Japan to deport star of Oscar-winning dolphin documentary

TOKYO: The star of an Oscar-winning documentary that shows how dolphins are hunted in a Japanese village is to be deported to the US on Friday after Tokyo airport officials barred his entry and he was held in detention for more than two weeks.

Ric O'Barry's lawyer and his son, Lincoln O'Barry, said Friday that Japan's government rejected an appeal of a decision by immigration officials to deny O'Barry entry and planned to put him on a plane back to the US.

O'Barry, 76, has been held in a detention facility at Tokyo's Narita airport since he landed on January 18. He and his lawyer say officials accuse him of lying during his past visits to Japan. He denies that, and says he is a tourist.

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.

"They are trying to shut me up. But they are creating a tsunami of attention for this issue," he said in a telephone call 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 has vowed to continue his efforts to save the dolphins.

As the dolphin trainer for the "Flipper" TV series, he has long felt responsible for dolphin shows and aquariums. He regularly visits Taiji.

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 center did not agree with him so he ended up eating candy bars and chips.

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 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.

"This is a slap in the face to the freedom of speech," O'Barry said. "But this has not shaken my love for Japan."