As close as you’ll get to legal Cetacean porn

I must have been suffering from post conference delirium, because I decided to watch A Dolphin Tale on the plane ride home from ScienceOnline2012. Plot summary: a stranded dolphin (Winter) is rescued but her damaged tail must be amputated. A lonely boy (Sawyer) sees her being rescued, stalks her at the aquarium she is transported to, and ends up skipping school because the dolphin “needs him”. Have you thrown up in your mouth yet?

Behind the scenes at Deep-sea News, we get bombarded with gag-inducing PR e-mails about everything whale and dolphin related. Clearly they do not read our blog. They ask us to promote their upcoming movie, website, or exhibit, and we all let out a collective groan. Most recently we were asked to hype up the film Big Miracle:

At this point I’ll also remind you of the poster for a A Dolphin Tale:
Notice any similarities? Yeah, that’s right – both of these are what I call “the money shot”.

Watching A Dolphin Tale was actually disturbing – it was basically a PG version of Cetacean porn. At regular intervals throughout the film, my eyes burned as I watched agonizing, ten minute montages of swimming dolphins, human-dolphin touchy-feelyness, and slow motion underwater footage set to dramatic music. If I re-dubbed the film with a Barry White soundtrack, I’m pretty sure this edited version would be illegal.

There were so many things wrong with this film, I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the film opens with a 10 minute CGI scene of dolphins cheerfully exploring the underwater realm. They couldn’t even get the background scenery correct, because the ocean looks like a fantasy art poster or fish tank display, complete with conveniently placed archways and stone columns everywhere. At one point the dolphins start blowing bubble hoops which hover in midwater (for far too long to be scientifically plausible) and then proceed to swim through them. Midway through the film Sawyer does some nighttime frolicking with the dolphin in the pool – ha ha ha oh so happy la la la – he swims around, then repeatedly grabs Winter’s fin as the music swells. There was a propensity of slow motion underwater dolphin love. The film’s closing montage shows Sawyer and Winter amorously swimming underwater with Winter’s new prosthetic tail, as this song plays:

The film also included lots of dramatic staring and closeups of thee dolphin’s eye. And a (annoying) comedic relief pelican. In addition to dolphin porn, there was almost actual porn. After the opening dolphin jubilee there was a pointless, homoerotic pool scene with a whole lot of shirtless men giddily playing pool football. There were way too many six-packs for a family film (not that I was complaining…)

The movie was full of oscar-worthy lines such as:

“So you’re saying swimming like that is going to KILL her???” (in response to a muscle bulge on the dolphin’s stumpy tail)

Dad: “Every aquarium in the country says it’s hopeless. No dolphin has ever lost a tail and SURVIVED!”
Sawyer: “Well they haven’t met Winter”

“We’re here because of the most amazing friend and animal I’ve ever known…Winter and I are family now. And family is forever”

“That dolphin’s taking us somwhere-we just haven’t figured out where yet”

“I thought dolphins were supposed to be smart. Don’t you understand? If you don’t get the tail your’e going to die. Why won’t you just wear the tail??” (Sawyer speaking to Winter in a sad breathy whisper)

The worst thing about this film was that Mogan Freeman, of all people, starred as the army scientist constructing the prosthetic dolphin tale. WHY DID YOU AGREE TO THIS MOVIE MORGAN FREEMAN, WHY?? 

One laudable inclusion was the decision to show the actual rescue footage at the end of the film – although even in these brief clips you realize how unglamorous the real story was compared to the sugarcoated and shiny Hollywood version. Winter still resides at the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida, and her unique situation has apparently elevated her to “role model” status for visiting amputees.

But not even that fact will redeem this godawful film.

Holly Bik (140 Posts)

I am a computational biologist at the University of California, Davis. My research uses DNA sequencing and genomics to study microbial eukaryotes (yeah, nematodes!) in marine ecosystems, with an emphasis on evolution and biodiversity in the deep-sea. I can neither confirm nor deny that I like Unix more than I like going to sea.





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7 comments on “As close as you’ll get to legal Cetacean porn
  1. I don’t know… I think the actual story is a lot more interesting, but you couldn’t stretch it out to a two hour movie.

    I have to side with Hollywood a little on this one: There are a lot less marine biologists than sentimental saps buying movie tickets. And I wonder how many of those sentimental saps go home, look up what actually happened or read about cetaceans as a result? Even if it’s just a few, it’s a win for science.

    In general, I think it’s a good thing that having empathy for other living things is becoming popular, and even if it’s just a “fad” perhaps enough people will think “awww… poor little dolphin” ( or Penguin, or Sea Turtle, or Polar Bear) to use reusable bags instead of plastic, turn down their thermostat, and will think a little harder when they enter the voting booth. Or, better still, actually become interested enough to get educated.

    Hollywood tends to reflect what’s on the mind of the public, and chooses things that are identifiable, even when they spell it out in big, pink, glittery, Comic Sans … in all caps. It’s ENTERTAINMENT. If it were science, it’d be on the little screen on PBS.

    • Kate, I’ve been thinking about this lately – and I’ve started to wonder if focusing on individuals (e.g., one dolphin with no tail! a couple whales stuck in ice!) is actually harming conservation, because it means that people care about the wrong issues. I mean, a super cute dolphin species (the vaquita) is ALMOST EXTINCT because it’s being unglamorously accidentally drowned in fishing nets, and there’s no public awareness at all. The human instinct to help other living creatures is admirable, but sentimentality does not necessarily translate into effective change in the world – it just makes people THINK that they are doing good when actually they are doing nothing.

  2. Actually, one of the big problems with vaquita conservation is that they are so hard to see, so no one has the kind of pretty pictures of them that are available for other species (such as bottlenose dolphins. When you think about it, this is a similar problem to the conservation of other general (insects, snails) that aren’t as cute or cuddly. If you want to learn more about the unglamorous drowning of Vaquita, this website is really great, and it’s run by a bunch of certified marine mammalogists:

    http://www.vivavaquita.org/

  3. I agree with you for the most part the Ocean/mammal rescue is hollywood latest fad. I watched a dolphin tale in the plane too, the young kid next to me was having a blast with it. In my honest opinion I don’t see anything bad with this, I agree with you the dialogue was dreadful, but i’d rather see these type of movies than a new Jaws. These movies are armless compared to the dramatic repercussion of a movie like Jaws!

  4. “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum

    I might add that we are taught only what we are exposed to.

    Most people don’t have any experience of the vaquita as they do bottle nose dolphins. And it’s harder for people to relate to a group of something rather than an individual. Hollywood builds false relationships… relies on the audience members as individuals to make a connection to an individual on the screen. That’s the same way we make connections in zoo education, with an “animal ambassador”, an individual to get the public interested in the species.

    And although this is purely anecdotal, I do know one dolphin-loving tweenie who grew up to be a serious marine biologist.

  5. I had similar disgust with the movie. My mother actually asked me to leave the room when we were watching it because I kept making snide (yet valid) remarks. However, I do see where these movies do have a certain place, however dramatized they may be, in educating the masses. They may not be scientifically accurate, or any sort of accurate for that matter, but they get people interested and caring more then they did before, which I believe is at least a step in the right direction.

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