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The Legacy of Flipper

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O'Barry protesting in Tokyo in 2007.  

More than 20,000 dolphins are killed in Japan annually, and it’s big business in Taiji, where O’Barry has become a public enemy, regularly surveilled by the local police. “In Japan, they call our strategy gaiatsu,” he says. “It translates to ‘external pressure.’ ” For O’Barry, the film will be successful if it can inspire a movement as effective as “Save the Whales” back in the seventies and eighties. If he can stop the slaughter in Taiji (a situation perpetuated by the government, but largely unknown to most Japanese), he can move to other dolphin-slaughtering areas, like the Faroe Islands. But he’s also coming around to good old-fashioned star power. After years of struggling for media attention, O’Barry scored worldwide coverage when actress Hayden Panettiere joined a group of surfers protesting the slaughter in Taiji. “Here’s a 19-year-old TV starlet who’s able to get more attention in fifteen minutes than I’ve been able to do in sixteen years,” he says. “So now I’m going back with Sting and Ben Stiller.”

Inevitably, of course, the goal of The Cove is also to make a celebrity of O’Barry. His son is developing a Hollywood biopic, and O’Barry just returned from Washington, where, thanks to The Cove’s festival-circuit success (it won an Audience Award at Sundance), he was able to meet with the staffs of California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, handing out links to his website, SaveJapanDolphins.org. “We’re encouraging thousands of people to write to President Obama,” says O’Barry. “The times they are a-changing again. I’m sure of it!”


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