TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese court ruled Friday that an aquarium had no right to bar an Australian animal welfare activist who wanted to check on a baby albino dolphin in captivity.
Wakayama District Court awarded Sarah Lucas 110,000 yen ($970) in damages, a court official said on customary condition of anonymity.
Lucas, the head of Australia for Dolphins, called the verdict a victory in the fight to stop dolphin killings. She expressed concern for the albino dolphin, saying it was in a tiny crowded tank of chlorinated water, being bullied by other dolphins.
The aquarium is the major tourist attraction in the town of Taiji in central Japan, made famous by the Oscar-winning film "The Cove," which documents dolphins being herded into an inlet by local fishermen and slaughtered for meat.
The aquarium has said it routinely denies entry to non-Japanese activists, such as members of Sea Shepherd, who come annually to protest the dolphin hunts, although tourists and other visitors are welcome.
"Today's decision shows that Japanese law can be used to stop animal suffering," said Lucas, who tried to enter the aquarium in 2014, only to be told that "anti-whalers" weren't welcome.
Tetsuo Kirihata, deputy chief of the Taiji museum, said he was satisfied with the verdict because the initial demand for damages had been for about 3 million yen ($30,000).
"We feel much of our assertion was taken into account by the court," he said in a telephone interview.
The dolphin is eating well and getting along with other dolphins, with regular blood tests showing it is in fine health, he said. Any perception it was getting bullied by other dolphins was "part of regular activity in nature," he said.
The Japanese government defends the hunts of dolphins as tradition. The Taiji hunt has drawn opposition internationally, including from U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.
Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at: twitter.com/yurikageyama
Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama