TOKYO – The star of an Oscar-winning documentary that shows how dolphins are hunted in a Japanese village was deported to the U.S. on Friday after Tokyo airport officials barred his entry and he was held in detention for more than two weeks.
Ric O’Barry said he was determined to come back to Japan and keep fighting to save the dolphins, working with Japanese people.
“The work will continue,” he told The Associated Press from aboard his plane. “Taking me out of the picture won’t stop it.”
Japan’s government rejected an appeal of a decision by immigration officials to deny O’Barry entry, according to his lawyer, Takashi Takano.
O’Barry, 76, had been held in a detention facility at Tokyo’s Narita airport since he landed on Jan. 18. He and his lawyer said officials accused him of lying during his past visits to Japan. He denies that, and said he is a tourist who came for dolphin watching.
O’Barry starred in “The Cove,” which won the 2009 Academy Award for best documentary. In it, dolphins are herded by fishermen into a cove in Taiji, Japan, and speared to death, turning the waters red with blood.
As the dolphin trainer for the “Flipper” TV series, O’Barry has long felt responsible for dolphin shows and aquariums. He regularly visits Taiji.
“They are trying to shut me up. But they are creating a tsunami of attention for this issue,” he said earlier this week from the detention facility.
“It breaks my heart to be deported,” he said. “I never violated Japanese law. I never lied to Japanese authorities.”
Immigration officials do not comment on individual cases.
Officials and fishermen in Taiji have defended the hunt as traditional, saying that eating dolphin meat is no different than eating beef or chicken.
O’Barry said officials questioned him daily in what he described as an effort to get him to fall for trick questions and end up confessing to wrongdoing.
He said he felt weak and had not slept well, adding that food at the detention centre did not agree with him so he ended up eating candy bars and chips. He was taken to his plane in a wheelchair, flanked by guards, he said.
The lies he is alleged to have told immigration officials were technical, he said, such as initially saying he wouldn’t go to a demonstration when he later went, but that was because at that time he had not yet been invited.
He was also initially accused of having ties to anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.
O’Barry heads his own group, Dolphin Project, which aims to peacefully protect dolphins worldwide.
He is working with Japanese in communities that have previously relied on dolphin hunts to help them switch to new types of businesses, such as scuba diving and dolphin watching.
“This is a slap in the face to the freedom of speech,” O’Barry said of his treatment. “But this has not shaken my love for Japan.”