Hayden Panettiere said Thursday that she might never have been involved in trying to save the dolphins in Japan without the inspiration and influence she's gotten through her hit TV series Heroes.
The NBC show "is about being a hero. And you know, it's kinda rubbed off on me," the 18-year-old actress said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "I don't think if I was as recognizable in the public eye that it would have made as much of an impact."
Panettiere took part in an anti-whaling protest in Japan last month with a group called Sea Shepherd. The activists paddled on surfboards to confront fishermen who slaughter dolphins for food but were driven back – and in a video shot by Sky News, Panettiere was seen weeping on the shore.
On Thursday, Panettiere said she was afraid of the fishermen, and of possible sharks in the water, until she saw the dolphins.
"Every ounce of fear disappeared just watching those animals," she said. "They know exactly what is going to happen, and as soon as they felt our presence, and knew that we were coming in peace. ... All we wanted to do was go and cut them out of [their enclosure], and we couldn't."
Degeneres, a self-proclaimed animal lover, told Panettiere, "I admire you and respect you and all the people who do that for a living for being able to witness it."
Panettiere added that the group's mission goes beyond interfering with the dolphin hunts.
"We are trying to educate the Japanese people that whale and dolphin meat is actually highly toxic," she said. "They are basically poisoning themselves by eating them."