Controversial Taiji dolphin hunt begins in Japan - but fisherman fail to catch any on the first day

Dolphins escaped being killed on the first day of the annual hunt

The annual dolphin hunt in the Japanese town of Taiji, which has been the subject of international condemnation and Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, has begun after a delayed start due to bad weather.

However, on the first day of the hunt, which involves fishermen driving hundreds of the animals into a secluded cove where they are later dispatched by having a metal rod driven into their necks, no dolphins died, as the twelve boats failed to trap any.

The boats will set sail again for another attempt on 4 September, if the weather allows, a Taiji fisheries spokeswoman said.

The hunt has taken place for centuries, but was thrust into the public eye after the release of The Cove in 2009, which was secretly recorded at the Taiji hunts over the course of five years.

The footage showed the water in the bay where the dolphins are slaughtered turning red with blood, as they are dispatched by fishermen. The dolphins used to have their throats cut, but this method was banned in favour of the metal rod technique, which is thought to be more humane.

Some of the dolphins are sold to aquariums, but many are eaten, despite possible health risks due to the small amounts of mercury present in the dolphin meat.

Protesters and environmental campaigners visit the town every year, and authorities have recently increased their presence during the hunts, to discourage any potential confrontation between the locals and the demonstrators.

Those who participate in and defend the hunt point to the tradition, and the fact that the dolphins are not endangered.

He was released from police custody, after he was detained for not carrying his passport, which is against the law for foreign visitors to Japan.

O'Barry, 75, appeared in The Cove, and after his time working on Flipper had a change of heart, and now is a vocal campaigner against the capture and killing of dolphins.

Like many of the dolphins killed in Taiji, the minke whale is not endangered, but many activists are opposed to the use of explosive harpoons in the hunts, which can sometimes result in the whales taking hours to die when they are shot by inexperienced gunmen.

Commercial whaling is banned, but Japan claim that their killing of whales is for scientific research, thus skirting the ban.

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