OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU conservation geneticist has key role in documentary on whales

01/14/2010

NEWPORT, Ore. – A film whose cast includes an Oregon State University researcher is up for one of moviemaking’s most coveted honors: the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for best documentary feature of 2009. Winners will be announced on Jan. 15.

An eco-thriller documenting the mass slaughter of dolphins in a hidden Japanese inlet, “The Cove” includes CSI-like scenes of OSU cetacean geneticist Scott Baker covertly testing “meat” samples purchased in Japanese grocery stores to identify the species of dolphins, porpoises and whales sold for human consumption.

Nominated in a field that includes Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and “Food, Inc.”, the film has already raked in at least 17 awards, including the Sundance Film Festival’s audience award and best documentary honors from the National Board of Review, LA Film Critics and New York Film Critics Online.

Baker, who is associate director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, acts as the film’s scientific voice on dolphins and whales. As the world’s first scientist to use DNA to identify the species of whales being butchered and sold as meat, Baker appears in the movie both as an expert “talking head” and as a DNA detective, hunkered over a portable genetic laboratory in a cramped Tokyo hotel room.

“We spent days filming in that hotel room – a room not much bigger than my office,” recalled Baker, a leader in international efforts to uncover black-market trade in marine mammals.

He describes director Louie Psihoyos as “visionary, but meticulous,” shooting “tons of film” to tell the story of the annual killing of 2,300 dolphins in the seaside town of Taiji.

Baker’s science-based scenes of the DNA identification and his comments on the threat of mercury contamination in the dolphin meat are a counterpoint to the movie’s main storyline: An intrepid team of cinematographers and activists (including the dolphin trainer of the 1960s TV series Flipper), wearing camouflage and night-vision goggles, risk arrest and even death to capture video and underwater acoustics during the slaughter.

The Cove was produced by the Ocean Preservation Society. The 15th annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards will be broadcast Friday, Jan. 15, at 9 p.m. on VH1 Television Network.