||March 9, 2006
by lyle e davis
by lyle e davis
On ice floes off the
coast of Newfoundland, baby harp seals, those cute, fluffy white, doe-eyed seal
pups, recently weaned from their mothers at the age of only 12 to 25 days old,
will soon be clubbed to death.
It is not a pretty site,
these “hunts.” The hunters ‘stun’ their prey. Stunning methods include:
kicking in the face and/ or beating the babys on the head with clubs or hakapik.
(A hakapik is a long pole with a sharp pick on the end of it, similar to an ice
pick). Once stunned, the sealer proceeds to skin the animal.
According to IFAW
(International Fund for Animal Welfare
www.ifaw.org) the season for Canada’s annual hunt for baby seals has begun.
Over the next several weeks up to 319,500 baby seals will be killed for their
fur. Canada’s annual seal hunt is the largest marine mammal hunt in the world
with a three-year kill quota of almost one million seals. Last year, according
to statistics provided by the Canadian government, 365,971 seals were killed and
96.6% of those were less than 3 months old. Seals are skinned for their pelts
and then sold to fur distributors to feed the demand of the fashion industry.
“Many people mistakenly
think Canada stopped hunting baby seals decades ago,” said Fred O’Regan, IFAW’s
president and CEO. “But the size of Canada’s modern, commercial hunt is bigger
now than it has been in 50 years.”
Opponents of Canada's
seal hunt have a new and powerful ally in their bid to end the annual slaughter:
Paul and Heather Mills McCartney, who took to the ice floes last week and
frolicked with the doe-eyed pups just weeks before the harvest gets under way,
are lending their considerable influence to stopping the slaughter. Last week
they appeared on Larry King Live and pleaded with Canadian officials to end the
The Canadian government
endorses the harvest as a cultural right for many Maritimers and announced a
hunting management plan in 2003 with a quota of 975,000 seals over three years.
About 325,000 seal pups
were killed during the hunt last year, bringing the local fishermen $14.5
million (euro12 million) in supplemental income, which they say their families
badly need during the winter off-season.
Harp seals have been
hunted commercially from the waters off Newfoundland since the early 1700s. They
were first harvested for their oil but now are culled mostly for their pelts,
sold mostly for the fashion industry in Norway, China and Russia.
During a recent hunt,
veterinarians who examined dead seals concluded that 42% of the seals examined
had most likely been skinned while they were alive and still conscious.
Adults and resisting
mothers are shot and/or clubbed and skinned and in the case of males, have their
penis bones removed. (In
Asia, the penis bones are
sought as aphrodasiacs . . . even though scientific studies show they have no
If convenient to do so, some of the bodies are then recovered and processed into
pet food or used to feed the animals in fur farms.
Polls consistently show
that most Canadians oppose the hunt, but still the Canadian government and
fishing industry refuse to end it.
Why does this slaughter of the innocent continue?
The United States has
banned Canadian seal products since 1972 and the European Union banned the white
pelts of baby seals in 1983. The British government also is considering banning
the import of seal goods. Groups such as Respect for Animals and
the Humane Society of the United States, are encouraging people to
boycott Canadian seafood as a show of solidarity. That boycott even extends
into North San Diego County as two national chains and major seafood purveyors,
The Red Lobster, with one location in Oceanside, and The Olive Garden,
with a restaurant in Escondido, are both owned by The Darden Group, a major
purchaser of seafoods from Canada. Why Red Lobster? This well known
restaurant chain is one of the largest purchasers of Canadian Seafood in the
world making it a prime target
of the seafood boycott.
Each spring the entire
Northwest Atlantic harp seal population migrates to the East Coast of
Newfoundland to mate, give birth and nurse their young. In one of nature’s great
wildlife spectacles, thousands of seals are born on the pristine ice floes off
eastern Canada in early March.
The hunt begins when the
seal pups are weaned from their mother and begin to moult. Seal pups may be
legally killed once they begin to moult their fluffy white coats, usually at
12-14 days old.
IFAW is the only
organization in the world to consistently observe and document the hunt each
year. For the last 36 years IFAW has brought media and government officials from
around the world to view the hunt firsthand. This year, European
parliamentarians and media from around the globe are observing the hunt with
community is appalled by the cruelty of Cananda’s hunt for baby seals. In
opposition, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands are creating legislation to ban
seal products and the U.S. and the European Council are creating resolutions
condemning the hunt. In the U.S. seals and other marine mammals have been
protected from hunting since 1972 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In compliance with
Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations the main hunt usually begins in early March,
and continues through May, or until the quota has been reached. The seal hunt
is one of the very few hunts that occurs in the spring when young are being
born. Most other large mammals are hunted in the fall, and are protected from
hunting in the spring.
