Agence France Presse Report on Taiji

More dolphins arrive in Japan after anti-hunt protesters
TAIJI, Japan, Nov 23

Thirteen fishing boats herded a pod of Risso's dolphins into this small central Japanese town Sunday, their seventh haul this year in a centuries-old tradition ruffled recently by the strongest conservationist protests locals say they have ever seen.

The dolphins were moved into coves and enclosed by nets to keep them alive overnight before their slaughter due Monday.

The hunt is a way of life for some in this coastal town of 4,000 inhabitants, but locals are rattled by the vigor with which a conservationist group has them brought under global scrutiny to highlight the plight of the animals.

In early October the environmental group, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, posted pictures on the Internet showing the slaughter of 91 dolphins in a blood-red bay at Taiji.

The pictures appeared in newspapers and Internet sites around the world.

And last week two members of the group were arrested for cutting a dolphin-encasing net. The group, which calls the dolphin-hunting "horrifically cruel" and intended to gain meat for what is essentially a luxury item in Japan, has warned of more protests.

Citizens of the self-dubbed "Town of Whales" Sunday called the protesters culturally and historically ignorant and an affront to whalers and dolphin hunters whose incomes funded most of the town's budget some four decades ago.

"Everyone's livelihood depends on this," said a woman in her 50s, whose husband and son helped bring in the haul. "We have been doing this for hundreds of years."

Taiji's quota of 2,900 dolphins, among the nation's annual take of some 22,000, is among the largest in the nation, according to Japanese Fisheries Agency officials.

The standoff between the town and conservationists came as Japan sent its controversial research whaling fleet of five vessels in early November to the Antarctic Ocean to kill up to 440 minke whales, whose meat ends up in supermarkets, inns and restaurants across Japan.

Although the International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, Japan continues to take whales for the nominal goal of research. The commission does not regulate the hunt of dolphins.