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Cheerleader in Dolphin Crusade

11/1/2007 1:31 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF

Hayden Panettiere is truly a maritime hero! She was recently seen in Japan, on a mission to save dolphins from slaughter by local fishermen -- an estimated 23,000 dolphins are killed every year.


Hayden and a few other surfers from the US and Australia went into the waters off Japan in an effort to drive the dolphins away from a hidden cove where the killings are carried out in secret. Angry fisherman used propellers of boats to scare surfers away, and even used a hook to intimidate the activists. After an intense struggle, surfers from the Save the Whales Again Campaign had to give up -- forced to leave the water due to the extremely dangerous situation.

After the frustrating attempt to save the mammals, an emotional Hayden said that when she was in the water, she saw a baby dolphin sticking his head out, literally "sky hopping." Hayden said, "The thought that the baby is no longer with us is very difficult."

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