I might be a liberal native Californian, but I’m no vegan and no fan of the animal rights absolutists at PETA. On the other hand, I make an exception when it comes to eating or capturing animals that might be self-aware. “The Cove,” from National Geographic photographer and first-time director Louie Psihoyos, exposes a crime that is arguably the moral equivalent of genocide, but that’s only the beginning. This likely documentary Oscar nominee chronicles the efforts of a diverse group of activists, including onetime “Flipper” trainer Rick O’Barry, to videotape the secret mass killing of dolphins by Japanese fishing interests. Much has been made of the “caper” aspects of “The Cove” in chronicling how the footage was illegally obtained. It’s strengths, however, lie in the clear line it draws between the slaughter of animals who might be our intellectual equals — there but for the lack of an opposable thumb go we — and the ecological horror behind it. The dolphins are not being killed primarily for their meat, which is so mercury laden you’d be far better off consuming Jeremy Piven, but was nevertheless criminally forced on local schoolchildren. The true motive for the crime turns out to be to eliminate a competitor for the dwindling supplies of seafood, a key source of our increasingly hungry world’s supply of protein. Despite all this, the dolphin is not yet an official endangered species, but then, neither are we.

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