Ric O’Barry first became attached to dolphins when he was trainer on “Flipper.”
Now, years later, he’s infrontof the cameras for a new series that, like “Whale Wars” before it, flirts with Japanese law enforcement to raise the veil on the bloody slaughter he’s depicted already in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove.”
In the new “Blood Dolphins,” which started Friday on Animal Planet, he’s joined by his son Lincoln O’Barry, to do their best to document the killings, which are legal in Japan but would be banned by other countries.
“Ever since we launched ‘Whale Wars,’ we have been looking for another ‘muscular’ conservation show, as we call it, about passionate people who take direct action to preserve the living planet,” says Animal Planet president and general manager Marjorie Kaplan. “And this show is it.”
“Blood Dolphins” is based in part in Taiji, where “The Cove” was surreptitiously filmed. But also in other parts of the world, such as the Solomon Islands.
Why go to such trouble to save dolphins? How is killing them different than killing a salmon?
Well, says O’Barry, “dolphins are to the sea what we are to the land. They have a brain larger than we have. That’s different. Dolphins have saved the lives of humans throughout history. We never heard of a wild animal coming out of the jungle, a salmon saving the life of a human. That’s special. That is altruism. That is communication. If somebody in this room saved the life of somebody else in this room, that is communication. With due respect to salmon, dolphins have done that. We know that.”
It may look as if they are imposing their values on another country’s way of life regarding the harvest, but O’Barry insists at a session at the TV critics press tour earlier this month “we are not cultural imperialists. And when we show up in the Solomon Islands, we sit down in the jungle with them. We live with them in their houses, and we make it well known we’re here to listen and learn.”
O’Barry says there are pluses and minuses to being well-known for his work.
“The plus is we are able to reach more people. And people, consumers, hold the key to solving these problems, not governments. Governments protect corporations, not people and other animals. So having a higher media profile is a tool to get the message out. But the disadvantage is — especially in Japan, where I just came from and will be going back to very shortly, is I have become a marked man.”
It’s already had an effect, he says. “The largest slaughter takes place on Fanalei. It’s been going on for 400 years. They kill about 2,000 dolphins a year. And on April 8th we signed a contract with the three chiefs, and that slaughter that’s been going on for 400 years ended. It’s over. We didn’t put out a press release.”
O’Barry says he hopes his message can emanate from the TV show, so as a result, “My hope is that the viewers of ‘Blood Dolphins’ will think twice before they buy a ticket for a captive-dolphin show. That’s the solution to the problem. It’s all about supply and demand.”
People have to change their mind about dolphin shows, he says. “We have been brainwashed by this multibillion-dollar industry to thinking that dolphins actually belong in a concrete tank doing tricks for us, and, somehow, that translates into conservation. That is not true, and we hope to prove that on ‘Blood Dolphins.’ Flipper was a blood dolphin. Shamu is a blood dolphin. This is the reality of it. And we will define that problem and hopefully solve it on “Blood Dolphins.”
“Blood Dolphins” runs Friday nights at 11 p.m. on Animal Planet. “The Cove” plays on the network Sunday at 9 p.m.