Ric O'Barry: The Man Behind the Crusade to Save Dolphins From Japan's Slaughter
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It wasn't noon yet, and Ric O'Barry was tired. He had circled the globe during the past month, first flying from his home in Coconut Grove, Florida to Taiji, Japan to monitor the start of the annual dolphin hunt, then from Japan to France on a press junket, home to Florida for a brief stop, then back again to Taiji. In a few days, O'Barry would return to Europe to promote the documentary film he stars in, The Cove, and finally wrap up 62 days of constant campaigning. Now, standing on a forested hillside above the lovely aquamarine inlet that has become infamous for the slaughter of dolphins, he waited for a crew from 60 Minutes -Australia to get the right angle on a setup shot. He yawned.
But fatigue wasn't turning into impatience. Having worked for years as an animal trainer and underwater stuntman on more than a dozen television shows and movies, O'Barry is no stranger to the elaborate preparations required for film's illusion. Nor is he innocent about how to use the media to take an obscure issue and make it a cause célèbre: Watching the maneuvering and remaneuvering of a camera crew was just part of the business of saving dolphins.
"I'm talking to seven million people," O'Barry said, referring to the average number of weekly viewers of Australia's 60 Minutes . "I'm very conscious of that."
The producer said they were ready and O'Barry let out a little sigh, as he almost always does before answering questions. Then, just as characteristically, he performed with gusto one of his well-polished raps.
"You see those tarps?" he asked, motioning to the rolls of green cloth coiled above where the local fishermen stab dolphins to death. "They're covering up. It's a cover up. They say this is their tradition and their culture, but this begs the question: What are they hiding? Are they ashamed of their tradition and culture?"
When O'Barry gives an interview, he makes long, steady moves with his hands. This habit makes it hard to miss the dolphin tattoo on his left hand, or the fact that he is missing the top of his right thumb, which he blew off while working on the James Bond film Never Say Never Again . At 70, his white hair is thin and the line of his jaw has softened, but his brown eyes are sharp. He wears almost the same outfit every day: khaki pants, a khaki cargo vest with "Dolphin Rescue Team" embroidered on the breast, a beaten tan hat with captain's laurels ironed on the brim, and two-toned Sperry Top-Siders, no socks. The overall affect is of an avuncular hipster, a kind of Pirate for Good who doesn't seem to notice if he has told you the same story two or three times, a story that always has to do with dolphins. "The dolphin's smile is nature's greatest deception," is one of his favorite lines.
Since The Cove became a critical success at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009, O'Barry has given countless media tours of Taiji – the small Japanese fishing village on the picturesque Wakayama coast that, as he says, is "part Norman Rockwell and part Norman Bates." The next stop on the tour for the 60 Minutes journalists was the Taiji Whale Museum or, as O'Barry tells reporters, "a whaling museum that celebrates the killing of dolphins and whales."
In a country known for its cutting edge technology, the Taiji Whale Museum is a crude affair. The tanks where the dolphins live are tiny and there are cracks in the concrete amphitheater. The place is an easy target for O'Barry, who has spent most of the past 40 years on an international crusade to halt the captivity of dolphins.