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Whales, dolphins and big feature films

Posted February 4th, 2010 by simmonto

For the second time in two years, an Oregon State University professor is in the limelight as part of an acclaimed feature film on marine mammals.

This time, it’s Scott Baker, an associate professor and associate director of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute in Newport and an internationally recognized authority on illegal trafficking in whale and dolphin meat. He’s included prominently in “The Cove,” a documentary on Taiji, Japan, where fishers hunt dolphins to sell their (mercury-tainted) meat or to capture for use in the “dolphin entertainment industry.”

“The Cove” has won a long list of honors from some of the world’s best film festivals — Toronto, Sydney and Hot Docs, to name just a few — as well as big prizes from the Director’s Guild, the New York Film Critics, the Screenwriters Guild, the National Board of Review and more. Earlier this week, it was named one of five contenders for Best Documentary Feature for the big kahuna — the Oscar.

Given all the acclaim “The Cove” has earned thus far, Baker feels good about its chances with the Academy. But more than that, he’s pleased with the attention it’s drawing to the plight of dolphins in Taiji.

Last year, OSU Marine Mammal Institute Director Bruce Mate had a major presence in “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” a National Geographic Channel film (narrated by Tom Selleck) that became the channel’s most widely seen documentary ever. The film followed 15 blue whales off the coasts of California and Costa Rica — whales tagged by Mate, a pioneer in tagging and monitoring the giant sea creatures. OSU watchers will also remember that Mate was the center of significant attention in 2008, when Terri Irwin, widow of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, came to OSU with daughter/TV star Bindi with a donation to underwrite two humpback whale research projects under Mate’s direction.

This is all emblematic of the growing stature of the Marine Mammal Institute, which, though still relatively small, is widely recognized for the importance and impact of its science. Mate, Baker,  Asst. Prof. Markus Horning and a team of 20 research and administrative staff and graduate students have made Newport a hotbed of scientific activity around whales, sea lions, dolphins, seals and other mammals of the sea.

“The Cove” should elevate that recognition further. Portlanders and others in the metro area will get to hear/see more of Baker in KGW TV’s popular “Live @ 7″ show, which interviewed him yesterday. The segment is set to air Friday night.


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