A Twitter message condemning the annual slaughter of hundreds of dolphins in a bay in southern Japan by Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Tokyo, has attracted widespread criticism from conservative groups in Japan.
In a message on the social media site on Saturday, ambassador Kennedy said she was "deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing".
Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.
— キャロライン・ケネディ駐日米国大使 (@CarolineKennedy) January 18, 2014 
Her comments coincided with local fishermen herding a pod of more than 250 dolphins into a small bay close to the town of Taiji, including infant dolphins and a rare albino calf, according to the US conservation group Sea Shepherd, which is monitoring the cull.
The majority of the dolphins will be slaughtered and the meat will go for human consumption or into pet food. A few of the mammals will be sold to marine parks.
The annual slaughter gained international notoriety with the release of the documentary The Cove, which won the Academy Award for the best documentary in 2010.
"The ambassador's tweet was not specific to the situation at Taiji, but it was clearly related to the events that are going on there at the moment," a source at the US Embassy in Tokyo told the South China Morning Post.
"The responses to the tweet in English have been overwhelmingly supportive and have come from all around the world," she said, adding that the message has been shared more than 1,000 times.
The messaged translated into Japanese has also been shared around 1,000 times, but the reactions have been different. The message was seized upon by the "net uyoku" - nationalist groups that take it upon themselves to police the internet in search of comments that they consider to be critical of Japan, its customs and actions and then summon like-minded net users to attack the original message.
"They have been quite organised in the way they have responded to the tweet," she said.
|Fishermen, on a boat with their fresh kill, navigate blood-filled waters in the coastal town of Taiji in Japan's Wakayama prefecture, the site of a yearly dolphin cull. Photo: AP|
One poster added a poem that emphasised how delicious dolphin meat is, while several others compared consuming beef or lamb with dolphin and said that Westerners are hypocritical for condemning the traditional hunt.
The embassy spokesperson agreed that was a valid argument, but added that the ambassador's message was about the inhumane way in which the panic-stricken dolphins are first herded into a small space before being killed.
The official said the US embassy was closed for a national holiday on Monday but she anticipated more comments to come from conservative groups in the following days.
Yoichi Shimada, a professor at Japan's Fukui Prefectural University, said the tradition of killing dolphins has been going on for centuries and because the dolphins consume the sea life that local fishermen rely on, the matter is "a life-or-death problem".
"Many Japanese are sympathetic towards the local fishermen and they argue that Westerners eat baby cows and sheep, so it is wrong to only blame the fishermen," he added.
"I do not believe that Ambassador Kennedy knows much about the history of these arguments," he added. "And she has the right to raise the issue, but just putting out messages on Twitter or Facebook is inappropriate.
"There are a limited number of words that can be used on a Twitter message and it is impossible to truly debate a matter such as this," he added.