TOKYO — An aquarium in a Japanese town known for dolphin hunts is being sued by an American activist who says denying him entry is discriminatory.
The lawsuit filed by former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry says the Taiji Whale Museum refuses entry to Western-looking people who want to check on a baby albino dolphin it has in captivity.
O'Barry said he was determined to take the white bottlenose he calls Angel to a more natural habitat, such as a sanctuary.
"They don't want people like me to go into the Taiji Whale Museum to monitor Angel," O'Barry said Thursday in Tokyo following a trip to Taiji, where he delivered his protest to the aquarium.
Katsuki Hayashi, who heads the aquarium, says it routinely denies entry to non-Japanese activists, such as members of Sea Shepherd, who come annually to protest the town's dolphin hunts. He said tourists and other visitors are welcome.
He declined comment on the lawsuit as he had yet to see it.
"We just politely refuse those kinds of people," he said. "They demand we free the dolphins."
Hayashi insisted the albino dolphin, captured with other dolphins in January and named Supika by the aquarium, was doing fine, eating herring and swimming with other dolphins.
The Taiji aquarium has dolphins in shows and other exhibits. It also sells dolphin and whale meat and dolphin toys.
O'Barry believes the dolphin is being harassed by other dolphins and is traumatized by being separated from its parents.
Taiji museum dolphin trainer Tetsuo Kirihata estimates the dolphin's age at about 1.
When asked what happened to its parents, Kirihata said: "We don't know for sure. They may have become meat."
The Japanese government defends the hunts of dolphins as tradition. But the Taiji hunt has drawn opposition internationally, including from U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, Sting and other celebrities.
O'Barry, 74, trained dolphins for the 1960s "Flipper" TV series before having a change of heart and turning against captivity. He starred in the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove" about Taiji's annual hunt.
In the hunt, a pod is driven into a cove and the dolphins are stabbed to death, as the water turns red. O'Barry and his supporters say killing dolphins for food is cruel because they are intelligent, wild animals.
Aside from the hunt, selling dolphins to aquariums is lucrative. After the best-looking dolphins are picked, the rest are slaughtered and sold as meat. The aquarium in Taiji denies the white dolphin is for sale.
This is the largest slaughter of dolphins on planet Earth," said O'Barry. "Hundreds of thousands of dolphins have died there, in the most brutal way imaginable. Angel is the symbol of all of that. That is why she is so important."
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