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This Year's Most Disturbing Film is A Documentary

Back in the 60s, Ric O'Barry was a pioneer in the field of dolphin training. He captured and trained the five female dolphins who collectively played "Flipper" on the TV show of the same name, and spent almost ten years living and working with those animals. The Cove is partly the story of how Ric came to realize that dolphins were incredibly intelligent, sensitive and self-aware creatures, and that they suffered greatly in captivity, and how he has spent the last thirty years remorsefully trying to destroy an industry he helped create -- the one you see in action when you go to Sea World. (Did you know, for instance, that Sea World puts Maalox and Tagamet into the dolphins' food because they're so stressed out by captivity that they develop bleeding ulcers?)

The Cove is also the story of one little Japanese town, Taiji, that has (or had) a big secret. It's where a great many of the bottlenose dolphins that perform in hundreds of dolphinariums like Sea World across the globe are caught, and they can fetch a high price -- up to $150,000 per trained dolphin. But fishermen in Taiji capture many thousands of dolphin every year -- herding them from the open ocean into netted pens in a hidden cove just north of town -- and the ones that aren't sold into captivity (that is, the majority of them) are slaughtered for their meat in the most horrific way imaginable, stabbed and hacked to death by fishermen with harpoons in an orgy of killing that turns the whole bay a deep red. But the most baffling part about it is that 1) most dolphin meat has way more mercury in it than is safe to eat, and 2) most Japanese people don't want to eat dolphin meat. As the documentary uncovers, the truth is that they're eating it but they don't realize it, because the meat is repackaged and sold as exotic whale meat in Japanese supermarkets. The only rationale for the Japanese government issuing 23,000 permits to kill dolphin every year (and abetting the meat-switch cover-up) is that the economies of a few small towns have come in part to depend on this bloody trade, and that, almost to spite the many other countries who banned the killing of all cetaceans (whales and dolphins both) back in the 70s, Japan is simply refusing to back down out of some misguided kind of nationalistic pride.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox now. But even if you don't agree with its politics, The Cove is absolutely riveting -- it's sure to be a front-runner for this year's Best Documentary Oscar and critics have been calling it "Flipper meets Bourne Identity," if you can imagine such a thing -- the covert operations that Ric and his team must stage in order to get footage of the slaughter is risky, high-tension stuff, and very dramatic.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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