I-Team: San Francisco joins worldwide protests of Japan's 'dolphin killing season'

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Angry protests in San Francisco, London, and dozens of other cities around the world Thursday took place to mark the start of the "dolphin killing season" in Taiji, Japan.

This dolphin hunt has gone on for more than fifty years, but one man has made it his life's mission to stop it. As you might expect, pictures of the dolphin slaughter are tough to watch, but I will not show the worst of them

A noisy crowd marched on the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco, against the dolphin hunt now underway in Taiji Cove on the eastern coast of Japan. It runs for the next six months.

Demonstrators chanted, "Keep the dolphins wild and free!"

San Francisco joined dozens of other protests around the world, including one in London Thursday.

The man behind the protests is trying to link the dolphin slaughter to the summer Olympics in 2020, hosted by Japan.

"You cannot do the Olympics in Tokyo and continue to do the dolphin slaughter at the same time," said Ric O'Barry with dolphinproject.net. "It's not going to happen."

O'Barry knows dolphins well. He caught and trained them in Florida for a seaaquarium and for the popular 1960s TV series "Flipper."

I-TEAM ARCHIVE STORY: Dan Noyes investigates Japanese whale and dolphin slaughter

But then, he had a change of heart. O'Barry tells me he got tired of lying to customers.

"You lie to the public every day about that when they question you, 'Well, why are they here, what do they, where did you get them from?'" he said. "You don't tell them about the extremely violent captures and the mortality rate."

His most famous work is "The Cove," an Oscar-winning documentary in 2009 that first exposed the Taiji dolphin hunt.

His film showed the fishermen's techniques for capturing dolphins and small whales.

In "The Cove" he says, "And they just bang on these poles with hammers and they create a wall of sound, which frightens the dolphins."

They corral the dolphins close to shore with nets, drag others by rope and skiff, and attack. The cove turns red with blood.

In recent years, activists have captured gripping scenes - fishermen using boat propellers to scare dolphins to their deaths, a pilot whale mother popping out of the water to watch her baby slowly suffocate in the nets, and a Risso dolphin beaching itself at O'Barry's feet trying to escape the fishermen.

The Taiji fishermen have begun hanging tarps to conceal the slaughter, but the cove still turns red.

"This is the cruelest, cruelest thing I've ever seen in my life," said O'Barry.

This year, the Japanese government is allowing the Taiji fishermen to take 1,820 various types of dolphins and small whales.

Akira Ichioka from the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco agreed to an interview earlier this week, but backed out citing a scheduling conflict.

In 2012, a consulate official told me the dolphin slaughter is part of Japan's food culture.

"We would appreciate if you paid more respect to what we eat, how we use the marine resources," said Michio Harada with the San Francisco Japanese Consulate during a November 2012 interview.

But O'Barry disagrees, "I'm sorry, it's not their food. Japanese people don't even eat this stuff anymore. It's being, the dolphin meat is being reduced to pig food, pet food, and fertilizer."

O'Barry argues that dolphin and whale meat is less and less popular in Japan because of high mercury levels.

He says the Taiji hunt is all about selling trained dolphins to aquariums and theme parks for more than $100,000 each. For example, a prized catch from two years ago is an albino dolphin that now performs under the name Angel.

The U.S. government has banned the importation of Taiji dolphins, but Ric O'Barry argues if you buy a ticket to any dolphin show, you're supporting cruelty.

A trade group says 64 percent of dolphins now in American aquariums or theme parks were born in captivity.

Here are resources to both sides of the issue:

Japan's Position on Whaling

Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

Captive Cetacean Database

Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums
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