The Greenland hunt (which
is essentially unregulated) occurs mainly between June and September, when the
harp seals have migrated to the waters between Greenland and the Canadian
Taking into account both
the Canadian and Greenland hunts, the Northwest Atlantic harp seals can be
hunted at virtually all times of the year. No other hunt for a North American
large mammal population is managed in this way.
As the season grows
older, some seals are shot from boats rather than clubbed, however, even under
the best of conditions, it would be difficult to kill a seal with one shot;
under the conditions of the seal hunt, it is almost impossible. As a result,
many seals are left to writhe in agony for several minutes before finally being
killed. In IFAW’s 2000 seal hunt investigation, the group documented a seal
being shot repeatedly in open water for eight minutes, as it struggled
desperately to escape.
What is the total number
of seals killed?
The Canadian government
issues "landed catch" statistics that are widely reported in the media and often
misinterpreted as the total number of seals killed.
These reports, however,
only count the number of seals who are "landed" at seal processing facilities.
They do not include seals who are killed during Greenland's hunt of the same
population, nor do they account for seals who are wounded but escape ("struck
and lost"), or animals who are killed incidentally in fishing nets.
A recent study,
"Estimating Total Kill of Northwest Atlantic Harp Seals, 1994-1998," in the
peer-reviewed scientific journal Marine Mammal Science concluded that in 1998
the actual number of harp seals killed was somewhere between 406,258 and
548,903. This means more animals are being killed than would be considered
prudent under a truly precautionary approach to harp seal management.
What percentage of seals killed are pups?
Usually around 80% of the
seals killed in the commercial hunt are “young of the year” — between
approximately 12 days and one year old (source: DFO, Proceeding of the National
Marine Mammal Review Committee, Feb. 1999).
Is it illegal to kill whitecoat seals?
The Marine Mammal
Regulations make it illegal for non-natives to barter, sell, or trade whitecoat
seal products. The prohibition on selling these seals was intended to remove any
reason for hunting them. A recent ruling by the Newfoundland Court of Appeal
found this section of the Marine Mammal Regulations to be unconstitutional and,
as a result, it cannot be enforced in Newfoundland.
What is the economic impact of the seal hunt?
One commonly used reason
for supporting the hunt is that it supposedly provides jobs for people in
Newfoundland. However, in reality, the hunt accounts for less than one half of
one percent of Newfoundland’s Gross Domestic Product. Economists note that
factors such as government-funded icebreaking services and lost revenue from
tourism should be included in economic reports of the industry, and could mean
the commercial seal hunt represents a net loss to the economy of Atlantic
Many people are surprised
to learn that the entire fishery in Newfoundland accounts for only 1.6% of their
economy. Certainly, the fishery, including the seal hunt, once played a vital
role in the economic survival of the province. However, this is no longer the
situation. Newfoundland’s economy has diversified to include many other, far
more lucrative, industry sectors such as tourism, services, construction, public
administration, manufacturing, and many more.
The sealing industry
operates for a few weeks a year and provides a relatively small number of
part-time jobs during that period. The seal hunt is not of vital importance to
Newfoundland’s economy and does not represent meaningful job creation by the
government. If Newfoundland is going to continue to develop in the changing
Canadian economy, it is imperative that the federal government makes a solid
commitment to the development of real, sustainable jobs — not pointless
What products are made from seals?
There are very few
markets today for any seal part. Markets that do exist are poor, and largely
unstable. Traditional seal products include the meat, pelts, oil and penises.
According to the Canadian
Sealers Association and industry statistics, there is a glut of seal pelts on
the market. Before the seal hunt even began last year, there were more than
100,000 seal pelts stockpiled by sealing plants. The Sealers Association
explains that the number of seals killed in the past four years has grown at an
incredible rate, outpacing market demand.
Seals are also killed for
their oil, three different grades of which are produced. Industrial grade oils
are shipped to Europe and Asia, and human grade oil (which is used to produce a
supplement for Omega 3 fatty acids) is sold to Asia. Other revenue comes from
the sale of seal penises, as aphrodisiacs in some parts of Asia, although this
market has recently decreased.
What do harp seals eat?
Traditionally, the diet
of harp seals has been described by examining the contents of their stomachs.
Since the first reports of stomach content analyses in 1941, at least 67 species
of fish and 70 species of invertebrates have been recorded. Clearly, harp seals
eat a wide array of fish and invertebrates, although it is difficult to express
confidently the relative importance of these species.
Atlantic cod is a minor
but consistent prey species, estimated to make up less than 3% of the harp
seal’s annual diet.
