Ric O'Barry has been a leading activist against the cruelty inflicted upon dolphins since his days working with them during the 1960s television series "Flipper." One of the areas of the world that O'Barry, along with his son Lincoln, have targeted over the past few years is Taiji, Japan where a spot called "The Cove" became the basis of an Academy Award-winning 2009 documentary about their efforts to stop the slaughtering of dolphins. With their new three-part Animal Planet mini-series, "Blood Dolphins," the O'Barrys pick up where "The Cove" left off with the team again trying to save the lives of innocent dolphins from senseless slaughter. Besides Taiji, the men travel to the Solomon Islands, which has been labeled one of the worst areas in the world for killing dolphins for profit. Our Jim Halterman talked with activist Lincoln O'Barry earlier this week about the dangers of bringing cameras to further document the dolphin trade as well as how one part of the dolphin - its teeth - is viewed in some regions as more valuable than actual currency.
Jim Halterman: Your dad has been involved with saving dolphins for decades and now you're involved with his activism. Was this never a question that this was your path in life?
Lincoln O'Barry: Actually, I was more involved with the production side. Growing up with my dad, I was on the set of so many different documentaries and filmmaking and I went off and started my own production company. Really, 'The Cove' helped create a lot of activists and that's what I hope to bring with my filmmaking is my activism.
JH: Is the primary point of this series to help spread the word on what's happening to these dolphins?
LO: To get the word out, yes, and when I pitched the show the pitch for me was anytime there's a dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world my dad's phone rings and it's sent us all over the world. I feel like because of the consciousness this year because of 'The Cove' there's a lot of different places and issues with dolphins that are at a tipping point and we're hoping with the series we can bring people over in favor of the dolphins.
JH: The first episode tells how your dad got involved with saving dolphins but when did it become a part of your life?
LO: In that first episode, you see a photo of me in Taiji for the first time when I was four years old. I've been going on these trips with my dad my whole life. It's interesting that that trip was in 1976 and at that time a lot of environmental groups were telling people to boycott Japan because of whaling. Because of that, Asian kids in America were getting beaten up on playgrounds so my dad went to Japan and threw a Woodstock-type concert called 'Celebrate the Whale.' Because he used the word 'celebrate' all the whalers came to the concert and once he had them all in the auditorium we were able to educate them in whaling issues and that's when you saw a big drop off in whaling.
JH: The term 'Giatsu' refers to bringing as much attention as possible to a cause so how has that approach worked for you between the movie and this series?
LO: My dad is actually about to go back to Japan for 'The Cove' and through our website he was able to get 1.7 million signatures from 165 countries that are opposed to what's going on in Taiji and my dad is delivering that to the American Embassy. That kind of constant external pressure of keeping the focus on Taiji.
JH: At one point on the show, it looked like the growing number of reporters covering the story actually were getting in your way. Did you ever think that would happen?
LO: We never once got that many Japanese press to ever show up and that was the first time it had happened and it was great but it was too much because we were trying to film at the same time. There were scenes that were cut out where at one point I had the production coordinator put on my dad's clothes and snuck him out and I had the bus go out and my dad and I jumped in the rental car and drove away. All we were trying to do was return the rental car but we didn't want the press to follow us because the rental car place would never rent a car to us again.
JH: Taiji is the focal point of the movie and part of the series. How important is the dolphin trade to the town of Taiji? Is it that big of a moneymaker for the area?
LO: It's not a huge moneymaker [for the town]. Taiji has about 3500 people but only about 26-30 total are involved in this and are making the money. How is it that Taiji is dictating Tokyo's policy in the world when they're getting so much negative publicity? You would think at some point somebody would say 'this has to stop.'
JH: What else unfolds over the course of the three episodes of the miniseries?
LO: You'll see the Solomon Islands and its indigenous hunters that hunt dolphins for the teeth and the meat and on the Solomon Islands the teeth is a form of currency. And when a man and woman get married, you have to buy the bride between a thousand and four thousand dolphins as a dowry. It's been going on for over 450 years. It varies from village to village. We also went to a village where they have a dolphin high priest and they mix dolphin worship with Christianity and Judaism and they almost equate the dolphin blood in the water to the blood of Christ in the water.
JH: In the first episode, you swim into 'The Cove' and you say that you can really feel what goes on there. Can you describe what you meant by that?
LO: When you're in there you can see that this has been going on for a long time. You can see the evidence of these big shackles on the rocks where they run wires across. They also create a whole system where they can run curtains from the top so you can't see from any vantage point what they are doing. We also go to this island where they hunt the dolphins and it's literally a bone yard and you swim over hundreds of years of dolphin bones.
JH: This is truly dangerous but would you say your determination outweighs any fear you might have?
LO: I've always believed that you stick with one thing and you do it well. We look at things that are realistic fixes and are possible.
JH: What can viewers do to help the cause and raise awareness?
LO: They can go www.EarthIslandInstitute.org to help. You can also sign petitions that are set up and there are other things there about how you can take action.
JH: Is the series also airing on an international level so everyone can see the continuation of the story from 'The Cove?'
LO: In North America it will be on Animal Planet but we just closed the international rights so it is going to air all over the world.
"Blood Dolphins" airs Fridays at 9:00/8:00c through September 17.