TOKYO (AFP) – Animal rights activists protested against Japan's dolphin hunts in a rally outside the US embassy in Tokyo Thursday, calling on President Barack Obama to pressure the country over the issue.
Ric O'Barry, star of the Oscar-winning eco-documentary "The Cove", handed a petition with 1.7 million signatures from more than 150 countries to US embassy officials, a day after the dolphin season started in the town of Taiji.
"We have come to ask President Obama to get involved in this issue and ask the Japanese government to abolish this annual, anachronistic, brutal slaughter of dolphins," said O'Barry, who trained dolphins for the TV show "Flipper".
The US president is expected to visit Japan in November for an annual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders.
Some 70 volunteers from countries including the United States, Canada and Australia have gathered in Tokyo to join O'Barry, and 40 of them accompanied him up to the police security perimeter around the US embassy.
O'Barry said the group had called off plans to visit Taiji, in southwestern Japan, after receiving threats of violence from right-wing nationalist groups that defend the country's right to hunt dolphins and whales.
"Police have warned me that, if I went, there would be violence," he said. "We don't want to provoke violence."
Every year, fishermen in Taiji herd about 2,000 dolphins into a shallow bay, select several dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks and harpoon the rest for meat.
Japanese media said fishermen in Taiji had trapped some 20 bottlenose dolphins in the secluded cove on Thursday, the first
catch of the season, but a local fisherman declined to confirm the reports.
"We don't want to be reported on by foreign media," he said. "This is what we do for a living. We are worn out because of the row over 'The Cove'."
The crew that shot the film over several years often worked secretly and at night to elude authorities and angry fishermen, setting up disguised cameras underwater and in forested hills around the rocky cove.
"The Cove", directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary this year. A follow-up television series called "Blood Dolphins" is airing on the Animal Planet channel.