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'Cove' star Ric O'Barry says footage of false killer whale leaping out of tank demonstrates animal cruelty

July 12, 2010 |  7:17 pm

TOKYO — The star of a film about Japanese dolphin hunting said Friday that new video footage showing a dolphin jumping out of an aquarium tank underlines the cruelty of captivity and demanded that all of the creatures be set free.

The startling footage of the dolphin, a species known as the false killer whale, shows the animal suddenly leaping out of a tank during a July 4 marine show at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in southwestern Japan. An American tourist who was among the spectators shot the footage and sent it to Ric O'Barry.

O'Barry, 70, a former trainer for the "Flipper" TV show who now makes a career out of setting the animals free, made the videos available to the Associated Press.

In them, the dolphin lies on the floor. Workers wrap it in a mat and raise it by a crane to be placed back into the water. The other dolphins gather around the side of the tank.

O'Barry says the videos show a dolphin under stress.

"The habitat of that false killer whale is so unnatural it leaped out in desperation," he said in a telephone interview from Florida. "It wanted to end it. Why does a person jump out of a building?"

Hideshi Teruya, who manages the dolphin section of Churaumi, said the dolphin suffered minor scratches and bruises on its head and fin but was fine, and had a healthy appetite for mackerel and squid almost as soon as it was returned to a tank.

"It was playing around and jumped out by accident from the momentum," he told the Associated Press.

The age of the dolphin, a female named Kuru, which means "black" in Okinawan dialect, is unknown. It was captured about six years ago in the seas around Okinawa, Teruya said.

Teruya acknowledged that dolphins sometimes spring out and so he has placed mats around the tanks to prevent serious injury.

He denied the captivity was cruel, and said the tank was not overcrowded and followed general aquarium guidelines.

O'Barry believes such guidelines are inadequate. Dolphins are used to roaming for many miles a day, not swimming in a circle and doing flips at shows, he said.

Sound is the most important sense for dolphins. So keeping them in a concrete box is cruel, bombarding the animal with strange sounds and depriving a key sensory skill, according to O'Barry.

"It proves that captivity doesn't work," he said of the videos. "They are free-ranging creatures with a very large brain. They're self-aware and putting them in a small tank in a stadium setting is abusive."

O'Barry said many other animals, including snakes, tend to get zoo cages that look more like their natural habitat than do dolphins.

"Release all of them and find a cruelty-free way of making a living," he said.

"The Cove" depicts O'Barry's efforts to stop the slaughter of dolphins for food in the Japanese town of Taiji. It uses hidden cameras to show how the dolphins are killed, being herded into a cove and pierced with spears as they bleed and writhe in the water.

The film, which won best documentary at this year's Academy Awards, opened at theaters in Japan this month despite protests and threats by nationalists, who say the work ridicules Japanese culture.

RELATED DOLPHIN NEWS:
Tests show residents in dolphin-hunting village in 'The Cove' have elevated mercury levels
In Taiji, Japan, fishermen in the Cove are still killing dolphins (guest post by Ric O'Barry)

-- Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press

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