Canada’s annual commercial seal hunt has opened in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, setting the stage for the cruel slaughter and blood-letting of hundreds of thousands of seals. At least 275,000 baby seals will be killed so that their skins can be made into cheap fur coats, leather shoes, and tacky trinkets.
“The hunt is undeniably cruel.” said Rebecca Aldworth, director of Canadian wildlife issues for The Humane Society of the United States. “Every year we see conscious seal pups stabbed with metal hooks and dragged across the ice, wounded seals left to suffer in agony and seals skinned alive.”
Seal hunting — or sealing — for their pelts, blubber, penises, and meat, is practiced in 5 countries: Canada — where most of the world’s seal hunting takes place — Greenland, Namibia, Norway, and Russia. Seal oil was often used as lamp fuel, lubricating and cooking oil, for processing such materials as leather and jute, as a constituent of soap, and the liquid base for red ochre paint.
Images from the hunts have become iconic symbols for conservation, animal welfare, and animal rights advocates.
The main method of killing seals is with a hakapik — a heavy wooden club with a hammer head and metal hook on the end. The use of guns is also allowed, but the hakapik is for some unknown barbaric reason preferred. The hammer head is used to crush the skull, while the hook is used to move the carcass.
Harp seals are born on the ice flows off the east coast of Canada every March, but hundreds of thousands of baby seals perished this year as global warming caused the sea ice to melt before they were old enough to survive in the water. Despite this ecological disaster, the Canadian government has authorized yet another 270,000 seals to be cruelly killed for their fur.
The slaughter was stopped 25 years ago, following a ban on the import of seal pelts into the European Union, which destroyed the economics of the industry.
But the Canadian government found a loophole and ruthlessly exploited it. 5 years ago, the cull re-started with a vengeance when the authorities ordered the battering to death of a million baby seals.
British reporter Danny Penman from the Daily Mail spent nearly a week in Nova Scotia, Canada, to investigate this year’s ruthless slaughter at close range as the horror unfolded.
“The baby seal looked into the eyes of her executioner. Barely a flicker of emotion shows on the fisherman’s face as he smashes a steel-tipped club into her mouth. She lay whimpering on the ice, blood pouring from her jaw and nose.”
“But she wasn’t yet dead, so the sealer hit her in the face another 4 times before slamming a hooked “hakapik” club into her stomach and dragging her across the ice towards the ship.”
“Yet even this savagery is not enough to kill the poor creature. A few seconds later, the pup starts wriggling furiously. She was clearly still alive, though in terrible agony. The fisherman smashed her head another 3 times.”
Sadly, Penman stated that this incident was far from unique during his visit, and that new laws are being entirely ignored. This scene will be repeated hundreds of thousands of times over the coming weeks.
New regulations have been introduced to make Canada’s seal hunt more ‘humane,” requiring a pup must first be shot or battered into unconsciousness. Then the fisherman has to check that an animal is fully “insensible” before slicing open the arteries near its flippers, allowing the creature to “bleed out” before it can be skinned.
Mark Glover of the Humane Society International said, “It’s quite clear that the sealers are failing to adhere to the new regulations. It’s the same old hunt we’ve seen in the past.”
The ProtectSeals team from The Humane Society of the United States is there to bear witness and capturing images to bring the truth of this cruel practice to the public.
The hunt began in the southern Gulf on Monday, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans refused to issue observation permits. The DFO provided observation permits to the ProtectSeals team to observe the hunt in the northern Gulf.
Canadian authorities are allegedly making no attempts to enforce the new legislation, and preventing media and other observers from witnessing what really goes on, consistently refusing to issue the media and animal welfare campaigners with the necessary permits to observe the cull.
Authorities justify reporting restrictions, claiming animal welfare campaigners and media have consistently misrepresented the cull, stating the images used to accompany reporting are in some cases decades out of date. But Penman said the carnage was every bit as horrific as the pictures suggest.
Fishermen armed with hakapiks were spread out across the ice, killing all that came within range. Swathes of ice were drenched in blood as piles of carcasses laid there steaming.
