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Dolphins for Avatar: what was JC thinking?

Dolphins perform in front of the Avatar cast (Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa)
Dolphins perform in front of the Avatar cast (Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa)

Film director James Cameron, long associated with a deep devotion to the ocean, appears to have chosen to risk alienating conservationist cinema-goers – by introducing an Avatar: The Way Of Water press conference in Japan with a captive dolphin performance.

The film director appeared poolside on 10 December along with stars of his new movie Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldaña, Sam Worthington and Stephen Lang at the Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa aquarium in Tokyo. The facility is not only a dolphinarium but holds 18,000 animals of 450 species.

After Cameron had welcomed the assembled Japanese press “to Pandora”, the name of the fictional planet on which the Avatar movies are based, six dolphins performed an interactive show with two of their trainers. 

Cameron, the actors and Avatar producer Jon Landau were seen applauding as trainers rode on the dolphins’ backs and beaks. After the show, the director was quoted as saying: “I love these animals, I love their intelligence. I love their sociability, their ability to connect with us and to interact with us and learn from us. And I’m sure everybody asked their permission to be in the show!” 

Avatar team (Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa)
Landau, Worthington, Saldaña, Cameron, Weaver and Lang (Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa)

Marine conservationists have described the publicity stunt as a “mis-step”, pointing out that in 2009 Cameron had produced a documentary alongside the director of The Cove to highlight the cruelty of dolphin-hunting in Japan, whether it ends in death or captivity.

UK-based charity the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation, which in 2010 awarded Cameron a “Proggy” for outstanding feature film for the original Avatar, condemned the director’s decision to promote the sequel through a dolphin show of the sort that has been banned in many countries, including the UK and some US states.

“James Cameron waited 13 years for the development of the right technology to bring the underwater world of Pandora to life, so why on Earth didn’t he pause for just five lousy minutes to consider whether he should have allowed himself to be seen as endorsing the cruelty of marine parks?” asked PETA’s US Senior Vice President Lisa Lange.

“Confining far-ranging dolphins to concrete tanks and using them as surfboards – riding on their faces in circus-style shows – is something the villains of Avatar would do, and PETA urges him to reject such animal misery outright and encourages everyone to shun these cruel parks.”

Avatar: The Way of Water was released in UK cinemas yesterday (16 December), with an in-depth feature about the diving involved in making the movie appearing on Divernet. Walt Disney Studios has been approached for comment.

Also on Divernet: Malta Park Blames Divers For Dolphin Deaths, Dolphins Guard Russian Warships Against Divers, Why Today Is World Dolphin Day


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Mary Finelli
Mary Finelli
11 months ago

That Disney, Avatar 2’s distributer, is a member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, might have something to do with it. Whether or not it does, James Cameron should release a public statement of regret for having attended and praised the dolphin show if he wants to try to redeem himself for it.

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