Opponents of Japan's annual dolphin slaughter have taken their campaign to a new level of confrontation by paddling into the bloody waters off a western killing cove to comfort animals moments before their deaths.

Dave Rastovich, a champion pro surfer from Australia, on Monday led a group of fellow antiwhaling activists into the waters off Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, where 30 or so captured pilot whales — adults and calves — were being held in a netted enclosure for butchering, according to Richard O'Barry, of the United States, who helped coordinate the event. Pilot whales are a variety of dolphin.

Local fishermen shouted threats and brandished propeller blades and a long wooden pole to chase the activists away, said Barry, 68, who once captured and trained the dolphins used in the 1960s hit U.S. television series "Flipper" about a family and their outdoor adventures with a dolphin, before becoming a celebrity dolphin-rights activist.