One Japanese coastal village, whose annual dolphin hunt was made famous in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, opened this year's season on Friday by reportedly herding together 20 of the mammals while opponents ramped up protests against the practice.
Residents of Taiji hunt dolphins and whales for food annually, and sell what the Associated Press calls "the best-looking" ones to zoos and aquariums. Japan's government has set a yearly quota of 20,000, and argues that the killings and captures are no different from raising pigs and cows. The hunt is not subject to international antiwhaling laws.
But dolphin campaigners, including Rick O'Barry, the former Flipper trainer who starred in The Cove, say the practice is barbaric. Protesters, including O'Barry, gathered in Tokyo this week to mark the September 1 start of the season. They presented a petition with 1.7 million signatures to the U.S. embassy there, in an apparent attempt to persuade President Obama to lobby for their cause when he visits Japan in November, according to Agence-France Presse.
The protesters were warned not to travel to Taiji after threats by a Japanese nationalist group with a tendency for violence. Many Japanese see the hunt as an important cultural event, and say The Cove was anti-Japanese. "Police have warned me that, if I went, there would be violence," O'Barry told AFP. "We don't want to provoke violence."
Watched by activists with the group Sea Shepherd, a fleet of six boats left Taiji at 5.30 a.m. Thursday, according to the Japan Times, with hunters soon spotting a pod of about 20 dolphins and, according to AP, herding them into the cove.
When the eyes of the world are not on them, the hunters typically select the best dolphins to sell, and harpoon the others "until the waters turn red with blood," according to AP. This year a village official told the news agency that some fine examples had been kept for sale and the rest set free. But the Japan Times noted that "the whalers will continue their hunt through next spring."