File photo: Cove Guardian volunteer Karen Hagen in Taiji, Japan. Photo: Sea ShepherdFile photo: Cove Guardian volunteer Karen Hagen in Taiji, Japan. Photo: Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd veteran crewmember Karen Hagen of Norway has been denied entry into Japan to document the brutal capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales in Taiji as Ground Leader of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Henkaku (Operation Metamorphosis) campaign.

On Thursday, Aug. 27 (Japan time), Hagen was detained by Japanese Immigration upon arrival in Fukuoka, Japan by ferry from Busan, South Korea. After being interrogated for two hours and held for more than six hours, she was refused entry into the country and deported to South Korea. She is currently headed to Melbourne, Australia where she will be volunteering aboard the Sea Shepherd vessel, Steve Irwin. Hagen, a 20-year-old kindergarten teacher and a Sea Shepherd volunteer of two years who arrived in Japan following months in Honduras leading volunteers of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Jairo Sea Turtle Defense Campaign, was set to lead the season’s first international team of Cove Guardian volunteers.

While detained, she was escorted at all times, even into the ladies restroom, by four men in suits, presumably police officers. Hagen’s passport was taken and she was refused a phone call unless she identified the person she was calling and made the call on speaker phone in the presence of a Japanese translator.

Initially, Immigration officials stated that entry was being denied because Hagen had a tourist visa and was not in the country for tourism. Upon being asked why taking photos did not qualify as tourism, officials changed their reason, stating that she did not have a return flight home. When Hagen showed her return ferry ticket, they then stated that last year she wrote that she would be staying in Japan for two weeks but stayed for two and a half months. She then pointed out that she had extended her stay, which is legal, and at that time no further reasons were given as to why she was being denied.

This is not the first time a Sea Shepherd volunteer has been refused entry to Japan; several returning Cove Guardians were detained and sent home upon their arrival to the country last season. In December 2014, then Senior Cove Guardian Campaign Leader Melissa Sehgal was interrogated for nearly nine hours and detained for 24 hours before being escorted onto a flight out of Japan. No reason has been given for the denials, but Japan has claimed that the volunteers arriving with tourist visas are not tourists.

Sea Shepherd believes that these refusals are desperate attempts by Japan to hide the bloodshed that turns the waters of Taiji’s now infamous cove red with the blood of dolphins and pilot whales, and evidence that Japan knows Sea Shepherd has been effective in exposing these atrocities to the world.

“Karen Hagen, like all of our Cove Guardian crew, traveled to Japan to peacefully document and expose the brutal drive hunt in Taiji within the boundaries of Japanese law. Though carried out by a handful of hunters, this massacre of ocean wildlife brings shame to the entire nation of Japan. As Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson, has said, our volunteers are ‘armed’ with the world’s most powerful weapon – the camera,” said Sea Shepherd Campaign Coordinator, David Hance. “The 2015-2016 hunt season marks Sea Shepherd’s sixth consecutive year in Taiji, and our promise to the dolphins remains the same: we will not stop until the slaughter ends. We will have a strong presence at the cove once again – Karen has been denied entry, but that will not stop us. Another ground leader will follow.”

File photo: A bottlenose dolphin struggles in the cove during a violent captive selection. Photo: Sea ShepherdFile photo: A bottlenose dolphin struggles in the cove during a violent captive selection.
Photo: Sea Shepherd
More Sea Shepherd volunteers will soon be arriving in Japan to stand watch along the cove, as Sea Shepherd has done each year since 2010 when Operation Infinite Patience was officially launched, creating a continuous presence of Cove Guardians throughout the hunt season. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the Taiji slaughter and its inextricable link to the global captive trade that fuels demand for wild-caught dolphins and whales, Sea Shepherd has reimagined its Dolphin Defense Campaign, now named Operation Henkaku, and will have a stronger focus this year on raising crucial awareness of the captive industry’s role in the drive hunt. Sea Shepherd believes the profitable trade of live cetaceans for captivity is the true economic reason behind the hunt, and that the sale of dolphin meat for human consumption alone could not sustain the hunt. Just one trained captive dolphin can be sold by the hunters in Taiji for $250,000 USD. Sea Shepherd has long emphasized that the most effective way that individuals can oppose the slaughter is to stop patronizing aquariums, marine parks, and swim-with-dolphin facilities that hold whales and dolphins captive.

Each year from Sept. until March, entire family units, or pods, of dolphins and small whales at a time are driven into Taiji’s killing cove. Banger poles are struck against the side of the hunting boats to create a “wall of sound,” disorienting the sound-sensitive marine mammals and making it nearly impossible for them to escape the drive. Once netted within the shallow waters of the cove, their fate is sealed and the members of these frightened pods will face either imprisonment in captivity or brutal slaughter before the eyes of their families. Killers and trainers work side-by-side to select the “prettiest” dolphins and whales for captivity, those without visible scars. The others are mercilessly stabbed with a metal spike inserted into their backs, just behind the blowhole, to sever their spine. The dolphins slowly and painfully bleed to death or drown in the blood of their family members – others may die slowly as they are tethered and dragged to the butcherhouse, where the once living and free cetaceans are butchered and processed into meat. These inhumane killings are a blemish upon Japan, whose government refuses to sign on to many protection efforts and regulations for marine mammals, despite most of the world recognizing the need to protect these self-aware, beloved and imperiled animals.

Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians are the only group on the ground in Taiji daily throughout the six-month hunt season each year, ensuring that no cetacean is captured or slaughtered unseen by the world. “Because we serve as the eyes of the international community at the cove, it is important that we have volunteers on the ground throughout the season. Sea Shepherd is encouraging our supporters around the world to stand with us in Taiji. Those who would like to volunteer to be a Cove Guardian should contact us at to express their interest,” said Hance. “The dolphins need you now.”

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