Day of the 'Cove' Dolphin

This view of the infamous Cove in Taiji, Japan, where dolphins are herded and inhumanely slaughtered, shows some dolphins that were collected in drive hunts but were selected to be sold to non-U.S. aquariums -- a practice that further supports the hunts and the brutal killing of the rest of the dolphins herded.
This view of the infamous Cove in Taiji, Japan, where dolphins are herded and inhumanely slaughtered, shows some dolphins that were collected in drive hunts but were selected to be sold to non-U.S. aquariums - a practice that further supports the hunts and the brutal killing of the rest of the dolphins herded.

Since the 1940s, fishermen have gathered at the Japanese village of Taiji to kill dolphins for meat or capture them to sell to aquariums in Japan, China, Turkey and Dubai. Diana Reiss, professor of cognitive psychology at Hunter College and at the biopsychology and behavioral neuroscience graduate program at The Graduate Center, has been trying to persuade the Japanese government to stop these "drive hunts."

She hopes that "The Cove," which won an Oscar this year for best documentary feature, will help put an end to the inhumane practice. "This was a deep dark secret that the Japanese were hiding from the rest of the world," says Reiss, who helped educate the filmmakers about dolphins during the preliminary research phase of "The Cove."

"It had a huge impact globally. People want to stop this drive."

Look at Me - I'm Smart, Like You!

Head of marine mammal research at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Reiss has been working with dolphins in aquariums for more then three decades, focusing on their cognition and communication as well as comparative animal cognition and evolution of intelligence.

She was the founder and director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences at the New York Aquarium of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Marine World Africa USA in California.

Her research team was the first to demonstrate that bottlenose dolphins and elephants are able to recognize themselves in the mirror, a sign of self-awareness once thought to be a hallmark only of humanity.

Reiss is conducting further comparative investigations of mirror self-recognition in dolphins of different ages to see how it correlates with other stages of their social and cognitive development.

She has used these findings to advocate for animal welfare and for an end to the killing of dolphins and small whales in the drive hunts in Japan.

"We know these animals are intelligent, they're sentient, and we know that they can experience great pain and suffering," she says. "These are harvests that are the most inhumane treatment of animals. So, as a scientist, I feel that it's my responsibility to be speaking out and working in this arena."

At the New York Aquarium, top, Hunter College professor Diana Reiss communes with Presley, the first dolphin to pass the mark test and show the ability for mirror self-recognition. Left, Presley views himself, perhaps with pride. At right, two dolphins look toward a camera, watching while being watched.