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Japan's dolphin hunt: Tradition or barbary? (VIDEO)

The history of dolphin hunting in Japan is back in the spotlight after the annual slaughter of hundreds of bottlenose dolphins began on Tuesday.

Tuesday's slaughter of hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in Taiji thrust Japan's history of dolphin hunting back into the spotlight.

Environmental activists said this year's roundup was one of the biggest they had seen in years.

Caroline Kennedy, the new US ambassador to Japan, publicly criticized the practice last week:

Her sentiment was echoed by Britain's ambassador to Japan:

A fisheries official invited Kennedy to witness the "humane" killing methods used during Taiji's dolphin hunt.

The official, who spoke to Agence France-Presse anonymously, said, "This is a very small town in the countryside. We have no other major industries."

"I want her to come and visit so that she can understand how we make a living from it," he said. "Many fishermen make a living from the hunting, and many others also earn their living by working at food processing factories."

Many in Japan consider dolphin hunting a form of traditional fishing, much like whaling — a practice first recorded in Japan in the 12th century that continued until the worldwide ban on commercial whaling three decades ago.

In fact, Taiji, where the annual dolphin hunt occurs, is regarded as the spiritual home of Japan's whaling industry and became known as a center for whaling as early as 1675.

More from GlobalPost: Japan fishermen take cover to slaughter dolphins in face of Western criticism

Dolphin hunts have been held annually at Taiji for decades.

Taiji was made notorious by the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, which showed the water turning red as the dolphins were stabbed to death.

The fisheries official who spoke to AFP said, "We have switched to a more humane way of butchering them. We cut the spinal cord so that they don't bleed. We don't butcher them like before."

Humane butchery or not, environmental activists dispute Taiji’s claims that dolphin hunting is an important part of its history.

“This claim of ‘Japanese tradition’ is nonsense,” Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer who is now director of Earth Island’s dolphin project, told the Guardian. “The dolphin drive hunts, according to the town’s own written history, says a couple of drive hunts occurred in 1936 and 1944, but the current series of hunts only began in 1969."

Sea Shepherd, the group leading the charge against Japan's dolphin hunts, released the following video of this year's capture:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/japan/140121/the-history-dolphin-hunting-japan