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Japan to deport dolphin activist O'Barry, once a Keys dolphin trainer

In this Sept. 16 photo released by DolphinProject.com, Ric O'Barry poses at a cove in Taiji in western Japan. Japan has ordered the deportation of the star of the Oscar-winning documentary 'The Cove.'
In this Sept. 16 photo released by DolphinProject.com, Ric O'Barry poses at a cove in Taiji in western Japan. Japan has ordered the deportation of the star of the Oscar-winning documentary 'The Cove.' AP

Japan on Friday ordered the deportation of former Florida Keys dolphin trainer-turned-activist Ric O'Barry, the star of the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," about a Japanese village that hunts dolphins. But he has refused to leave, insisting he went as a tourist to look at dolphins.

O'Barry, the former dolphin trainer for the 1960s "Flipper" TV series that was set in the Keys, was detained Monday at Tokyo's Narita international airport. Japanese authorities decided Friday to turn down his appeal to enter the country, according to his son Lincoln O'Barry. His son and lawyer say immigration officials accuse O'Barry of lying during questioning and of having ties to the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, both of which O'Barry denies.

O'Barry heads the Dolphin Project, which aims to protect dolphins worldwide. He regularly visits Taiji, the fishing village portrayed in "The Cove," which won the 2009 Academy Award for best documentary. In the film, dolphins get herded into a cove and speared to death, turning the waters red with blood.

Officials and fishermen in Taiji have defended the hunt as traditional, saying that eating dolphin meat is no different than eating beef or chicken.

In 1996, O'Barry, now a Coconut Grove resident, and Lloyd Good III were charged with violating the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. They illegally released two dolphins, Luther and Buck, in Lower Keys waters on May 23, 1996.

The dolphins had been housed at what was then the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary. NOAA Fisheries said they were not prepared to survive in the wild.

The day after the release, Luther was found in a congested Key West marina with deep lacerations, approaching people and begging for food. Buck, found more than 40 miles away two weeks after his release, had similar deep lacerations and was emaciated.

With the help of members of the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Marine Patrol (now Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), NOAA Fisheries rescued the animals and provided veterinary care. It's not clear what happened to them after that.

In 1999, O'Barry and Good were convicted of the federal charge because a required scientific research permit for the releases was never obtained or requested.

U.S. Administrative Law Judge Peter A. Fitzpatrick imposed a fine of $40,000 for illegally taking by harassment and illegally transporting each of the dolphins. The fine was levied on O'Barry, Good, the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary and O'Barry's Miami-based Dolphin Project.

The Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary was fined an additional $19,500 for failing to notify NOAA Fisheries prior to the transport of the dolphins.

Luther and Buck had been caught in the wild in the 1980s and were initially in the U.S. Navy's marine-mammal program. They were transferred to the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary in 1994 as part of a project that intended to return them to the wild.

Keynoter staff contributed to this report.

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