According to American Indian tradition, the dolphin has long been considered a symbol of wisdom and salvation, and sightings are often associated with good luck. Boaters, too, consider it a lucky day when they spy a playful pod or a single dolphin racing alongside.
The dolphins in "The Cove" could not be considered that lucky.
In the film, two men recruit a team to help them reveal how the mammals are being hunted in Japan by fishermen driven by a multibillion-dollar dolphin entertainment industry and a market for dolphin meat.
"The Cove," to be released Dec. 8 on DVD, was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October despite speculation about its content being too controversial, according to a New York Times article. Click play to watch the dramatic movie trailer.
The film starts in Taiji, Japan, where former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry is determined to find out what is happening in a remote cove surrounded by barbed wire and "Keep Out" signs.
O'Barry, who captured and trained the five dolphins that starred in the 1960s television show "Flipper," teamed up with filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and the Ocean Preservation Society to uncover the hunting.
Japan killed some 13,000 dolphins in coastal waters in 2007; around 1,750 were captured in Taiji, according to the filmmakers. The town of Taiji has hired a lawyer to take legal action against the filmmakers, saying they trespassed on private property in making the film.
Meanwhile, the film has earned critical acclaim, capturing the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival.
"Audiences laugh, they cry, and then they leave the theater saying, 'What can I do?' " says O'Barry in a press release. "I'm excited because the more popular the movie is, the more unpopular the dolphin hunt will become in Japan, and I really believe we are on the verge of stopping these hunts and, quite possibly, the whaling of all small cetaceans."