SUBJECTS — The Environment;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Caring for Animals; Breaking Out;


AGE: 11+; MPAA Rating: PG-13;

Documentary; 2009; 92 minutes; Color. Available from and It is also available free on the Internet.

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This is the 2010 Academy Award-winning documentary exposing the annual dolphin hunt that occurs at a cove in Taiji, Japan. Dolphins are herded into the cove and trapped there by nets. Some are selected for transfer to dolphinariums throughout the world to be trained to entertain crowds of people. The remainder are slaughtered for their meat. Set up as a thriller, the movie follows the film crew as it tries to evade obstructions set in place by the Taiji fisherman and the government of Japan to stop them from filming the capture and slaughter.


Selected Awards: 2010 Academy Awards: Best Documentary.

Featured Persons: Richard O’Barry, Simon Hutchins, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, Kirk Krack David Rastovich, Scott Baker, Louis Psihoyos, Greg Mooney.

Director: Louis Psihoyos.


This film is an exposé of cruel treatment of a very intelligent ocean-living mammal. When shown with the lessons provided in this Learning Guide, the film provides opportunities for learning on several additional levels.

Students will learn about the “enslavement” (see discussion question #1) and slaughter of dolphins at a cove in Taiji Japan and become acquainted with the ethical issues surrounding the practice. Discussion questions allow teachers to take most secondary school classes to college level discussions about philosophy and ethics. The worksheet suggested with this Guide will introduce students to the process of evaluating a documentary designed to persuade on an issue of public importance.


None. While the pictures are not gory (the example shown below is about as bad as it gets), some students may become upset at the way the dolphins are killed. But isn’t that the point?

Dolphin “harvest” at the Taiji Cove


Watch the movie with your child. Decide as a family if you want to do something to help stop the slaughter.


This documentary is designed to describe the Taiji dolphin slaughter and provides its own introduction. The movie is best presented to a class using TWM’s Film Study Worksheet for the Cove. Be sure to review the worksheet to ensure that the questions are appropriate for the class and to make any necessary modifications.

Suggested Classroom Procedures: Have the class read the prompts on the worksheet before the film is shown. Tell students that they can make notes during breaks in the movie and that they should not write out full responses until they are instructed to do so. Pause the film for three to five minutes on two or three occasions to allow students to make notes. At the end of the movie, give students a short amount of time to complete their notes, again instructing them not to write out full responses.

Once the notes are completed, there can be a class discussion on selected prompts, or students can be instructed to write short one-paragraph answers to the prompts on the worksheet. This can be done as an in-class writing assignment or as homework. If the discussion occurs before students write out their responses, tell them to incorporate into their written responses anything that they agreed with that came up in the discussion. In the alternative, the class discussion can be postponed until after the worksheet responses have been written up. One way to organize such a discussion would be to have selected students read their responses to a worksheet prompt and then have the class discuss them.


1. Are dolphins who are captured and then put into dolphinariums and required to perform for human audiences “enslaved?”

Suggested Response:

Reasonable minds will differ on this question. Richard O’Barry, one of the foremost dolphin trainers in the world, would say that they are. He contends that dolphins are intelligent beings who know the difference between life in the open sea and life in captivity and who grieve their losses. Dolphins experience sensory deprivation in captivity not unlike people who are placed in solitary confinement. Since dolphins in dolphinariums are required to perform in order to eat, they are being required to perform forced labor. That’s just like slavery. The definition of slavery is usually reserved for human beings but is there any reason not to extend it to highly intelligent beings such as dolphins? [TWM agrees that dolphins in dolphinariums are enslaved and has adopted that nomenclature in this Learning Guide.] On the other hand, dolphins are not people, but do homo sapiens have the right to exploit other species at will? A good discussion of this question will include these concepts.

Here is another related question that can lead to great discussions: Do these considerations apply to dolphins who are born in captivity? If the enslavement of dolphins is banned, what should be done with them?

[For more questions about the ethics of zoos and marine mammal exhibition parks, see Learning Guide to Blackfish.]

