Story highlights

Dolphin activist and star of Oscar-winning documentary held in Tokyo

Son says he was traveling to Taiji to monitor annual slaughter of dolphins

Tokyo CNN  — 

The animal-rights activist and star of the “The Cove,” which highlighted Japan’s controversial annual dolphin slaughter in the town of Taiji, has been detained at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, his lawyer says.

Takashi Takano told CNN that Ric O’Barry has been detained in a deportees’ facility at the airport on Monday and that he had met with the activist in the company of immigration officials. Takano was told by officials that O’Barry had tried to enter Japan on a tourist visa but his tourist status was not fully proven. Officials refused to refused to provide him with further information.

His son, Lincoln O’Barry, told CNN that his father had entered Japan to monitor the hunt, to test the dolphin meat for mercury poisoning and to work with local activists.

According to Takano, officials accused O’Barry of being related to Sea Shepherd, the high-profile, anti-poaching marine conservancy organization – an accusation he denied.

“He has no affiliation with Sea Shepard. He’s been doing this (activism) for well over 40 years,” his son said. Prior to his activism, O’Barry was the dolphin trainer for the TV series “Flipper.”

Takano said he has filed a formal objection, requesting authorities to allow O’Barry into the country, or issue an order to leave the country. If the 76-year old is deported, he can’t re-enter Japan for five years.

READ MORE: Japan aquariums to stop taking dolphins from annual Taiji hunt

Previous arrest

O’Barry was arrested last August for not carrying his passport whilst in Japan, but the charges were later dropped when the document was discovered in his car. The actor is detained for questioning every time he visits Japan, Takano said, but this time the situation seems more serious.

In a statement on his website via his son, O’Barry said he was being used as a scapegoat for animal rights activists.

The Japanese government is cracking down on those who oppose their war on dolphins,” O’Barry said, through his son. “I feel I am being used as a figurehead representing all Western activists.”

His son continued: “This is a desperate attempt by the Japanese Government to hide the atrocities in Taiji. They have run out of excuses on why the slaughter and sale of mercury-contaminated dolphin meat continues. Dolphin hunting in Taiji began in the 1950s and is hardly cultural or traditional. The dolphins that aren’t slaughtered are sold to dolphin ‘abusement’ parks around the world.”

He told CNN that the slaughter of dolphins is a relatively new phenomenon and not part of the area’s long-held traditions.

“Traditionally whaling goes back very far in Taiji but dolphin hunting is not something that is traditional. Everything that is killed in the cove is a dolphin and that started in the 1950s. It’s not part of their culture or tradition.”

READ MORE: Opinion: How hunters slaughter dolphins in Japan