Broome has the power to stop this slaughter, and I hope they’ll do it.

The film hasn’t been released in Japan has it?

It was entered last week into the Tokyo Film Festival and it was banned. But Jim Clark, the executive producer, and the guy that put the money up for the film, said he will get this out in Japanese on the internet. [Jim] is the guy that invented Netscape, so he has the power to get it out to the Japanese people. Once that happens, this could actually bring down Whaling – the dolphin problem could be solved, but it could also take out Whaling. A lot of the Whale meat that we’ve been finding in the restaurants in Japan we’ve been DNA testing and discovered to be counterfeit – it’s Dolphin meat, or Horse meat, or something else… and once the Japanese people learn that, that’ll be the end of that.

My wife was wondering whether Japanese people truly don’t know they’re eating Dolphin meat…

I know they don’t. This is why I don’t support the boycott of Japan, the whole ‘Save the Whales’ thing – the boycott is just a blanket indictment against all Japanese people, and they’re innocent, they don’t know it’s been happening. And that’s because the Japanese don’t allow the media to print any Dolphin or Whale stories, and that’s illegal. Chapter 21 of the Japanese constitution says the Japanese people have the right to know. They don’t know because of their government. 1% of the Japanese people eat Whale meat, and a very small percent of that 1% eat Dolphin meat. It’s not even the entire town of Taijii that’s guilty, we’re talking about 13 boats – 13 small boats; two men in each boat; we’re talking about 26 guys. We’re really interested in isolating them from the rest of the Japanese community. That’s the way to solve the problem. We need to work with the Japanese people, not against them.

Now whose idea was it to do the film?

That was Louie Psihoyos. He knew we were in Japan, and he knew what we were doing, and he asked if he could follow us around with his camera. I said sure. I didn’t realize until recently that when he hung up the phone he went out and took a three-day crash course on how to make a movie.

Wow… well, he did a great job, didn’t he?

Yeah, well he – and Jim Clark – surrounded themselves with very talented filmmakers like Fisher Stevens, a veteran documentary producer, Mark Monroe, the writer, and especially, Jeff Richmond, who won the Academy Award for Murderball and Michael Moore’s film Sicko.

Is there something that wasn’t in the film that you would’ve liked to have gotten in there?

I would’ve featured more of the two Japanese councilmen. These fisherman use this cultural argument that “You eat cows and pigs, we eat Dolphins and Whales, leave us alone! This is our culture, our tradition”. Turns out that’s not true, it’s the culture of some few remote villages. Culture and tradition is not a good enough reason  to do this. It was the culture and tradition in America that did not allow women to vote. Slavery was our culture and tradition. It doesn’t mean its Okay! So to keep this cultural argument going they donated a lot of this dolphin meat to the school lunch program.  And I started testing the meat and it turns out it’s so heavily laced in Mercury that they should not eat it. These two councilmen took it out of the school system, and started speaking out against it, and now they’ve been ostracized from the community.  We don’t know what’s gonna happen with them. But the Discovery Channel is doing – actually my son is producing it – a six-part series about what happened at the Cove [after the movie]. It’ll answer the questions, ‘What happened to the Cove?’, ‘Did you shut the Cove down?’, ‘What happened to [the Japanese councilmen]?’ The movie ends on a cliff-hanger, so there’s lots of questions to be answered. I’m going back on the first of September, the film crew will come, and I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’ll probably be arrested, I imagine… if I see the policemen again. And if that happens then that’s part of the story.

So this will serve as some sort of a sequel?

It’s not a movie, it’s like ‘Whale Wars’ on the Discovery Channel – in fact it’s the same people. Maybe it’s called ‘Dolphin Wars’? but I don’t think they’ve got a title yet. They were in Broome a few days ago, and Broome is part of this story, so I’m hoping they’ll do the right thing.

Has America got involved? Obama?

I’m so glad you reminded me, I have a website (www.savejapandolphins.org) and we’re generating thousands of letters to Obama. We’re asking the President they can’t do this anymore. That’s never happened. We have this position in America, like Australia and other nations, that we’re against Whaling, but not really, because we’re selling you Beef and all this other stuff so we don’t want to rock the boat. Our position is, we’re against Whaling in America, but we don’t really do anything about it. Obama can change that. He’s already replaced the head guy at the IWC. But people can take action by going to savejapandolphins.org.

I was just there; it’s a great website.

Yeah. That’s where people can take action – and I hope they will.

I think Obama might do something about this. He seems to be a pretty good guy.

Yeah, yeah. He’s the real deal.

The movie is playing in the states now, right?

Yeah, it’s been out about a week I think. Luc Besson is releasing it in France. Germany’s got a big distributor. As has Switzerland. So it’ll be out there. And in a lot of the interviews I’ve been doing, the journalists have remarked that they think we will be nominated for an Academy Award.

I think it will – especially now that they’re opening up the Best Film category to include another five films.

Even if it gets nominated the Japanese government will not be able to handle that kind of a public relations nightmare.

It’s such a great thing you do. You should be bloody proud of yourself.

Thanks so much. Lovely. Great talking to you.

THE COVE opens Thursday


To celebrate the release of “The Cove”, Moviehole and Madman are giving local readers the chance to win one of 10 in-season double passes to see the film! To WIN, just email clint@moviehole.net, providing your name, address, and the answer to this question “What film festival banned The Cove?’

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