2. Do you think that the Japanese people have the right as a society to continue the Taiji dolphin enslavement and slaughter? Joji Morishita, the Japanese delegate to the IWC featured in the movie, claims that efforts to restrict the Japanese whaling industry are “cultural imperialism.” The same argument can be made against objections by non-Canadians to the annual slaughter of harp seals, by non-Spaniards to bullfights, or by non-U.S. citizens to, let’s say, hunting deer for pleasure. Do these objections infringe upon the culture of Japan, Canada, Spain, and the U.S.?

Suggested Response:

Again, there is no one correct answer. A good discussion will include, at least, the following points. Some might challenge the concept of cultural sovereignty and point out that to the animals, and to the environment as a whole, human culture and the boundaries of nations mean nothing. Others may argue that cultural tradition is no excuse for cruelty — what about cultures that forbid equal rights for women? — and that people, because of our position of superiority over other animals, have responsibilities not to inflict pain and death upon them. On the other hand, what right do we have to believe that the solutions that our culture has developed to meet the challenges of existence are more ethical than the solutions developed by any other culture?

3. Audiences who see The Cove are routinely outraged. However, are we being hypocrites? Here are some facts that a defender of the dolphin slaughter might use to challenge critics.

  • The entire Japanese dolphin slaughter kills or captures about 20,000 animals a year; a couple of thousand are taken at Taiji.
  • In almost every developed country, millions of animals are killed for meat each year. For example, when the number of cows and pigs killed in the U.S. is described in terms of the number of animals slaughtered per second, the statics show that for every second of every day of the year, the U.S. meat industry slaughters one cow (actually it’s 1.1 cows) and 3.5 pigs. If a minute is spent reading this bullet point, that’s 66 cows and 210 pigs — all killed. While Japan takes 20,000 dolphins a year; the U.S. slaughters well over 20,000 cows every 6 hours.
  • Like dolphins, cows and pigs are sentient beings who love their offspring, hate pain, and want to continue living. Reports from slaughterhouses routinely show that as animals are forced towards the killing floor, many express their terror.
  • While they may not be as smart as dolphins, cows are smart enough to know what they want: don’t ever try getting between a cow and its calf. Pigs are highly intelligent, smarter than dogs, and very sensitive to emotions.
  • Moreover, cows and pigs killed by the U.S. meat industry usually spend large portions of their lives standing in excrement in feed lots or confined to small cages on concrete floors. The dolphins captured or killed at Taiji swim free in the ocean all their lives except for a day or two of terror at the cove.
  • The meat industry in every nation exists only because consumers like the taste and texture of flesh. People don’t need to eat meat to have a healthy diet. In fact, human beings thrive on a plant-based diet. Therefore, it’s not just the meat industry itself which is responsible for the massive killing of animals in developed countries, it is the consumers of meat who are ultimately responsible.

The question again, a little more precisely: Isn’t any person who eats meat being hypocritical when he or she criticizes the Taiji dolphin enslavement and slaughter?

Click here for an illustration of the question which can be reproduced and handed out or shown on a screen.


Suggested Response:

Obviously, the defender of what happens at Taiji cove has a point, but many will contend that cows and pigs are much less intelligent than dolphins. This discussion can lead to many other excellent discussion questions. For example, does the fact that dolphins may be more intelligent than farm animals make their pain, suffering, or death significantly worse than the pain, suffering, and death of cows and pigs? What about dogs and cats? [The movie Charlotte’s Web explores this idea in a gentle fictional context.] What about other primates such as chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas? Also, is the act of inflicting pain on a dolphin or killing it unethical while the act of hurting and killing a less intelligent farm animal has no ethical implications? Again, what about the ethics of hurting and killing dogs and cats who, after all, are less intelligent than dolphins? Extend this question to primates who can be taught sign language and are, arguably, more intelligent than dolphins. (Note that there is an international movement to pass legislation giving basic rights the chimpanzees and gorillas, see Support the Great Ape Preservation Act from the Jane Goodall Institute.) These are all arguably propositions, great discussion prompts, and excellent research issues.

