• The Associated Press

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The star of the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” about the town of Taiji’s dolphin hunt said Monday in Tokyo that activists trying to stop the killing might need to back off and allow the Japanese people to tackle the issue themselves.

“The Cove” highlighted the story of a handful of fishermen from the town in Wakayama Prefecture who annually herd dolphins into a cove and stab them to death, turning the waters red with blood. The film led to international condemnation of the hunt that begins each September, but the people of Taiji have defended the killing as their tradition and a livelihood that will continue.

This year’s hunt has drawn activists from around the world, and they are monitoring the situation. No dolphins have been killed so far this year, but a Taiji fishing official said several dolphins that have been captured will be sold off to aquariums and the rest set free.

Ric O’Barry, former dolphin trainer for the 1960s “Flipper” TV series and star of “The Cove,” distanced himself from more aggressive protest groups and said dialogue with residents, not confrontation, is the way forward.

“Maybe it’s time to back off,” the 70-year-old told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “Japanese people have to get involved in this issue.”

Last Thursday, O’Barry took a petition containing 1.7 million signatures of people from 155 nations to the U.S. Embassy, demanding the dolphin killing end. He said he met with U.S. diplomats again Monday to get Washington to talk with the Japanese government, which allows a hunt of about 20,000 dolphins a year.

O’Barry decided against going to Taiji this year after far-right nationalist groups, which say criticism of dolphin hunting is a denigration of Japanese culture, threatened to attack him.

Michael Dalton of the conservationist group Sea Shepherd said he saw anywhere from seven to nine dolphins swimming around in a pen Monday in a harbor in Taiji. He said there were no signs of a slaughter, but noted the harbor was not the cordoned-off cove depicted in the film.

“People are constantly in touch with each other so we know what’s going on. And there doesn’t seem to be much action happening at the moment,” Dalton said.

Sea Shepherd is best known for its harassment of Japanese ships in the Southern Ocean during the fleet’s annual whaling season.

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