May 6, 2011 / 9:33 AM / in 8 years

Pilot whale hunt extended in Japan town featured in Oscar film

TOKYO (Reuters) - The season for hunting pilot whales in a Japanese town made famous by the controversial Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” has been extended for a month, partly because of a devastating tsunami that hit Japan in March.

A captured short-finned pilot whale is measured by fishery workers including Fisheries Agency employees at Taiji Port in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji, 420 km (260 miles) southwest of Tokyo, June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Taiji, on the Pacific coast in southwestern Japan, shot to global infamy after the release of the movie, which featured eco-activists who struggle with police and fishermen to gain access to the town’s secluded cove where the grisly hunt takes place.

“The pilot whale hunt has been extended to May 31, since fishermen were unable to catch many during the usual September to April season,” said an official of the Wakayama prefecture government, which granted the extension.

Pilot whales are a member of the dolphin family but are bigger than some of the better-known dolphins, such as bottle nose dolphins.

In Taiji, they are hunted both by ship and by being driven into a cove, trapped with nets and killed. The slaughter was made notorious in “The Cove”, which won an Academy Award last year.

The hunt was poor this year partly because a major ocean current, the Kuroshio, did not approach as close to Japan as usual, keeping the pilot whales away, the official said.

The extension was also granted because a small whaling vessel from Wakayama, which is usually used in the hunt, had to go to northern waters to help with a research programme because the boat that usually does it was damaged in the March 11 tsunami.

A 9.0 magnitude quake triggered huge tsunami waves that crashed into Japan’s northeast coast. The official death toll is 14,800 with about 11,000 people missing.

Kyodo news agency said Taiji fishermen caught about 60 pilot whales on Wednesday. The annual quota is 200.

Brian Barnes, an animal rights activist, said in a report from Taiji posted on the “Save Japan Dolphins” website that he saw “about 40” pilot whales killed on Thursday and between 50 to 80 killed on Wednesday.

“Right now the nation of Japan needs the compassion of the world to help them through the aftermath of the terrible events on March 11,” he wrote.

“Can the leaders of Japan understand that showing compassion to dolphins, porpoises and their larger cousins, the great whales, is something the rest of the world is looking for from them?”

Japan has long maintained that killing and eating whale is a cherished culinary tradition, and conducts annual hunts ostensibly for research purposes.

It says that killing dolphins is not banned under any international treaty and that the animals are not endangered, adding that they need to be culled to protect fishing grounds.

“The Cove” has met with fierce opposition in Japan from groups who say it is “anti-Japanese” and an affront to their culture. The start of its Japanese showing last year was greeted with noisy protests and a scuffle from flag-waving demonstrators.

Editing by Robert Birsel

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