June 7, 2011

Celebrate Our Oceans; Remembering Louie Psihoyo’s “The Cove” and Colorado’s Ocean Community. ~ Michael Sobczak

Remembering The Cove.

The contradictory world of Taiji, Japan—a city in southern Japan that lives in a split personality—is one of loving admiration for the beautiful dolphins living wild in the surrounding sea. Despite this reverence, it also witnesses the capturing and selling of dolphins for aquarium attractions while killing the non-selected—feeding the dolphins’ highly contaminated meat to Japanese school children.

Dolphins perform remarkably skilled tricks in the museum’s aquarium just next to a hidden Cove, while tourists visiting Japan’s Yoshino-Kumano National Park are able to buy meals containing dolphin meat. This scene is analogous to visitors in Yellowstone National Park munching on buffalo or elk burgers recently shot in nearby meadows as they wait wide-eyed for Old Faithful’s hot waters to spectacularly erupt.

This gruesome dolphin slaughter occurs in Taiji, Japan every September through March, and has been happening for years now.

The movie The Cove helps us to remember the beautiful, intelligent dolphins swimming wild in the oceans as recorded by filmmakers who do so without harming these graceful loving beings.

Colorado’s Ocean Community.

What has The Cove got to do with Colorado?

Well, Louie Psihoyos, the director of The Cove, has lived with his wife Viki in Boulder, Colorado since 1992. Louie is an important member of a sizable community of ocean-loving people who make Colorado their home. He is an influencing force in motivating both those loving the solid substances of the Earth as well as yearning for the liquid realm of the ocean…be the waters near their door steps or miles and miles away.

These include some of Louie’s nearby neighbors like Coral Reef Alliance’s Lyn Ciocca—former chairperson of the board—and Google Ocean’s creator Larry Reardon. And there are many more making up this Colorado Ocean Community: Vicki Nichols Goldstein is the founder of the Colorado Ocean Coalition that has been protecting the oceans from a mile high and putting on “Blue Drinks” in Boulder, a monthly gathering of ocean loving souls

The team at Oceanic Preservation Society, Louie Psihoyos’ own organization, is responsible for the making of The Cove—their first movie project; Rob Bryan, David DePuy and Dana Daldos of Windhorse Lightships, a near-Boulder operation, plan to build a fleet of energy efficient and citizen-activist-friendly boats; Teens4Oceans just held a May event in Denver and participated in the Blue Visions Summit in D.C.; the Boulder offices of NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has many scientists studying the ocean and atmosphere connection; Ocean Classrooms, another extension of Boulder’s dive shop Ocean First Divers, is doing good ocean outreach work.

So why do ocean loving people live in Colorado? It’s “conveniently located between two oceans,” Louie Psihoyos and others say about Colorado. Louie says there are more registered divers living here per capita than in any other state. “People come to Colorado because of the Environment. ‘Environment’ one word,” he added. Louie thinks people in Colorado care about the oceans, and the solitude of the wild and open mountainous places is reminiscent of being on the ocean.

When we mention Louie Psihoyos, we are reminded of The Cove as well as the Colorado Ocean Community. His assembled team of film makers, producers, editors and cinematographers emerged straight out of Colorado’s pool of local talent. Louie says, “It was all local people.” He assembled a fantastic team of experts including many from around his backyard here in Colorado, and they finished the final product in his backyard studio in the early OPS Headquarters.

The short list contains, Paula DuPre Pesmen (Producer, having a long list of film credits), Charles Hambleton (Clandestine Operations, initially moved to Boulder to play music), Olivia Ahnemann (Co-Producer, experienced in documentary film and television), Joseph Chisholm (Unit Production Manager, indispensable in the studio), Brook Aitken (Cinematographer, attended CU film school), and Michael Scalisi, Tommy White and Miles Hubley (Editors). Louie explained that he surrounded himself with people who are better than him.

World Oceans Day.

This is a particularly good time to honor our oceans.

World Oceans Day is tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8th. Respecting the diversity of life in the ocean makes perfect sense. It is a good time to help clean those bodies of water and the surroundings that connect into the ocean—a time to clean what we are able to and think of added ways to clean and protect oceans and the wildlife found within and around their waters.

World Ocean Day was proposed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro by the government of Canada, and has been celebrated every year since then. The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network helped promote and coordinate the World Oceans Day events worldwide, and the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in December 2008 making World Oceans Day officially recognized by the UN on June 8th each year. The day acts as an ocean education and conservation message.

And as World Oceans Day draws nearer to us this Wednesday, reflecting on The Cove‘s message is likely to call us to further awareness of our endangered oceans, and as a result, encourage us to take continued action towards their protection.

Louie Psihoyos and “The Cove.”

Louie Psihoyos’ ocean adventures began early on as a young boy of six years old, listening to Jacque Cousteau’s “The Silent World.” Surrounded by the farmer’s fields of Iowa, he excitedly watched the fascinating imagery of the underwater world unfold, making him dream of being an oceanographer. His dreams began, even though it took ten more years until he first caught sight of actual stretches of ocean.

