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Taiji dolphins enter fourth day of captivity without food or rest

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Frantic dolphins thrash and flail, some throwing themselves on to the sharp rocks that border the shoreline as they desperately try to escape their captors.

The heartbreaking scenes being broadcast live from Taiji Cove, in Japan, are inciting worldwide outrage as the trapped animals enter their fourth day without food or rest. Some appear bloodied, and injured. Others repeatedly try to jump over the nets separating them from members of their family pod, or the nets blocking the mouth of the infamous cove.

Over 200 dolphins remain in several small pens, to make it easier for the Japanese fishermen to drag them into the killing skiffs. Using harpoons or fishing gaffes, the fishermen spear the dolphins in their spines to disable them. Then the dolphins are shoved back into the sea, where they will slowly bleed to death or drown.

A live stream provided by marine life group, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has brought widespread attention to the annual killing. Thousands of people are protesting the dolphin hunt by phone, email, petitions, and on social media, including U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, who tweeted,

"Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries."

Yet, in spite of the widespread negative attention and bad publicity, the local Japanese government continues to defend the hunt as legal.

In a statement, Kazutaka Sangen, the mayor of Taiji said, "We have fishermen in our community and they are exercising their fishing rights," he said. "We feel that we need to protect our residents against the criticisms."

Like a previous response by the Wakayama Prefectural Government (where Taiji is located), Sangen’s statement appears to not fully comprehend the basis for the criticism.

The dolphin hunt is widely condemned by animal advocates as “inhumane” because of the live-capture element and the methods used to immobilize the dolphins destined for slaughter.

Dolphins live in close familial groups, where calves usually stay with their mothers for up to 8 years. The Taiji hunt separates the young dolphins from their mothers, and sells them to aquariums, where they will live out the rest of their lives in captivity.

If the annual catching quota has been reached, the remaining dolphins that are not killed will be released back to the ocean. Disoriented, stressed, and separated from their family members, the released dolphins’ chances of long-term survival are slim.

On Monday, about 40 to 60 divers and boats worked to drive the remaining dolphins into ever-smaller segments. Divers circle single dolphins and wrestle them towards the boats as they estimate and mark the dolphin’s suitability for slaughter. Much of the activity is shrouded by tarps, in an attempt to hide the work from public view but, on the live stream, the men can be heard cheering as they successfully pin a dolphin.

Once the slaughter begins, probably on Tuesday, the waters of the Tajij Cove will turn red with blood.

To help stop the slaughter, The visit the The Sea Shepherd’s website. Concerned animal advocates can also leave comments on social media via Twitter and on Facebook (Japan Information and Culture Center (JICC), Embassy of Japan and the Taiji Whale Museum).

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