In the discussion, teachers may want to point out that doctors have discovered that a plant-based diet is the best defense against the most deadly diseases that afflict people in Western countries including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. (See TWM Learning Guides to Forks Over Knives and Super Size Me.) Plant-based diets are also much better for the environment, using fewer resources to feed more people, than a diet that includes meat. These considerations lead to the question: If a plant-based diet is better for health and for the environment, then the only reason for continuing to eat meat is that people like the taste and texture of flesh. If the purpose of ethics is to reduce suffering and increase pleasure for the largest number sentient beings (a principal of Utilitarian philosophy when the circle of compassion is extended to sentient animals), then is mankind’s desire for the taste of meat, a relatively trivial interest, sufficient justification for causing other animals pain and a brutal early death? Some students will say that what happens to animals doesn’t matter; others will take the opposite position. Teachers who take the discussion to this level should note that their class has just engaged in a college-level discussion of philosophy and ethics.

The statistics for the U.S. meat industry cited in the question are for the year 2011 from the USDA publication entitled, “Livestock Slaughter 2011 Summary, April 2012” Assuming 31,536,000 seconds in a year; annual slaughter statistics are, rounding to the nearest thousand, cattle (including calves) 34,938,000 or 1.1 per second and hogs 10,260,000 or 3.5 per second.

4. Are human societies most likely to defend animals when there is no cost? Look at Spain which maintains a barbaric tradition, the bullfight, but which was the first country to adopt the Great Ape Protection Act.

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer.



See discussion questions 1 – 3


1. Richard O’Barry, the dolphin trainer shown in the movie, underwent a complete change and personal transformation from a man who trapped and caught wild dolphins and then trained them to a man who campaigned for protection and freedom for dolphins. Do you know anyone else or have you heard of anyone else who has undergone such a major change in their attitudes?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct response.



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

1. This film shows a conflict between respect for dolphins and respect for the customs of a Japanese community. How do you resolve that conflict?

Suggested Response:

TWM submits that when our values conflict we look to the Rule of the Most Honoring Choice which instructs us to “choose the alternative which honors the most important long term values for the most stakeholders (people, animals, the environment), giving reasonable priority to the stakeholders to whom we owe duties of obligation or loyalty.” Any response which makes an honest attempt to resolve these conflicting values is acceptable.

See also discussion questions 1 and 2 in the Learning Guide and Discussion Questions which Explore Ethical Issues Raised by Any Film.


1. Have students expand their responses to questions 2, 5, 6, or 8 on the worksheet into a full-scale essay.

2. Have students, either alone or in groups, research and prepare a written response or a class presentation on one of the following topics:

  • The history of the International Whaling Commission and its role in protecting, or failing to protect, dolphins and whales from slaughter;
  • The economic history of Taiji going back to the 16th century and the reasons for the interest of its inhabitants in capturing or killing dolphins, whales and other cetaceans;
  • The intelligence and social relationships of dolphins and other cetaceans;
  • Whether dolphinariums that keep dolphins in captivity and put on shows for the public involve unethical restraints on the rights of the dolphins who are captives and forced to perform the shows for food; in the essay respond, pro or con, to the contention that the existence of dolphinariums is justified because human beings will never learn to have compassion for dolphins if they are not able to see the beauty, grace and intelligence of these animals;
  • Create a new and practical way to further the goal of ending the Taiji dolphin enslavement and slaughter; present it to the class, write it up, and forward it to the OPS; this proposal doesn’t need to result in an end to the dolphin slaughter but can be a way to meet the goals of the OPS, such as increasing public pressure on the Japanese people or government to end the enslavement and slaughter, reducing the consumption of dolphin meat in Japan, and increased fund-raising; and
  • Whether the U.S. should adopt the Great Ape Preservation Act.

3. The class can engage in one of the standard ways to support the effort to end the Taiji dolphin slaughter by getting other students at school to write to public officials, raising funds for the OPS through a bake sale or other activity, convincing students to sign the OPS petition, or organizing a screening of The Cove at school or at a local theater. Consider having the class select a number of projects to pursue and then dividing the class into teams to pursue different projects.

4. Research the successful effort during the 20th century, led by Westerners, to ban the practice of binding the feet of Chinese women. Compare it to the efforts to ban the enslavement and slaughter of dolphins by Japanese fishermen. Does the success of the anti-foot-binding campaign suggest some new tactics in the effort to ban the massacre of dolphins in the Taiji cove?



Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 4, and 7 – 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41,& 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.


In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer, 1975.
  • The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health by T. Collin Campbell (Professor Emeritus of
  • Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University) and Thomas M. Campbell, II, 2005.

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