Thousands of Seal Pelts Wasted So Why Are we Still Hunting Seals?

According to a new report by ICI Radio Canada, seal hunters on Canada’s Magdalen Islands have thrown away an estimated 6,000 seal pelts in recent years.

Until 2007, the seal-skin processing company Tamasu ran a well-established business on the island, removing fat from the pelts and sending them to off-shore tanneries. However, Longuépée says, “After a fire, the downturn in the market, and the European Union’s embargo, the company decided to close its doors and was no longer a buyer for the Magdalen Islands’ product.”

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The European Union’s ban on seal products, which was brought into effect in 2009, has undoubtedly had a effect on the seal hunters’ trade, and a legal challenge to the ban was rejected earlier this year.

In spite of this, the Seal Hunters’ Association has stated that they are determined to “get this industry back on its feet in the Islands.”

Gil Thériault, director of the association, points to a recent revitalization project undertaken by the group, saying, “We removed the fat from the pelts by hand, stabilized them in brine and sent some of them to Winnipeg and Montreal. We conducted some tests with tanners to find out how much it would cost to send them.”

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However, this begs the question: If the seal hunters knew of the EU’s embargo, and were aware of the declining demand for pelts, why did they feel the need to continue killing seals in the same numbers as before? ICI Radio reports that they killed 6,000 seals in 2010 alone. A major proportion of these pelts went unused – meaning that the seals were effectively killed for no reason.

Some argue that Canadian seal hunts are necessary in order to curb seal populations, lest they should become uncontrollable. The hunts have evenbeen defended by public figures such as the chef Anthony Bourdain.

However, the largest consumers of fish stocks are humans, and it is human mismanagement of the Earth’s resources that has led us to the brink of environmental disaster, not uncontrollable seal populations.

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The Australian writer Connor FitzGerald suggests that the desire to control animal populations using artificial means arose from “our psychological struggle with the human condition.” Referencing the Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, he says, “It was the struggle between our newly arrived conscious-self over an already long-established instinctive-self that was the origin of our anger, egocentricity and alienation that characterises modern society. … ‘Hunting was men’s earliest ego outlet’ (Griffith, 1988).”

In other words, we feel the need to wield artificial control over animal populations because we do not trust nature to manage its own ecosystems. Such a worldview presupposes that non-human animals exist only to be exploited and used as we see fit.

Can the Seal Hunters’ Association really revive an industry that has been steadily losing momentum? It remains to be seen.

In the meantime, check out harpseals.org, seashepherd.org, and the HSUS-led boycott of Canadian seafood to find out how you can help.

Image Source: Northwest Power/Flickr