The sea turned scarlet from fishing boats pouring the seal blood into it, while other sealers casually tossed the skinned bodies of pups into the waters.
Some cut the hearts out of the baby seals to eat for breakfast — an age-old tradition amongst sealers.
Actress Alison Steadman lies next to a harp seal on an ice floe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, March, 2008. The British actress was flown out by helicopter in support of the organizations Humane Society of the U.S. and Respect for Animals.
“We are not going to be bullied or blackmailed into forcing people who depend on the sealing industry out of their livelihoods using baseless allegations.” said Loyola Sullivan, Canada’s fisheries ambassador.
Sealers themselves have become increasingly aggressive and hostile towards independent observers.
“I spent almost a week on the east coast of Canada trying to observe the cull but at every step the local authorities did their best to stop me.” said Penman.
“On previous trips, Canadian fishermen have threatened me with knives, guns and hakapiks. 2 years ago, when I visited the floes with a group of MEPs, we were involved in a high-speed car chase in which sealers repeatedly tried to force us off the road.”
“We were eventually forced to barricade ourselves into a hotel, where we remained for 8 hours while officials from the European Commission and the U.S. embassy negotiated our release.”
Stavros Dimas, the EU’s Commissioner for the Environment, said this week that the European Commission would soon propose an outright ban on the import of seal pelts.
“The Commissioner is very concerned at the inhumane way that baby seals are killed.” said a spokeswoman. “Last year, we sent a team of expert observers. What the team saw did not alleviate the Commissioner’s worries.”
Several countries have already banned seal pelt imports.
To pressure the Canadian government and the fishing industry to end the seal hunt for good, The HSUS launched a boycott of Canadian seafood in March 2005. To date, hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of seafood businesses have pledged their support for the campaign. The HSUS is also working overseas to close markets for seal products, removing the financial incentive for the sealers to kill the seals.
“We are confident the end of the commercial sealing industry is now clearly in sight.” said Aldworth.
Seal Watching Tours
Tourists come from around the world to witness the unique Canadian winter event of the birth of thousands of harp seal pups on the ice floes of the
Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Eco-tour operators have taken advantage of the international fascination with the limpid-eyed pups that have become the poster babies for animal rights organizations everywhere for more than 25 years..
Emile Richard, manager of the Chateau Madelinot in Quebec says some tourists have told him more people would come for the eco tours if the hunt was stopped. But the seal tours have never made enough money to displace the profitable hunt.
“The fact that the tours are still going on indicates that they are sustainable.” Lavigne says.
Tourists are ferried to the ice floes by helicopters to experience a place that is almost otherworldly. Sea ice stretches as far as the eye can see in a frigid landscape broken by thousands of bleating seals, many of them nursing tiny newborns with coats as white as snow.
While the mothers are skittish and will usually slip into the water through holes in the ice when tourists approach, it’s possible to get quite close to the pups, but visitors are advised not to touch the whitecoats.
“It is truly one of the wonders of the world,” says David Lavigne, science adviser for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which created the first tours to the seal nursery in the 1970′s.
“When you see hundreds of thousands of seals stretched out on the ice before you, it is a remarkable scene and it’s one that many tourists really enjoy.”
The IFAW started the tours as a possible economic alternative to the annual seal hunt, but the animal rights organization has not been part of the tour business for years.
The seal-watching tours add more than $1 million a year to the local economy.
Seal Hunt Regulations
Canadian sealing regulations describe the dimensions of the clubs and the hakapiks, and caliber of the rifles and minimum bullet velocity that can be used. They state that: “Every person who strikes a seal with a club or hakapik shall strike the seal on the forehead until its skull has been crushed. No person shall commence to skin or bleed a seal until the seal is dead, “which occurs when it “has a glassy-eyed, staring appearance and exhibits no blinking reflex when its eye is touched while it is in a relaxed condition.”
The regulations also state that every person “who fishes for seals for personal or commercial use shall land the pelt or the carcass of the seal.” The commercial hunting of infant harp seals (whitecoats) and infant hooded seals (bluebacks) was banned in Canada in 1987 under pressure from animal rights groups.
