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My name is Yana Watson. I am an Animal rights activist and the wife of Captain Paul Watson. I was a crew member for the Operation Ice Watch 2017 campaign from March 8th to 18th this year and I would like to share my experience of this campaign.
On the first two days of flying over the Gulf of St. Lawrence we had a difficult time actually finding any ice. Most of the Gulf was unusually ice-free. We succeeded in only finding a small area of shore fast ice upon which were only a few hundred seals.
There should have been a few hundred thousand seals but without ice, there can be no seals. This is extremely alarming.
Now there is a double threat to the survival of the harp seals. Under threat from the marine mammal largest slaughter on the planet and now under threat from Climate change.
What’s Happening to Harp Seals
The ice we landed on the first day was unusually thin. Clementine Palanca and I left the helicopter together, to make our way across the ice pack towards a small nursery of seal pups. Clementine saw this little newborn white baby that we took a photo of. It was such an incredible moment for Clementine and I to hold and hug this little bundle of cuteness.
Clementine said, “I will never forget this magical moment with this cute little creature and I don’t understand how some people can be so heartless and sadistic to kill them.”
Clementine and I were part of an all-woman team that went to the ice this year to honor the 40th Anniversary of Brigitte Bardot’s historical trip to the ice floes with my husband, an event that made an incredible difference in increasing international awareness of this annual Canadian atrocity.
There were five women on the ice crew: Actress Michelle Rodriguez accompanied by Brigitte Breau and Camille Labchuk from Canada plus Clementine and myself. The media team included two other women, Videographers Jasmine Lord and Marketa Schusterova plus renown French photojournalist Bernard Sidler. We had Omar Todd from Australia as our I.T. media person and of course, the two helicopters pilots.
Michelle Rodriguez arrived on the third day and that very evening we were hit with a blizzard with very strong winds.
I rode in the helicopter the next morning with Michelle and videographer Jasmine Lord and Bernard Sidler, but when we arrived to where we had found the seals a few days earlier, the ice and the seals were gone.
It was very disappointing but we decided to have the two helicopters search in different directions and fortunately we were able to locate our small patch of ice and seals blown far offshore by the storm. What we saw was a badly broken up ice nursery with far fewer seals than we had seen before and all the indications were that the missing babies had perished in the blizzard, crushed between broken ice or drowned in the heaving sea. It was a heartbreaking disaster.
There were only about a hundred baby seals to be seen. The helicopter could not land on the broken ice so Michelle, Bernard and I decided to jump onto the ice from the helicopter.
It was dangerous, many open leads, and the sea ice was heaving, forcing us to jump from ice pan to ice pan.
Michelle was fearless as she took the lead in jumping across leads sometimes landing on a piece of ice that would begin to sink forcing her to jump to another unstable piece. Photographer Bernard Sidler and I followed.
Michelle is one bad-ass woman and she was not going to let broken heaving ice and open leads keep us from reaching the seal pups. Our objective was to get a picture of her with a baby seal to compare the situation forty years ago with Brigitte Bardot with what was happening today.
Michelle was born the year after Brigitte Bardot took her picture with a baby seal and Michelle represented another generation still working to abolish this cruel and needless slaughter.
Much has changed. The hunters are now not allowed to kill seals under six weeks although they still do. The quota has been doubled since 1977 to 400,000 seals a year although because seal products are banned in the USA and Europe the sealers rarely kill over 50,000 per year.
Climate change and Seals
The most dramatic difference, however, is the disappearance of the ice. The ice and seals simply cannot be found and this diminishment of ice is now the greatest threat to this species. Despite the evidence of mass drowning of seal pups, the government of Canada has once again told the sealers they can search out and kill 400,000 seals. They won’t in fact kill that many this year and not just because of the lack of markets but primarily because of the lack of ice.
Climate change plus the continuing slaughter of survivors from the ice does not bode well for the future of the harp seals.
The slaughter of the seals began on March 28th, two weeks before the previous years because the sealers are worried the lack of ice will make their killing more difficult. According to the Canadian government, once the seals have lost their white coats they can be killed at four weeks instead of six weeks.
These seals are simply redefined as adults and they are still killed in front of their mothers. They are clubbed with a hak-a-pik, (a club with a spike) or shot. Every year witnesses have described seals being skinned alive. Such cruelty, just for a fur coat to be sold in Russia or China where it is still legal.
The one thing that certainly has not changed is the ruthlessness and the anger of the seal killers. When the helicopters stopped at the Magdalen Islands airport the crew entered the terminal to use the facilities. Several of our crew were shoved by an angry sealer accusing us of taking away their jobs.
Their attitude was unchanged from 1995 when they attacked my husbands’ crew and threatened the media. They were assaulted, my husband was beaten their cameras were broken and their film destroyed.
The ironic thing about it, is their short few weeks of making money from killing seals will be no more, not because of protestors but rather by the fact that without ice, there are no seals.
I have a six-month-old son. I can’t imagine for a moment how I would feel if somebody came to my house and beat my little baby to death in front of me or to skin him alive leaving me with the dying bleeding body. The horror is unimaginable but this is the horror that tens of thousands of mother seals experience every year off the coast of Eastern Canada.
We can help by sending a message to the Canadian Embassy in your country and demanding an end to this barbaric slaughter.