His life’s path lay in front of him. He spent eighteen years at National Geographic as one of their skilled photographers. He travelled extensively around the world and explored the oceans in the process. He climbed to the top of the still photography profession.

After his talented wife, Viki Psihoyos, received an offer to teach dancing in Colorado, they moved to the mountainous state in 1992. Louie said, “Well, you get the same sort of solace of the open spaces as you do in the ocean. It makes you feel as you’re part of something bigger.” They’ve been living in Colorado ever since.

When he came to Colorado and before starting The Cove, he did not know much about the video camera and film making. “I took a three-day crash course about how to make film,” Louie admitted.

Ric O’Barry was the pivotal person in leading Louie to embark on the film project after Ric invited him to Taiji, Japan and made Louie fully aware of what took place in the hidden cove. “He was the center,” Louie stated. After Louie assessed the problem, he went after the filming goal with his same exploratory nature that took him on photo shoots around the world, teaming up with his long time dive buddy Jim Clark to help finance the project.

The Cove, a highly awarded documentary film (including an Academy Award and Sundance Film Award), is a feat of photographic skill, technologic ingenuity, and a real life adventure story. Aside from Louie Psihoyos and his team in the field, the dolphins played the leading role in The Cove, facing the tragedy that continues to befall them to this day.

Louie Psihoyos knew about the toxicity and overfishing dilemma facing the dolphins and larger seafaring animals. The show of horrors existing in Taiji became visible to Louie’s eyes. “Like walking into a horror movie set,” Louie remembered. He thought engaging people by educating and making people aware of the problem to be critical to moving others to take action. He thinks in saving the dolphins, we are saving ourselves. He felt challenged and obligated to do something about the horror visible.

The Dolphins.

Dolphins are beautiful and intelligent mammals. How can people kill and eat these amazing fellow mammals that we pack into aquariums and watch perform? An estimated 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed each year in and around Japan. For the Japanese, the dolphin is similar to the buffalo in the United States, though not at the same scale, Louie Psihoyos conjectured.

The Japanese have been using dolphins as a food source for perhaps 400 years, however, the efficient method of rounding them up by using banger boats has only been around since 1933. Though the ancient Greeks and other civilized people have respectfully revered the dolphin as an especially wise and spiritual creature, the Japanese never thought dolphins to be mystical, and always considered them simple fish.

“If there is a God,” Louie said, “let these lives not be wasted.” He added, “Not all traditions are good, especially when your tradition is poisoning people.”

The Mercury.

Louie Psihoyos thinks we are supporting an industry that is poisoning us. The mercury contamination is affecting the world-wide population of dolphins. The best thing to do, Louie thinks, is to stop the burning of fossil fuels. It might take decades to clean out the dolphins of mercury poisoning. “All dolphin meat is toxic—between 5 to 5000 times more than Japanese law allows,” he said.

The half life of mercury is approximately 70 to 90 days. Given Louie’s personal experience, it takes about 2 years to lower a human’s mercury content from 44 ppm to 3 ppm if one is able to do without contaminated fish altogether.

The aftermath of The Cove has shown positive results in stopping the selection and the killing of dolphins in Taiji and elsewhere by the Japanese. Louie thinks both the selections and killings have slowed. Quite a bit of awareness has been spread inside and outside of Japan.

This last killing season—ordinarily lasting from September through March—stopped one month early. “It’s still going on. But they stopped it with a month to go—1000 dolphins still on the quota,” Louie noted, “There’s over 200 dolphins on the order books—and they haven’t fulfilled those. They stopped it because they’re probably getting pressure from Tokyo.”

Many people have been putting pressure on the Japanese government to stop the killing. “Kids are no longer being force-fed dolphin meat for school lunch programs—that stopped,” Louie said, sounding relieved.

With World Oceans Day right around the corner, we are able to thank those who let their voices be heard. The theme over the next year’s time (2011/2012) is Youth: the Next Wave for Change. We can give an added thanks for and encourage those youthful voices that were, and might yet be heard spreading the cry of alarm.

June 8th is an added reminder to celebrate our neighboring oceans, our personal connection to the sea, the victories won in their protection, and the battles remaining to be fought.

More about World Oceans Day, and Beyond things to do to help:

* Try to utilize the skills you’re good at to help lower the burning of fossil fuels.

* Keep writing letters about saving dolphins to entities in the U.S. and Japan to encourage the protection of dolphins, the ocean and other endangered wildlife.

* Keep sharing the movie The Cove with others.

* Go to OPS’ “What You Can Do” page.

* Check out the Colorado Ocean Coalition.

The Colorado Ocean Coalition will be present at Wednesday’s Farmer’s Market in Boulder to celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8th.

Check the Colorado Ocean Coalition Facebook page under “events” for the most up-to-date information on the next “Blue Drinks” (June 7th).


Louie Psihoyos and OPS is working on a second film, The Singing Planet, to be completed by 2013 about the extinction crisis in our oceans. We are in the midst of the 6th major extinction that has confronted our planet.

Imagine the singing of a male calling for the last female mate of his species whom may or may no longer be alive.


Michael Sobczak is a writer living in Boulder, Colorado at the base of the Rocky Mountains with a strong interest in environmental issues both locally and those surrounding us.

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