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Video: Hayden a hero to dolphins

Access Hollywood
updated 11/1/2007 8:36:15 PM ET 2007-11-02T00:36:15

Instead of spending her time hanging around Hollywood hot spots, Hayden Panettiere has chosen to put her passion into a worldwide cause — one that not only brought her to tears, but also put her into harm’s way.

Following her now publicized encounter with fishermen in Japan, where Panettiere put her life on the line to save a pod of dolphins headed for slaughter, the young “Heroes” star paid a visit to “Access Hollywood” for a candid interview with Tony Potts.

“It was painful,” Panettiere told Potts. “It was something that you just look at it and say, ‘Who could do something to an animal like that?’ There’s got to be something wrong.”

The 18-year-old star joined a group of peaceful protestors at sea in an effort to save a group of pilot whales (which are part of the dolphin family) and faced violent opposition from a group of Japanese fishermen.

Fighting back tears, Panettiere recounted the story to Potts.

“What’s going through your mind when you’re out there?” Potts asked.

“I think a lot of us went out there with the thought that we were going to be very scared. And we knew that it was very possible to get hurt and it was very possible for us to get detained by police,” Panettiere revealed. “But we paddled out there and the fear just completely went away.”

On surfboards, the group traveled through the water, bright red from the blood of animals that had already slaughtered. The group’s mission? To form a memorial circle at Taiji Cove, where the whales were captured and trapped in nets.

“They were so pretty. They were teddy bears in the water,” an emotional Panettiere explained. “They slowed down and started gathering in the net towards us. This little baby popped its head out and looked at us, and all of us just wanted to cut them out of the nets and set them free.”

“I’d probably be in jail in Japan right now if I did,” she added.

“How did that affect you — to be in that water and to see the blood?” Potts asked.

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“It was that awful feeling of knowing we really couldn’t do anything about it. And we were pretty much as helpless as they were,” Panettiere said.

The group’s peaceful protest took a dramatic turn when local fishermen converged on them, using the boat’s propeller to keep them away from the animals and jabbing at the group with boat hooks.

“They were using the propeller to push us away,” Panettiere explained. “And at one point I had to take my foot out of the water because they got the propeller within inches.”

“Did you ever fear for your safety or your life at all?” Potts asked.

“No, if anything I almost wanted them to hit me because it just would have made that much more of an impact,” the actress admitted.

After being forced back to the shore, choking back the tears, Panettiere and the rest of her group quickly drove away, barely escaping the angry locals.

“Just knowing when we left those whales we just spent time with, knowing what was going to happen, knowing what they were continuing to do, it just came in floods of emotion,” she recalled.

As a spokesperson for SaveTheWhalesAgain.org, Panettiere hopes her traumatic ordeal will help raise awareness.

“We all crossed our fingers that those whales didn’t die in vain,” she concluded.

Copyright 2013 by NBC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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