Every year in Canada, fishermen go to seal nurseries on the Front in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and kill hundreds of thousands of seals by clubbing and/or shooting them and then skinning them, sometimes while they are still alive. Canada’s government calls the annual commercial seal hunt “humane.” In 2010, the total allowable catch for the year was 330,000 seals. This year, the kill quota has been increased by 60,000.
What happens on these seal hunts?
Mothers are taken from their pups and killed and the pups are either killed as well or die because they are too young to fend for themselves. It is illegal for the sealers to kill pups who haven’t lost their “whitecoats” yet and are still dependent on their mothers, but there is a lot of evidence that shows sealers killing pups during the hunt. An article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2006 infamously featured a photo of a mostly white pup covered in blood. Many similar pictures have been captured over the years, although it has been illegal to kill whitecoats since 1987. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has been documenting the Canadian seal hunt for many years, and have stated that “95% of the harp seals killed over the past five years have been under three months of age.”
Why hunt seals?
There’s one reason for the Canadian seal hunt — money! Fisheries sell seal pelts, oil, and meat. Canada’s annual seal slaughter is the largest marine mammal slaughter in the world and the only hunt which relies on the killing of infants. According to Canadian newspaper, the National Post, the Canadian government spends millions subsidizing the hunt and the fisheries profit equals less than they spend on the hunt. In recent years, however, Canada has lost two of its main importers: the United States and European Union. Further, many chefs, restaurants, and stores have refused to sell seafood from Canada as long as the hunt continues. Two thirds of the sealers are worried about the HSUS ProtectSeals seafood boycott, which contributed to a 44% decline in seafood exports from Newfoundland by 2008. Sealers who normally would partake in the hunt have begun to opt-out due to dangerous conditions and lack of clientele.
A threat to a species and an entire ecosystem
Not only do the seals have to contend with the sealers, melting ice floes are becoming a bigger problem year by year. Seal mothers rely on sea ice to give birth to their pups. In 2002, it was reported that 75% of harp seal pups in the Gulf of St. Lawrence died due to “the lack of ice before the cull even began.” Scientists have expressed their worry for the seal population due to the melting ice and the commercial seal hunt, even calling the possible results “devastating to the species.” According to the HSUS, “[t]he scientific community agrees that the true cause of the depletion of fish stocks off Canada’s East Coast is human over-fishing… In truth, seals, like all marine mammals, are a vital part of the ecosystem of the Northwest Atlantic. Harp seals, which are the primary target of the hunt, are opportunistic feeders, meaning they eat many different species. So while approximately 3 percent of a harp seal’s diet may be commercially fished cod, harp seals also eat many significant predators of cod, such as squid. That is why some scientists are concerned that culling harp seals could further inhibit recovery of commercially valuable fish stocks in the Northwest Atlantic.”
Canadian public opinion on the seal hunt
The Canadian public is also in favor of ending the commercial seal hunt. A study (pdf) conducted in 2005 by the Environics Research Group states that nearly 70% of Canadians are against the seal hunt. Canadian Senator Mac Harb proposed a bill in 2009 to ban the seal hunt, but received an icy response. It was the first time Harb’s colleagues could remember in their two decades of serving that a proposal didn’t make it to the second hearing. Many celebrities have made their voices heard in their opposition of the hunt and there have even been offers in the millions to compensate the fishermen if the hunt were to end. Canada isn’t the only place where seals are killed, but this hunt is by far the largest and is often times called “the most barbaric”. All of this just doesn’t add up. There’s definitely something fishy going on and it’s about time Canada puts a halt to the annual commercial seal hunt.
How can we help?
There are many ways to help make the ice in Canada never turn red because of human hands again. The most important thing you can do is boycott Canadian seafood, tell your friends and family, tell restaurants and stores and then let the Canadian government know that you’ll continue to boycott Canadian seafood as long as the hunt continues.
Along with the boycott, there are a number of petitions you can sign to show your support. Here are a few:
Most importantly, don’t forget to remind your friends who are concerned about the killing of seals in Canada that there is no real difference between this and other unnecessary forms of animal use and exploitation that are prevalent in modern society (whether for food, clothing or entertainment). The world can be free of all animal exploitation, if you want it!
Eva Kwolek: Eva is the writer of Four Leaf Clover, a blog that features information which helps people live an animal-friendly, environmentally conscious, healthy and happy lifestyle. Eva was the president of her school’s environmental club, a member of her town’s environmental committee, and spent a summer interning for animal rights organization PETA UK. After living in Canada, USA, and London, England, Eva is currently based in Switzerland and is pursuing a career in writing and animal/environmental conservation.