Undeterred by fierce international criticism, Japanese fishermen were out at sea yesterday attempting to trap more dolphins as part of an annual hunt.
Clouds of blood drifted through the waters of the cove in Taiji on Tuesday as metal spikes were driven into the spinal columns of bottlenose dolphins that had been trapped for several days, environmentalists said.
Activists from the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who are keeping vigil at the site in western Japan, said several dozen animals were killed behind tarpaulin sheets. Video footage from the group showed fishermen in wetsuits grappling with the dolphins as they herded them into the screened-off area.
Yesterday the hunters' boats were out on the ocean looking for more pods, the group said on its Twitter feed, but added that the pod they had initially been chasing had got away.
The group said on its Facebook page that 41 dolphins had been killed so far, and 52 had been removed alive from the cove.
The environmental group said that the fishermen intended to sell the captive creatures to aquariums and dolphinariums.
The mass slaughter of the animals at Taiji came to worldwide attention with the Oscar-winning 2009 film The Cove, which graphically showed the cull.
Local officials say the hunt is an economic necessity for an area that has little else in the way of industry, and accuse campaigners of cultural insensitivity.
They insist they no longer use the methods depicted in The Cove, but employ a more "humane" technique in which the dolphins' spinal cords are severed, causing instant death.
However, the hunt continues to provoke strong reactions, especially in the West, although Japan defends the practice as a traditional - and legal - fishing method vital to the local economy.
Watch: Japanese dolphin hunt continues despite controversy
Criticism on Twitter from US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy at the weekend - who said she was "deeply concerned by inhumaneness" - was met with a curt response from Tokyo. It said dolphins were an "important marine resource, which should be sustainably used based on scientific data".
While some hunt supporters in Japan have said they believed Kennedy's tweet might been loose talk from a first-time diplomat, Washington confirmed it reflected the official stance of the United States.
"The US does remain committed to the global moratorium on commercial whaling, and we are concerned with both the sustainability and the humaneness of the Japanese dolphin hunts," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "We have been very clear that this is our position, and we remain concerned about it. The ambassador was expressing our view that we've made public for a long time."
Dolphins are not included in the whaling moratorium.
Additional reporting by McClatchy-Tribune