Ric O’Barry is quite literally a dolphin superhero. In Toronto to promote the upcoming documentary The Cove, the former Flipper trainer-turned-activist took an emergency call requiring him to rescue a porpoise in Spain.

“If there’s a dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world,” said the tireless advocate, “somebody will contact me. That’s how it works.”

As the documentary’s prime subject, O’Barry is a fascinating man who has spent the better part of 40 years struggling to prevent the multi-billion dollar industry of trapping dolphins for captivity.

In 1976, O’Barry discovered Taiji, Japan — a town whose darkest secret is the annual slaughter of thousands of cetaceans. In The Cove (which hits theatres this Friday), O’Barry enlists first-time filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and a small group of covert activists to document the ongoing massacre in the heavily guarded inlet.

“I think I did everything wrong on this film in terms of the subject,” joked Psihoyos. “Steven Spielberg told me when I first started this, ‘Never make a movie involving boats or large animals,’ and everything I did was going to involve boats and large, uncooperative animals.”

Animals aside, Psihoyos soon realized the true challenge would lie in eluding furious fishermen and armed guards to gather footage of the slaughter.

“People ask me, ‘Were you scared?’. I think I’m more scared now that it’s over,” said Psihoyos. “We’ve taken on the second largest economy in the world, the captive dolphin industry, the cove industry — I mean, The Cove is not just a movie about the cove, it’s a microcosm of what’s going on in the bigger oceans.”

As much as The Cove plays out like a taut thriller, it’s also an education into issues involving dolphins, the poisoning of marine life and the depleting oceans.

In fact, it can all be overwhelming but just as O’Barry tackles the Taiji slaughter, the dolphin superhero insists everyone can make a difference.

“If you’re buying a ticket for a performing dolphin show, you’re part of the problem,” said O’Barry. “Spend that same money seeing The Cove and you’ll see why.”