More than 250 bottlenose dolphins have been rounded up by Japanese fisherman to be slaughtered for meat or sold into captivity, animal conservationists are warning.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) said dolphins were corralled into the Taiji cove and held overnight as the town's controversial annual hunt was underway. It said one dolphin died in the process, and a rare young albino dolphin had been among those being held captive by the fishermen.
The SSCS has been live streaming the events in the Cove and posting updates on Twitter and Facebook, after announcing on Friday five separate pods of bottlenose dolphins had been driven into the cove.
The town of Taiji, in the Higashimuro District, continues to hunt for small whales and dolphins after commercial whaling was suspended in 1988.
The town was the subject of the 2009 documentary The Cove, which examined Japan's infamous dolphin hunting culture and the controversial dolphin hunt that takes place in the town between September and April annually. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary the following year.
The group said the captive selection process began today. In a Facebook post earlier on Saturday, the SSCS wrote: "250 plus bottlenose dolphins were held in the killing cove for over 19 hours. This morning after sunrise, dolphin killers and local dolphin trainers entered the cove via skiff.
"The captive selection began shortly after 7am this morning as the two pods were further divided to make it easier for the killers to maneuver [sic] toward the shore. Babies were separated from their mothers and herded under the tarps.
"The first of the captives that was taken this morning was the rare white bottlenose calf. The killers hid the baby dolphin under a tarp and transferred immediately to Taiji Whale Museum.
"A total of 25 dolphins were kidnapped from the cove during the eight-hour captive selection today. One dolphin did not survive the traumatic process and was dragged to the butcher house. The remaining 200 plus pod will be left divided and will be held for a second night in the shallow waters of the cove until the captive selection will resume at approximately 7am tomorrow morning."
Caroline Kennedy, The US ambassador to Japan tweeted her concern following news of the hunt today.
Celebrities also joined in condemning the hunt, with comedian Ricky Gervais calling for Twitter users to re-tweet the hashtag #tweet4taiji and actress Kirsty Alley tweeting: "HUNDREDS of DOLPHINS awaiting SLAUGHTER in #THECOVE ... JAPAN, STOP THIS HORROR!!"
Local fishermen defend the hunt as a centuries old local custom, but conservationists consider the hunt slaughter.