The Cove, the striking documentary about the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, has finally screened in Japan. It was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival this week, according to an interview with director Louie Psihoyos, posted on Boing Boing today.

Although Psihoyos noted the screening was tucked away at 10:30am and not publicized, showing the movie in Japan is a hugely important step for those concerned about dolphin conservation. The movie debuted earlier this year (I saw a preview for it before The End of the Line), and shows damning footage of the bloody annual hunt, including dolphin meat being sold to Japanese schools surreptitiously. Since dolphins are top-level predators, they can have dangerously high levels of mercury — up to 5000 the levels legally allowed by Japan. Of course, dolphins are also highly charismatic animals, beloved by most people. It’s particularly striking that the dolphin hunters in Taiji make a much larger profit for capturing a dolphin and selling it to amusement parks or aquariums than selling it for meat.

Last month, on September 1, the media arrived in Taiji to publicize the beginning of the annual hunt. For the first time, even members of the Japanese media were present. Under the pressure, the hunt was delayed as hunters debated how to proceed. Former Flipper trainer Rick O’Barry, star of The Cove, was even in town to watch events unfold.

By the end of the first week of September, however, the hunt had finally begun. Of the dolphins caught that day, half were sold to aquariums, and half were released.

Although the publicity has been unkind to Taiji, their dolphin hunt is not the only one of its kind. Because of the cove setting, it’s very photogenic, but dolphin hunts outside of Japan persist, mainly for food. Dolphin hunts are ongoing in the Soloman Islands. Less than 100 dolphins are killed there each year, but there may only be hundreds of dolphins in the entire population in that area. The public outcry over The Cove will hopefully help contribute to awareness of dolphin slaughter.