Japan releases 'Flipper' dolphin trainer after arrest

This file picture taken on Nov 2, 2010 shows US dolphin activist Ric O'Barry protesting against dolphin hunting in Taiji in Wakayama prefecture, western Japan.
This file picture taken on Nov 2, 2010 shows US dolphin activist Ric O'Barry protesting against dolphin hunting in Taiji in Wakayama prefecture, western Japan.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese police said on Wednesday that they have released US animal rights activist Ric O'Barry, who trained dolphins for the TV show "Flipper", after he was arrested near the infamous whaling town of Taiji.

O'Barry, 75, was taken into custody on Monday, on the eve of Taiji kicking off its controversial six-month dolphin hunt, for allegedly failing to carry his passport after being stopped by police.

"He was released at 8.40 pm (1140 GMT) on Tuesday," a local police spokesman told AFP.

"He admitted to not carrying his passport - there was no need to keep him in custody."

He will likely face a fine of up to 100,000 yen (S$1,178), but the arrest of a foreigner in Japan for not carrying a passport is rare. Police said they had initially questioned O'Barry on suspicion of drunk driving.

O'Barry, who appeared in the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove" which drew worldwide attention to the small town of Taiji, has frequently visited the community to protest against its dolphin hunt.

Police have dispatched more officers to the town for the hunt in anticipation of possible clashes between locals and activists.

Immigration authorities have denied entry to anti-whaling demonstrators at airports, according to conservation group Sea Shepherd.

In the annual catch, people from the south-western town corral hundreds of dolphins into a secluded bay and butcher them, a scene thrust into the global spotlight in "The Cove".

Environmental campaigners visit the town every year now to watch the hunt.

The latest dolphin-killing hunt, which opens on Sept 1 every year, has been pushed back due to bad weather, a local fisheries association official said.

O'Barry, who found fame first in the 1960s for catching and training five dolphins for the well-known TV series "Flipper", has recently fought against keeping the mammals in captivity.