TOKYO (Reuters) - The mayor of a Japanese town which conducts an annual dolphin hunt protested on Monday against the Academy Award given to "The Cove," a documentary film about the grisly slaughter.
The film, which picked up an Oscar for best documentary feature in addition to a series of other awards, follows a group of activists who struggle with Japanese police and fishermen to gain access to a secluded cove in Taiji, southern Japan, where dolphins are hunted.
It features shocking footage of the slaughter.
"I think it is regrettable that the film presents as fact material that is not backed up by scientific proof," Taiji mayor Kazutaka Sangen said in a faxed statement. He emphasized that the hunt was legal in Japan and urged respect for the tradition.
"There are a variety of customs relating to food, within this country and abroad," he said.
"An attitude of mutual respect is necessary, based on understanding of the years-old traditions arising from these customs and the circumstances surrounding them."
The film, directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos and featuring a former dolphin trainer from the "Flipper" television series, is little known in Japan, where the government says the hunting of dolphins and whales is an important cultural tradition.
Hans Peter Roth, co-author of the book version of the film, said the Oscar would help shed light on the subject in Japan, but lamented that the hunts may not stop in the near future.
"I strongly believe that this international upsurge really puts quite a bit of pressure on this town," he told Reuters from the area where much of the "The Cove" was filmed.
"And I am afraid they are not going to stop the dolphin hunt within the next few years, regarding it being lucrative to sell live dolphins to dolphin areas."
A Japanese distributor said last week a slightly modified version of "The Cove" was set for release in major cities across Japan from May or June this year.
The faces of the fishermen will be blurred out and the distributor will add a note saying that there is disagreement about mercury levels in dolphin meat, which is sold as food and served for lunch at schools in the area.
Many in Japan said the film was exaggerated.
"Of course I feel pity for the dolphins but it's also true that from ancient times mankind has been living by eating animals and plants," said Masaaki Kibe, a 24-year-old college student.
"But I also agree that such a probe is also necessary so it's very difficult to give a firm opinion."
Reporting by Isabel Reynolds and Scilla Alecci; Editing by Paul Tait