TOKYO – TOKYO (AP) — Dolphins have been herded into a cove as part of an annual hunt in the Japanese seaside town made famous by an Oscar-winning documentary about their slaughter, conservationist group Sea Shepherd said Friday. A town official said none were killed.
The dolphin hunt at Taiji, documented in "The Cove," begins Sept. 1 every year. The boats returned empty Wednesday. But on Thursday, some dolphins were corralled into the inlet, according to anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd and a fishing official in Taiji.
The official in charge of media queries at the Taiji fishing organization said a handful of dolphins were kept for aquariums, but the rest were set free Friday morning. He declined to give details.
He said the criticism the town has received from the West was unfair because residents were merely trying to make a living, and the rocky landscape made it difficult to go into farming or livestock.
Ric O'Barry, who stars in "The Cove," has gathered about 100 people in Tokyo, including supporters from abroad, to protest the dolphin slaughter. He took a petition with 1.7 million signatures from 155 nations to the U.S. Embassy on Thursday.
"The dolphins need defenders at the cove today and tomorrow," said Michael Dalton of Sea Shepherd in a statement from Taiji. "If you came to Japan to save dolphins, the place to be is Taiji and the time to be here is now."
O'Barry, 70, the former dolphin trainer for the 1960s "Flipper" TV show, has received threats from a violent nationalist group and skipped going to Taiji this year, a trip he makes every year to try to save the dolphins.
He said he had been advised by Japanese authorities not to go to Taiji, and repeatedly stressed that he does not want confrontation.
He was flanked by police, as well as supporters, when he went to the U.S. Embassy. But some of his supporters said they are headed to Taiji.
Nationalist groups say criticism of dolphin hunting is a denigration of Japanese culture.
The Japanese government allows a hunt of about 20,000 dolphins a year, and argues that killing them — and whales — is no different from raising cows or pigs for slaughter. Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat and, even in Taiji, it is not consumed regularly.
The government is also critical of Sea Shepherd, which has harrassed Japanese whaling ships. In July, a Tokyo court convicted New Zealander Peter Bethune, a former Sea Shepherd activist, of obstructing a Japanese whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean, assault, trespassing and other charges. He was not sent to prison and was deported.
"The Cove," which won this year's Academy Award for best documentary, depicts a handful of fishermen from the town of Taiji who scare dolphins into a cove and kill them slowly, piercing them repeatedly until the waters turn red with blood. Other Japanese towns that hunt dolphins kill them at sea.
Taiji, which has a population of 3,500 people, defends the dolphin killing as tradition and a livelihood. Most of the dolphins are generally eaten as meat after a handful of the best looking are sold off to aquariums.
"I'm not losing hope. Our voice is being heard in Taiji," said O'Barry, who has campaigned for four decades to save dolphins not only from slaughter but also from captivity.
The film's Japanese debut became a free-speech fight. It opened in some theaters in June after earlier screenings were canceled when cinemas received a flood of angry phone calls and threats by far-right nationalists.
Louie Psihoyos, the director of "The Cove," said he doesn't agree with blindly sticking with tradition.
"In America we had a much longer tradition of slavery, but that was banned," Psihoyos told The Associated Press. "My message to Japan is to see the movie for yourself with an open mind."
On the Net:
"The Cove": http://www.thecovemovie.com/