The mayor of the fishing village portrayed in the documentary The Cove defended local dolphin hunts as part of local tradition after the film's best documentary Oscar.
About 2,000 dolphins are killed in Taiji annually for their meat. The Japanese government permits about 19,000 dolphins to be killed annually. Some are captured and sold to aquariums.
Watch a trailer for The Cove
Using underwater and sometimes covert photography, the film portrays the process of driving the dolphins into a cove and killing them. Its most memorable sequence shows a sedate underwater scene slowly filling with blood. The film, co-produced by actor Fisher Stevens, also claims that dolphin meat is laden with toxic mercury.
The mayor's office in Taiji — the southwestern Japan fishing village featured in the movie — issued a statement saying the killings are lawful.
"There are different food traditions within Japan and around the world," read the statement, according to The Associated Press. "It is important to respect and understand regional food cultures, which are based on traditions with long histories."
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Though few residents had seen the film, many are disgusted with their community's portrayal, the AP reported.
Japanese government officials have defended the right to hunt dolphins and called the film unbalanced.
"There are some countries that eat cows, and there are other countries that eat whales or dolphins," Yutaka Aoki, fisheries division director at Japan's Foreign Ministry, told the AP. "A film about slaughtering cows or pigs might also be unwelcome to workers in that industry."
After receiving the Oscar in Los Angeles, director Louie Psihoyos said backstage that The Cove isn't meant to bash Japan. "Our hope is the Japanese people will see this film and decide themselves whether animals should be used for meat and for entertainment," he said.
During Sunday night's Oscarcast, the camera quickly cut away as Ric O'Barry, now a pro-dolphin activist who appears in the film and trained dolphins for the 1960s TV series Flipper, held up a placard urging viewers to text DOLPHIN to 44144. Those who do will receive messages about efforts to stop the dolphin killings.