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Japan Takes More Dolphins, Local Officials Block Media From Hunters

<p>Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians</p>

The dolphin hunt raged on last weekend, as Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians documented hunters capturing four Pacific white-sided dolphins for marine parks. The animals, which are a valuable species for captivity, were caught near the mouth of Taiji's harbor using a net and transferred to harbor pens near the shore. For the first time, local coast guard was on hand to assist the hunters and attempt to block activists' view of the scene, Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians report.

- Cove Guardians (@CoveGuardians) January 27, 2014

4 White-sided dolphins have been kidnapped from the ocean and tossed into tiny sea pens. http://t.co/ytrsJQWIoW 11:20a #tweet4taiji

- Cove Guardians (@CoveGuardians) January 27, 2014

The incident led many activists to point out that since the fishing trip took dolphins that were only meant for captivity and not for meat, Japan's claims to a cultural legacy for the hunt are called into question. Traditionally, dolphin hunting was a means for procuring meat, says Dan Gilgoff over at National Geographic. "Dolphin meat has long been considered a local Taiji delicacy, and meat from the Taiji dolphin hunt has been sold across Japan." But as sales of dolphin meat decrease due to high mercury levels, captivity is slowly replacing meat as a source of profit, Gilgoff writes:

At the same time, the sale of dolphins captured in the Taiji drive hunt for marine park display (via brokers such as the Taiji Whale Museum) appears to be a steadily growing profit source for the hunts. From 2000-2005, an average of 56 live dolphins annually were sold for captive display. From 2006-2012, the annual average has more than doubled to 137, with a total of 247 sold for captive display in 2012-2013, according to marine mammal advocacy groups.

Humans began keeping dolphins in captivity in the late 1800s, and drive hunting only began in 1969, when skiffs became powerful enough to herd dozens of dolphins into the cove at once.

The news comes just days after two captive bottlenose dolphins that were rounded up during previous hunts this year were found dead in their pens on Taiji's shores.