The annual culling of hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in a secluded cove in Japan has begun.

The fishermen surround pods of dolphins, banging metal poles in the water to confuse the animals and disrupt their sonar. The animals are then herded into shallow water and left for several days before being led into a the cove where some are slaughtered for meat and others are captured and sold to marine parks.

Japanese officials defend the cull, pointing out it is not illegal to hunt bottlenose dolphins and they are not an endangered species. They also argue the lawful way they hunt the dolphins is no different from any other slaughtering of animals for their meat.

Members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), who monitor the culling in the coastal town of Taiji, said 176 marine mammals had been killed this season before this latest cull.

The 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary The Cove brought the issue of the Taiji hunt to a worldwide audience.

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The waters in Taiji turn red in this still from the film The CoveThe Cove
2014 dolphin hunt
January 20, 2014: Fishermen in wetsuits hunt dolphins in a secluded cove in Taiji, western JapanReuters
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This Sea Shepherd photo shows Japanese fishermen capturing a dolphinSea Shepherd
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This photo taken by a Sea Shepherd volunteer shows a grieving mother dolphin looking for her calf at this year's huntSea Shepherd
2014 killing
January 21, 2014: Japanese fishermen hiding behind a tarpaulin kill at least 30 dolphins after driving them into the shallowsReuters
A Sea Shepherd picture from December 2013 shows a pod of 75 to 80 dolphins corralled into the cove at TaijiSea Shepherd
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Dolphins try to evade their captors in this image captured by a Sea Shepherd volunteerSea Shepherd
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This still from the film The Cove shows dead dolphins on a Japanese fishing boatThe Cove
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Former dolphin trainer and former Sea Shepherd activist Ric O'Barry holds a package of dolphin meatSave Japan's Dolphins
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An animal rights activist covered in red paint lies on a white sheet made to look like a Japanese flag during a protest against dolphin slaughter in Madrid, on September 3, 2008Reuters