These are the first pictures of Japan’s shameful dolphin hunt that sees more than 20,000 of the beautiful mammals slaughtered every year.
These undercover pictures show the first victims of the annual ritual — held in tiny pens after being herded into them by fishermen.
Most of these will be sold to dolphin parks around the world but thousands more are killed in hidden coves for their meat.
Local officials lock down the area to stop the world witnessing the cull which starts every September.
But these covert pictures were smuggled out of the coastal town of Taiji by an undercover team of activists.
Brit Michael Dalton is leading the group from Sea Shepherd — the marine life campaign group that first exposed the Taiji hunt.
They breached heavy security to carry out daytime and night reconnaissance in the hope of cutting the nets and freeing the dolphins.
He said: “We staked out the harbour where the dolphin pens are located. Guards were positioned in four vehicles on two points overlooking the pens with headlights and spotlights on the pens constantly, guards changing every hour.
“The fishermen are on red alert here, and they are convinced that Sea Shepherd will once again launch a successful strike against the nets.
“There are dolphins in the sea pens waiting to be trained and shipped off to a marine park somewhere for a life of misery, to be fed a cocktail of antibiotics and anti-depressants for the remainder of its natural life.”
Michael, 44, and his team in Taiji are there despite threats issued by ultra right wing Japanese nationalists.
The activist said he had seen anywhere from seven to nine dolphins — which could be sold for up £150,000 each — swimming around in a pen in the harbour on Monday.
An Oscar-winning documentary about the cull, The Cove, showed the barbaric slaughter last year using hidden cameras in rocks and trees around the killing pens.
Sea Shepherd believe its presence has so far deterred fisherman from killing the dolphins because they do not know if they are under surveillance.
But the campaigners are convinced the killing will start if the protesters leave.
Captain Paul Watson, who is patrolling the waters for Sea Shepherd close to Taiji, said: “Last year the fishermen at Taiji captured dolphins at the beginning of September and released them due to the presence of media and concerned citizens. A month later, they began killing again.
“We suspect they are trying to appease the protest by making it appear that the dolphins will be released. Once media and protesters leave, they will resume the slaughter just as they did last year.”
Japan has refused to stop the hunts despite worldwide condemnation.
The star of The Cove — Ric O’Barry — said activists trying to stop the killing might need to back off and allow the Japanese people to tackle the issue themselves.
Mr O’Barry, 70, former dolphin-trainer for the 1960s Flipper TV series, said: “Maybe it’s time to back off. Japanese people have to get involved in this issue.”
Source: Global Animal