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Hayden Panettiere, Fishermen in Violent Sea Confrontation Over Dolphins' Slaughter

Actress Hayden Panettiere has been involved in a violent confrontation with Japanese fishermen as she tried to disrupt their annual dolphin slaughter.

The 18-year-old star of the TV blockbuster "Heroes" paddled out on a surfboard in an attempt to reach a pod of dolphins to stop them from being driven into a nearby cove and killed.

But the six surfers, from Australia and the United States, were intercepted by a fishing boat before they could reach the dolphins.

The fishermen used the boat's propellers to block their way and at one point struck out with a boathook.

It was an ugly and potentially life-threatening confrontation that lasted more than 10 minutes before the surfers were forced to return to the beach.

It is believed that the dolphins were later taken into the cove and killed.

Panettiere, who is a keen surfer and a committed marine conservationist and supporter of the campaign to save the Japan dolphins, said: "It was really frightening.

"Some of us were hit by the boathook. But in the end all we really worried about was the dolphins.

"It was so incredibly sad. We were so close to them and they were sky hopping, jumping out of the water to see us."

Breaking down in tears, she added: "One little baby dolphin stuck his head out and kinda looked at me and the thought that it's no longer with us is really hard to take."

The surfers drove straight to Osaka airport and left the country to avoid arrest by the Japanese national police.

All would have been charged with trespass, but Panettiere is now back in Los Angeles.

More than 22,000 dolphins are slaughtered by fishermen in Japan every year. The hunt continues despite worldwide condemnation.

In Taijie, more than 2,000 mammals are slaughtered in the season.

Many Japanese believe dolphins should be treated like fish. They have been hunting dolphins for centuries and see any criticism of this as an attack on their culture.