Live dolphins are relatively easy to train, and these aquatic mammals combine a graceful, sleek appearance with an apparently friendly nature. Because of this, they are popular in aquatic shows and circuses. These appealing creatures have also made their mark on Hollywood cinema. Three remarkable movies that feature dolphins are “Flipper,” “The Cove” and “Dolphin Tale.” The first film is pure fiction, the second is a factual documentary and the third is a drama based on actual events. Each of these movies has helped to make people aware of the need for marine wildlife conservation measures.
“Flipper” was the first movie to show live dolphins performing on-screen. Made in 1963, it tells the tale of Sandy, a boy who befriends a wounded dolphin. Sandy’s father is a fisherman who is upset at the presence of the dolphin because dolphins eat fish. In fact, his son’s new friend manages to eat an entire day’s catch of valuable fish before it can be brought to the market to be sold. Later, the dolphin leads Sandy to a large school of fish in addition to saving the boy from a shark attack.
This film shows the relationship between humans and nature. Humans may be at the top of the food chain, but beneficial coexistence with other species that shares a similar need for resources is possible. The lead dolphin was actually played by a female, Mitzi, and three more live dolphins performed during the filming of “Flipper.”
While “Flipper,” its sequel “Flipper’s New Adventure” and the 1996 remake of the original film are entirely fictitious, “The Cove” (2009) is a factual and accurate documentary. It was filmed by a group of environmentalists led by a renowned dolphin trainer. In the film, the crew finds out that methods used to hunt dolphin in parts of Japan are extremely cruel. They discover that in one waterfront town, dolphins are rounded up by fishermen who attempt to capture as many of the creatures as possible for sale to zoos and aquariums. Any dolphins that are not captured alive are speared to death and sold for meat in local stores. The meat is actually extremely unhealthy due to the high levels of mercury that the dolphins absorb from swimming in polluted waters. While this type of dolphin hunting is illegal in Japan, it has become so much a part of the culture of the town of Taiji that anyone who attempts to disturb the dolphin hunt is treated with disdain and even harassed by local police.
The dolphins filmed for “The Cove” are wild dolphins that are native to the Taiji area. The documentary contrasts the gentle nature and pleasant appearance of the marine mammals with the cruel actions of the humans who exploit the dolphins for ill-gotten financial gain. “The Cove” presents the very negative consequences of improper wildlife management, in which humans dominate and control other species rather than looking for mutually beneficial coexistence.
“Dolphin Tale” (2011) is a salute to the humane treatment of wild animals. It is based on the true story of Winter, a female dolphin that lost part of her tail in a crab trap line. Winter was brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida in 2005. At the time, the facility was a nearly bankrupt non-profit marine animal rescue center located in a former sewage treatment plant. There, the baby dolphin learned to swim without a tail before a team of veterinarians and prosthetic experts attached an advanced prosthesis to the stump of her tail.
The plot of the film is similar to that of “Flipper,” in that a boy finds and befriends a dolphin. However, this dramatic part of the film is not based on reality. Much of the rest of the story illustrates parts of the true story, however. The film shows how Winter became accustomed to swimming without her tail. It also depicts how veterinarians and a firm that specializes in orthopedic appliances for people worked together to design and attach Winter’s prosthetic fin.
The film also dramatizes the way Winter inspired amputees, including children and combat veterans, to get the most out of their own prosthetic limbs. The real-life dolphin remains at the rescue center, which was saved from bankruptcy thanks to the film and its proceeds. Amputees and others continue to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to be inspired by this remarkable creature.
Dolphin Tale shows how much humans can learn from the animal world, especially when it comes to survival in challenging circumstances. It also demonstrates how much people can gain from assisting animals in distress. It is a positive and uplifting combination of drama and facts that show how human beings should treat the creatures with which they share their world.