Now seals may only be killed once they have started molting — from 12 to 15 days of age for harp seals — as this coincides with the time when they’re abandoned by their mothers. These pups, who have not yet completely molted, are known as “ragged-jackets”. Once the pups have completely molted, they’re called “beaters”.
Seal populations were severely depleted when commercial sealing became a major industry, with the world harp seal population declining to 1.5 million. As a result of population concerns and public protests, hunting is now controlled by quotas based on recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In 2003, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans set the “total allowable catch” (TAC) of harp seals at 350,000 per year.
Traditional Inuit hunt
Archeological evidence indicates that the Native Americans and First Nations People in Canada have been hunting seals for at least 4,000 years. Traditionally, when an Inuit boy killed his first seal, a feast was held.
The Inuit seal hunting accounts for 3% of the total hunt. The traditional Inuit seal hunting is excluded from The European Commission’s call in 2006 for a ban on the import, export and sale of all harp and hooded seal products.
The Natsiq (ringed seal) have been the main staple for food, and have been used for clothing, boots, fuel for lamps, a delicacy, containers, igloo windows, and furnished harnesses for huskies. The Natsiq is no longer used to this extent, but ringed seal is still an important food source for the people of Nunavut
Nigel Barker, fashion photographer and judge for TV series “America’s Next Top Model,” photographs a harp seal pup on an ice floe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
March, 2008. Barker arrived on the ice to support the Humane Society of the U.S.
In January 2007, Belgium became the first European country to ban all seal products. Greenland claimed it would sue Belgium for a move that it said would violate European Union law and cripple the livelihood of Inuit hunters. Greenland’s minister for finance and foreign affairs expressed concern that other EU countries might follow suit. Canada has launched a challenge to the ban.
The United States, which had been heavily involved in the sealing industry, now maintains a complete ban on the commercial hunting of marine mammals, with the exception of indigenous peoples who are allowed to hunt a small number of seals each year.
Canada’s largest market for seal pelts is Norway. Carino Limited — one of Newfoundland’s largest seal pelt producers — is marketing its seal pelts mainly through its parent company, GC Rieber Skinn, Bergen, Norway.
Canada sold pelts to 11 countries in 2004, with Norway, Germany, Greenland, and China, including Hong Kong, purchasing the largest quantities. Other countries included Finland, Denmark, France, Greece, South Korea, and Russia. Asia remains the principal market for seal meat exports.
One of Canada’s market access priorities for 2002 was to “continue to press Korean authorities to obtain the necessary approvals for the sale of seal meat for human consumption in Korea.” Canadian and Korean officials agreed in 2003 on specific Korean import requirements for seal meat. For 2004, only Taiwan and South Korea purchased seal meat from Canada.
The Humane Society of the United States is its nation’s largest animal protection organization, backed by 10 million Americans. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs, celebrating animals and confronting cruelty.
The following article from April 12 2008 is being quoted in its entirety so as not to cloud any of the events.
Canadian Coast Guard Seizes Anti-seal Hunt Boat
MONTREAL (AFP) — The Canadian coast guard seized a boat belonging to opponents of seal hunting Saturday, the fisheries minister said, in a move described by the organization as an “act of war.”
“The government of Canada has taken action to protect the safety and livelihoods of Canadian sealers by boarding and seizing the Farley Mowat to arrest its captain and chief officer for alleged violations of Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations,” said fishing minister Loyola Hearn.
The owner of the Farley Mowat, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, countered that the boat had been “attacked” by two coast guard ice-breakers while in international waters in the Saint Lawrence gulf.
“This is an act of war,” said the society’s founder, Paul Watson.
“The Canadian government has just sent an armed boarding party onto a Dutch-registered yacht in international waters and has seized the ship.”
But Hearn said in a press conference that the boat was captured in “Canadian internal waters,” and he accused Watson’s organization of being “a bunch of money-sucking manipulators” intent on taking money from donors.
Watson said the vessel’s mission was to document evidence of cruelty by seal hunters to support a European motion to ban seal products.
“The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has just handed us the victory that we were looking for,” he said.
