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Terrified Dolphins Lovingly Huddle Together Just Before Being Ruthlessly Slaughtered

Warning: Distressing Content

An "exhausted and traumatised" pod of dolphins huddled together in their last hours before being ruthlessly slaughtered during the annual Taiji dolphin hunt in Japan.

The nursery pod -- females and their calves -- had been chased for hours by hunters and driven in to the shallow waters of the cove in early September.

Pilot whales left overnight in the Cove, Taiji, Japan. Photo: DolphinProject.com

The entire hunt was filmed and documented by the Dolphin Project, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns against dolphin exploitation and slaughter.

This specific breed of dolphin were pilot whales, the largest of the oceanic dolphins.

After being trapped in the cove, a net was thrown over the dolphins and their "fate was sealed", said the Dolphin Project.

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They "exhausted and traumatised" pod were left trapped overnight without any food, staying together in a tight group and maintaining contact with each other through the ordeal.

"Their beautiful matriarch could be also be seen swimming around them, always rubbing up against members of her family," the Dolphin Project said on its blog.

Divers enter the water, selecting those to take captive and those to slaughter, Taiji, Japan. Photo: DolphinProject.com

The next morning, the hunters returned for the slaughter to begin.

Divers jumped into the water to individually select which dolphins would be slaughtered and which would be kept for captivity.

They were separated into groups of three or four, which were then killed. Those waiting for their turn were left to swim through the blood of their pod members.

The matriarch of the pod was separated from the others and killed, before her body was dragged through the water to a butcher house, where she joined the other dead dolphins.

Divers enter the water, selecting those to take captive and those to slaughter, Taiji, Japan. Photo: DolphinProject.com

It is not known how many dolphins in total were killed, but at least eight were taken alive.

They were put into sea pens along the cove and will eventually be taken to dolphinariums to spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

The annual Taiji dolphin hunt takes place in the small Japanese fishing village between September and February.

It is the largest of its kind in the country, with the Dolphin Project reporting that about 2,000 dolphins are killed each year.