Did harp seals cause the
collapse of cod stocks?
the time of the cod stock collapse off eastern Canada in 1992 it was popular to
blame seals, over-fishing by Europeans, cold water, and a variety of other
factors. As early as 1994, two Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists
concluded "that the collapse of northern cod can be attributed solely to
overexploitation [by humans]" (Hutchings and Myers 1994). Most people now agree
that seals did not cause the collapse of any East coast fish stocks.
Are harp seals impeding the recovery of
depleted cod stocks?
There is no scientific evidence that they are. The Department of Fisheries and
Oceans acknowledges that while there are concerns about the impact of seals on
the depleted stocks of groundfish, a cull — the killing of seals for the express
purpose of reducing the populations — is not being considered at this time for
reasons explained below (source: Atlantic Seal Hunt 1999 Management Plan, DFO).
Would a reduced seal population benefit
There is no scientific evidence that it would. In fact, many scientists now
believe that reducing the harp seal population might hurt commercial fisheries.
Those who support culling harp seals often refer to estimates of the annual
consumption of fish by seals to support their demand for an increased seal kill.
But in reality, estimates of food consumption tell us nothing about whether
seals are having direct or indirect effects on the abundance of various fish
stocks, or on the catches of commercial fisheries.
a complex marine ecosystem it is simplistic to assume that by removing one
species, another would benefit. In fact, in the case of seals, the effect might
be detrimental to the recovery of cod stocks since seals also eat the predators
of Atlantic cod. For example, harp seals in the Northwest Atlantic feed on
squid, which are a predator of juvenile Atlantic cod. In this situation, a
reduction in harp seals could lead to an increase in squid numbers, resulting in
even greater predation on cod.
A brief chronology of seal hunting:
1899 - The century ends with a total recorded kill of 33 million seals.
1950s Canadian scientists begin to study the seal herds and express concern
about the number of animals killed.
Harp seal population continues to decline. Scientists conclude that the
population declined by 50-66% between 1950 and 1970, and is now in serious
1972 United States passes the Marine Mammal Protection Act, prohibiting the
importation of marine mammal products.
1995 Brian Tobin, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announces new subsidies to
encourage sealers to kill more animals, including a new "personal use" license.
The quota is increased to 250,000.
2000 Markets for seal products are saturated, prices for pelts plummet and
Canadian catches are low.
2001 Herb Dhaliwhal, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, maintains a quota of
275,000 seals, despite evidence that this level of killing is not sustainable.
John Efford is a Newfoundland Member of Parliament who was a former Newfoundland
Minister of Fisheries.
May 4, 1998, as recorded in Hansard, the transcript of the Newfoundland House of
Assembly, Efford had delivered the following address:
"Mr. Speaker, I would like to see the 6 million seals, or what ever number is
out there, killed and sold, or destroyed or burned. I do not care what happens
to them. What they (the sealers) wanted was to have the right to go out and kill
the seals. They have that right, and the more they kill the better I will love
you are moved to help out in the fight to end the slaughter of innocents, you
may wish to liaison withThe International Fund for Animal Welfare. There are a
number of sites on the Internet where research is fairly simple; a list of
which follows at the end of this story.
Several of these sites will urge you to send an email to key politicians who
have the power to stop this hunt. There are also summaries of the issues to
include in your letter.
you are so moved, send your letters to Right Honorable Stephen Harper at
email@example.com and to the Canadian Tourism
Using regular mail or fax, you use the following contact information:
P.M. Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime
80 Wellington Street
Fax: 613 941-6900
may wish to explain that this ongoing seal hunt will make you think twice before
vacationing in Canada. Point out that a recent HSUS survey revealed that 79% of
U.S. residents surveyed opposed Canada’s seal hunt, and that 65% said they would
not be likely to vacation in Canada if their vacation dollars were used to
subsidize the seal hunt.
Too often we treat other animals as if their flesh were somehow insensitive to
pain, as though fear were limited to the human experience. Most of us give no
thought to the obvious value of pain and fear for the survival of many
slow-breeding species. And our ignorance is never challenged by an animal's
being able to say, "That hurts me," or "I am frightened."
Unthinkingly, we exploit animals in many ways — in the name of science, food,
companionship, and whatever else we feel is necessary to our own survival or
comfort. We do awful things to animals, but the worst that we do, it seems to
me, is to kill them for the sake of luxury and novelty. This is why I believe
the seal hunt is a tragedy that should fill us all with shame.
One day, as we become more sensitive to our fellow travelers in time and space,
I believe that the demand of civilized people will end the hunt. Then I will be
able to travel to the ice out of love, not out of fear for my friends, the harp
Sources used for this story: