The Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” told the story of the dolphin hunt in the Japanese town of Taiji. Dolphins there are driven into a shallow cove and killed for meat and other products, with a select few set aside alive for sale to dolphinariums. Many are now saying that this year’s documentary on killer whales (Orcinus orca) in captivity, “Blackfish,” will be nominated for next year’s Oscar. Documentaries rarely get many viewers in movie theaters, but Blackfish, which cost only $76,000 to make and was initially released at only five movie theaters, has already grossed about $2 million nationwide and has been ranked among the 10 best performing nature documentaries, which include “March of the Penguins” and the much vaunted IMAX-friendly “Earth” and “Oceans” documentaries.
Blackfish focuses on the four people who have been killed by captive killer whales, bad corporate behavior by marine theme parks (especially SeaWorld) and the ethics of keeping killer whales in captivity. The film focuses particularly on the story of Tilikum, a 12,000lb male killer whale who was captured from Iceland in the early 1980s, has been living at SeaWorld of Florida since 1992, and to date has been involved in the deaths of three people. His last victim, his trainer of six years Dawn Brancheau, was brutally dismembered after he pulled her into the tank with him on February 24, 2010.
A screen capture of the Daily Mail’s article headline
Earlier this week, the Daily Mail ran an article which claimed that dolphins are not as intelligent as is commonly believed. The crux of this provocative argument comes from an interview with Dr. Justin Gregg, a research associate with the dolphin communication project who studies social cognition.
According to the Daily Mail article, Justin Gregg said, “Dolphins are fascinating in their own right, but in terms of intelligence they are nowhere near as special as they have been portrayed…they are less sophisticated than chickens.” In an editorial that was likely the source of the Daily Mail article, the Sunday Times claims that he said “Not only are dolphins dimmer than the average chicken, says Justin Gregg, a zoologist, but they are also capable of gang rape and acts of violence. So don’t be taken in by those winning smiles.”
Unsurprisingly, this article has ruffled some feathers in the marine mammal researcher community.
Last May, I attended the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congresss, an interdisciplinary conference that brought together scientists, NGOs, policymakers, and interested members of the general public. It was the largest professional meeting dedicated to saving the oceans in history, and it was an honor to be a part of it. In addition to seeing old friends and meeting some of my heroes, I took the opportunity to “live-Tweet” the talks I attended. Whenever a presenter made an important point, I summarized it in a Tweet, and, whenever possible, I included relevant hashtags (#Shark, #bycatch) and links to more information (either a website or published paper affiliated with the presenter, or one from a 3rd party working in the same field).