LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – Spreading awareness of animal cruelty through hashtags can make an issue go viral faster than you can say “Save the Dolphins.”

If you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, you’re familiar with Japan’s yearly Taiji Cove dolphin slaughter. Despite numerous pleas by nature conservation groups via social media and in the film, 2014 has shown no improvement.

It’s estimated that between 250 and 500 dolphins were driven into the cove this January, with at least 100 killed for their meat. That doesn’t include those that were herded and captured to be sold to aquariums.

In an interview with CNN, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended the event.  Further, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga spoke with reporters at a conference regarding the issue, stating that marine mammals were “very important water resources.” He continued, asserting that, “Dolphin fishing is one of the traditional fishing forms of our country and is carried out appropriately in accordance with the law.”

Naturally, wildlife conservationists around the world are livid. Social media sites, such as Twitter, blew up with protest. Among them was the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international non-profit marine wildlife conservation organization whose mission is “to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.” The Sea Shepherds live-streamed footage of the event every day, requesting that those against the brutality use hashtags like #tweet4taiji, #HelpCoveDolphins, and #tweet4dolphins in order to raise awareness.

Celebrity response was just as heated, with actor William Shatner tweeting negatively about the event and Kirstie Alley commenting: “Dear Japan, how could such a stunning, brilliant, gorgeous country allow the bloody injustices of THE COVE? Please reign in your murderers.” Even Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, tweeted “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.”

The distinction between cultural significance and animal cruelty is certainly not hard to miss. The Japan Times was quick to assert this, publishing the following in an editorial: “Japanese law states that all methods of killing livestock should reduce the animals’ suffering as much as possible. The method of sending ‘fishermen’ into the water with knives to stab the dolphins…does not begin to meet that guideline.”