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Why Anthony Bourdain Gets the Seal Hunt All Wrong


Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has enraged animal lovers of all kinds and many in the conservation community with his recent Twitter comments supporting seal hunting and urging other celebrity chefs to reconsider their boycott of Canadian seafood (40 of which are a part of Chefs for Seals and the Humane Society of the United States’ Protect Seals campaign).

Many of Bourdain’s comments on this subject (some of which are below) display a clear lack of understanding about the Canadian seal hunt and the European Union (EU) ban on seal products, and we’re here to tell you why he gets the seal hunt all wrong.

Bourdain on the seal hunt and its effect on indigenous people

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In this tweet, Bourdain appears to reference the EU’s ban on seal products which went into effect in 2009, and was just upheld again this year when industry and Inuit groups challenged the ban.

Their appeal was dismissed by EU’s top court in Luxemburg because the legislation can only be challenged by those directly affected by the legislation. Since Inuit tribes are exempt from the ban, they are not then legally affected by it.

If similar bans were instituted in other nations, Inuit interests would most likely be protected as well since they have a constitutional right to hunt and eat seals, according to the IFAW.

Moreover, national and international animal protection nonprofit organizations are focusing their campaigns to stop seal hunting on the commercial Canadian seal hunt which has killed more than one million harp seals in the past five years by using cruel slaughter methods including wooden clubs, hakapiks (large ice pick-like clubs), and guns.

Bourdain on the boycott of Canadian seafood

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Some may argue that the Inuit seal hunt can’t be considered “sustainable” or “necessary,” but that aside, Bourdain’s comment is still misdirected since the boycott of Canadian seafood is intended to influence the end of the commercial seal hunt.

Read: commercial, not Inuit.

And the commercial seal hunt is anything but necessary and sustainable.

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This statement is particularly enraging as the same could easily be said as a write-off for a number of animal abuses that take place in countries and cities much further away from the U.S. One could have tried to argue that India’s “dancing” bears were an issue we lived far away from and didn’t really “understand” because of this distance.

Simply because we might not be living in a country where an abuse is occurring does not make it permissible in any way. In fact, it’s rather appalling that Bourdain would make such a statement.

This is probably one of Bourdain’s only comments that might seem to have some weight behind it. It’s true that a punishment of the entire industry might be severe, but that’s ultimately the point of any boycott.

A boycott is intended to hit an industry where it will really hurt so as to show them that cruelty and unjust behavior in any part of it is not acceptable.

Many boycotts have played key parts in a movement’s success over the years including some historically significant ones like the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, the Jewish boycott against Henry Fort in the 1920s and the US-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

Boycotts are an essential part of the democratic process, allowing a number of voices to be collectively heard on important issues.

What’s more, not all fishermen are innocent “victims” of the boycott. A number of them are engaged in seal hunting activities in the fishing off-season, even though the hunt is not profitable comparatively and their income is therefore not significantly dependent on the hunt (i.e. the seal hunt is not even economically necessary in the first place).

Bourdain on the harp seal “population problem”

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Bourdain’s comment suggests that seal populations may somehow be causing problems thereby insinuating that a hunt is an acceptable course of action.

Yet, there is zero scientific evidence that links harp seal populations to a decline in cod populations. Rather, it is humans that consistently deplete wildlife populations either through “managed” (in some cases) or illegal hunting methods (like in the case of  poaching or Peru’s illegal dolphin slaughter for shark bait) or simply through other destructive activities like deforestation and habitat fragmentation.

In the 1950s and 1960s, even harp seal populations were reduced by as much as two-thirds because of overhunting. Today, the Northwest Atlantic is home to the world’s largest harp seal population, but no issues have been documented to result from their presence. And they are even under some threat now because of the acceleration of melting sea ice.

To suggest that animals should be automatically hunted because they reach a certain population number completely disregards their historical struggles and simply perpetuates the idea that we can choose to do with nature as we please so long as we can show that it’s “acceptable” at a certain point.

Animals are here for their own purposes, and they manage quite nicely on their own in balancing land and water ecosystems of all kinds without our interference.

You can follow Bourdain’s seal hunt comments on his Twitter page and find out how you can help stop the commercial seal hunt here.

Image source: IFAW via Harpseals.org

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5 comments on “Why Anthony Bourdain Gets the Seal Hunt All Wrong”

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4 Years Ago

Clubbing is brutal no matter how you look at it or why it is done. Why can not something diff be done like some kind of birth control...probably because of cost factor and this is easier. Human have depleted resources worse than any other being through ungoverned birthrates and overpopulation that is really not dealt with or taken seriously even though we have the means to do it as well as to teach others. Animals do not have such luxury afford them. Maybe we should start clubbing some people who keep breeding taxing our precious resources since no one seems to find any thing wrong with doing it to these creatures.

4 Years Ago

Last time I checked, seals were not endangered. In fact they have yearly culls now to try to keep the population under control. All the elimination of the seal hunt has really done is further dimished fish stocks (seals eat a ton of fish) and forcing people onto unemplyment insurance or welfare instead of seasonal employment in the seal industry. Yes seal pups are cute and I'm sure if they were ugly nobody would give a shit.

4 Years Ago

Seal hunt in the media is based on Greenpeace actions and images going back 30 years. Greenpeace had it all wrong. Seals have to be hunted. The are seriously deleting the fish stock as they are less natural predators. With less fish stock and a growing population of the seal herd; many seals die of starvation. The clubbing is actually humane and recognized has such by the Canadian government. It is carefully government and regulated. It is another reason to support the seal hunt. If you want a stab at inhumane; take a closer look at the American beef/pork/chicken slaughterhouses. Another reason to support the seal hunt is that it’s been part of Canada’s cultural fabric for hundreds of years. Coastal populations have survived by eating seal meat, much as urban populations survive on the beef, pork and chicken. World Wildlife Fund concluded that, “the Canadian harp seal hunt is professional and highly regulated. It has the potential to serve as a model to improve humane practice and reduce seal suffering within the other hunts.” Question the source of your information when opposing the seal hunt. Are you getting your information from scientists, or musicians? Is your data coming from the people living in eastern and northern Canada, or people living in Europe and Los Angeles? Meanwhile, renowned ecologist and conservationist Jacques Cousteau once said, “The harp seal question is entirely emotional. We have to be logical. We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig . . . We have to be logical. If we are sentimental about harp seals, which are not endangered because they are partially protected, then we have to also be emotional about pigs.” If you can’t stand the thought of any animal being killed, fine -- that’s understandable. But if you can eat a pig, we think you should be convinced that Anthony Bourdain Gets the Seal Hunt All Right.

Concerned Canadian
4 Years Ago

You do realize that the picture you use is over 30 years old correct? It is illegal to hunt "baby harp seals" It is illegal to use the clubs that were used for hundreds of years leading up to the 80's when they were made illegal. Get your facts straight, visit a hunt location first hand and see what is done and how it is done. Stop spreading lies to support your ignorant perspective.

Animal Lover
01 Nov 2013

You must work for Anthony or be a seal hunter yourself. Maybe you should check out this website because they have footage of people clubbing seals. And if it is illegal, it is still happening. http://www.seashepherd.org/seals/

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