Japan's controversial dolphin-hunting season is underway, and the marine conservation activists who monitor the annual event say the first animals have been killed in the waters near the town of Taiji.

The conservation group Sea Shepherd said eight or nine dolphins — "including one juvenile calf" — were "murdered" in Taiji's cove Tuesday, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported. Sea Shepherd also broadcast a livestream from the scene and posted pictures of the dolphins on its Facebook page.

"First dolphin murder of the drive hunt season is complete as dead bodies are dragged to Taiji butcherhouse," the group tweeted around midday Tuesday in Japan. An hour later, the group added: "Dolphin meat is being processed at Taiji butcher house right now. Local meat buyers will arrive shortly at the Fishermens Union."

A news service report in the Japan Times said the local fishermen's union confirmed the season's first catch.

"We caught 12 Risso's dolphins," a union representative said, according to the report. They were killed for their meat, he said, and there were no dolphins left in the bay.

The six-month hunting season began Sept. 1; but, AFP reported, bad weather delayed the annual catch, "in which people from the southwestern town corral hundreds of dolphins into a secluded bay and butcher them."

Taiji and Japan's dolphin hunt were the focus of the 2009 film "The Cove," which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, said in January that she was "deeply concerned by [the] inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing."

Supporters of the cull, which include the Japanese government, say it continues a tradition and isn't against the law.

From AFP:

Defenders say it is a tradition and point out that the animals it targets are not endangered, a position echoed by the Japanese government.
They say Western objections are hypocritical and ignore the vastly larger number of cows, pigs and sheep butchered to satisfy demand elsewhere.
But critics of the practice say there is insufficient demand for the animals' meat, which in any case contains dangerous levels of mercury.

According to the report in the Japan Times, Tuesday's dolphin kill came the day after "the sharply split International Whaling Commission meeting opened in Slovenia ... where Japan is expected to announce its controversial plans to resume Antarctic whaling."