“The Europeans will not be very pleased with this move.”
The seizure of the Farley Mowat came after a series of close encounters between seal hunters, the coast guard and the anti-hunt protesters.
On March 30 the Sea Shepherd vessel collided with a coast guard icebreaker in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and while there was no reported damage, Alex Cornelissen, captain of the Farley Mowat, said in a statement his vessel was “twice rammed” after he ignored warnings not to approach sealers.
And later fishermen sympathetic to the seal hunters cut the vessel’s mooring lines while it was docked in the French isles of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off Canada’s east coast.
The annual commercial seal hunt, which opened March 28 in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, is often marked by confrontations between animal rights protesters and the hunters and Canadian authorities.
The Canadian authorities last week launched legal action against Cornelissen, accusing him of getting too close to seal hunters and obstructing the coast guard’s work.
His assistant, Peter Hammarstedt, also faces charges and Hearn said both men risked fines of 100,000 dollars and six months in jail.
Watson angered many early this month when he said that the death of four Canadian hunters at sea in an accident on the second day of the hunt was lass a tragedy that the killing of the baby seals.
The fisheries ministry meanwhile said the number of boats taking part in the first fortnight of the hunt is markedly down on previous years, despite an increase of the fixed quota for the hunt to 275,000 seals from last year’s 270,000.
Local media attribute the change to rising oil costs and lower prices for seal fur.
But the opponents of the hunt said it was a result of their protests.
“Our efforts to close (seal product) markets around the world are clearly having an impact,” said Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society.
Based on an article from the National Post April 18 2008, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s website (DFO), last year’s seal hunt netted $12 million — the value of all seal pelts landed. Half of that is eaten up by expenses, which translates to $6 million that flowed to the sealers themselves. This year will be even less, as pelts of 3 to 4 week old “beaters” that make up 95% of the catch are selling for between $6 and $33.
Think about it — does a measly $6 that many would spend on a daily specialty coffee justify the brutal death of a pup seal that has yet to take its first swim, let alone eat its first solid food?
The $6-million sealers get from the hunt is far outweighed by the tens of millions Ottawa spends backing it, let alone what the DFO shells out for license issuers, accountants, typists, file clerks, inspectors, quota setters, regulation drafters, “scientists,” “statisticians,” “economic analysts,” speech writers, media relations officers, anti-boycott propagandists — the list goes on.
The DFO says 5,000 to 6,000 people (a number which others estimate to be less than half that) are averaging $1,000 a year from killing 275,000 seals.
Sealing creates less than 1% of the value of the sealing provinces’ fishery, and the $5.2-million of raw seal products constitutes less than 1/1,000 of what we export to Europe.
Is all of this barbaric blood-letting really worth it to anyone?
Check out the article at the National Post to learn more of the chilling numbers of where tax-payer funds are going and dollars spent to counter bans on the importation of seal products, which has also been posted in the comments by Dianne, a reader below.
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IFAW Seal Hunt 2008 Day 3 – Graphic Footage
Graphic footage of seal pups being killed by rifle fire on the third day of the Canadian commercial seal hunt. In Canada, these marine mammals are classified as “fish”. Please donate to the International Fund for Animal Welfare at stopthesealhunt.org to help end this cruel hunt.
Seal Hunt – Graphic Footage
Canadian Coast Guard Rams Farley Mowat / Sea Shepherd
I.M.O. (International Maritime Organization) — MARINE ORDERS PART 30 -prevention of Collisions at Sea: #All vessels Masters & Crew Must by all means possible avoid a collision at sea, all vessels MUST give way to their RIGHT. #An overtaking Vessel MUST give way to a vessel it is overtaking. Neither was done by the Canadian vessel in this incident.
Sealers Attack Sea Shepherd Crew
Paul Watson, environmental activist, was asked to leave Greenpeace because he yanked a club out of a hunter’s hand to protect a baby seal. He decided that protecting the environment was so important that he started his own organization — Sea Shepherd.Tags:animal animal rights animals Canada Canadian cruelty Gulf of St. Lawrence Humane Society seal seal hunt seals slaughter