It’s Time for an End to Canada’s Commercial Harp Seal Hunt

Helpless baby seals bludgeoned on the head in a bloody massacre every year? Hundreds of thousands of them? First there’s shock. Then, as is true for many other atrocities in this world, for some there’s acceptance. Yet a number of years ago, when I became an activist and started engaging people about the annual commercial harp seal hunt that takes place off Canada’s eastern shore, a lot of them expressed disbelief: “That’s still going on?” they asked incredulously. It does seem an anachronism, now more than ever.

This year the killing had to end early.1 Unusually warm temperatures caused a vast expanse of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is normally covered with miles of ice floes in late February through March, to remain open sea. Migrating pregnant harp seals were forced to abort in the water instead of giving birth on the sea ice, which then becomes the pups’ nursery. Thousands of newborn seals drowned.2 The climate change, combined with the European Union’s recently voted ban on seal products3 and the international boycott of Canadian seafood backed by a host of humane organizations4 ,5 have caused the 2010 seal hunt to be what one sealer called a “disaster.”1 The single fur processor that didn’t shut down for this season’s kill promised to buy less than 15,000 pelts, and the price, though up from last year,1 was only a fraction of what it was just four years ago.6 Fewer than 50 sealing boats out of the usual 500 set out from Newfoundland, and the one ship launched from the Magdalen Islands admits to throwing pelts back into the water. Most of Canada’s 6,000 sealers did not participate in this year’s hunt, and the number of seals killed was less than 15 percent of the current quota set by the Canadian government.1

That quota was increased by 50,000 over last year,7 to a whopping 330,000, one of the highest total allowable catches in half a century,8 even as the existence of the harp seal as a species is being threatened.9 One has to wonder if Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is thumbing its nose at the growing worldwide condemnation of the hunt. One also has to wonder why the Canadian Parliament won’t even allow debate on ending the slaughter. Once again, Senator Mac Harb has introduced a bill to put an end to the commercial seal hunt, and even though it was seconded on principle, if not support for the issue, the Senate has refused debate. Harb, despite his well-respected career in politics, has become a pariah within his own ranks.10

As events stack up making evident the absurdity of continuing the commercial seal hunt, the Canadian government remains steadfast in its commitment to keep it going, attempting to open up new markets for sealskins in Asia, promoting the sale of seal meat at home1 despite reports of contamination,11 and challenging the EU ban at the World Trade Organization.1 Baby seals are regularly hooked in the eye12 to prevent damage to the coat and dragged across the ice while still conscious, as well as skinned alive.13 14 Is this what Canada wants to be known for as its source of unity and pride?

  1. Canada’s seal hunt to close early after low harvest, Yahoo News, Michel Compte, April 15, 2010. [] [] [] [] [] []
  2. Melting Out from Under Them, Humane Society International/Canada, Rebecca Aldworth, March 10, 2010. []
  3. MEPs adopt strict conditions for the placing on the market of seal products in the European Union, European Union Press Release, May 5, 2009. []
  4. Canadian Seafood Boycott: The Most Potent Strategy to End the Annual Seal Hunt in Canada, Harpseals.org. []
  5. Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt and the Canadian Seafood Boycott, AnimalAlliance.ca. []
  6. CBC News — FAQs: The Atlantic Seal Hunt. []
  7. 2010 Seal Hunt Opens, Humane Society International/Canada, March 29, 2010. []
  8. Canadian Government Raises Kill Quota for Harp Seal Pups Despite Severe Lack of Ice Habitat, PR Newswire-US Newswire, March 15, 2010. []
  9. Harp Seals May Be Extinct in Two Decades, Sea Shepherd News, October 29, 2006. []
  10. Anything’s debatable – except the seal hunt, Times Colonist, Elizabeth Payne, April 4, 2010. []
  11. Trace Metals and Methyl Mercury: Associations and Transfer in Harp Seal (Phoca Groenlandica) Mothers and Their Pups, R. Wagemann, R. E. A. Stewart, W. L. Lockhart, B. E. Stewart, M. Povoledo. []
  12. Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing: The Harp Seal Hunt. []
  13. Veterinary Report: Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt, Prince Edward Island, March 2001. []
  14. Seal Hunt 2010: Closing Time, A “Live from the Ice” dispatch from Rebecca Aldworth, director of Humane Society International/Canada, April 13, 2010. []

Alice Bruckenstein is an animal rights activist living in New York City. Her not-for-profit "Song for Canada’s Harp Seals," after over 9,000 views, was recently censored on YouTube, and she has created a petition to unflag the song. Read other articles by Alice.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. peaceiscomingforyou said on April 20th, 2010 at 11:15am #

    What’s the difference between killing seals, and killing cows, steers, pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats, lambs, fish, lobsters, crabs, bees, and all the other species of nonhuman animals treated very similarly to the seals mentioned?

    The numbers.

    Over 10 billion land animals are raised in torturous conditions and slaughtered annually in the U.S. – and there’s no quota.

    The animals most people eat suffer just as much – if not more and for longer duration – than the seals mentioned.

    Yet we regularly judge the killing of nonhuman animals that other nations prefer to kill – dolphins, whales, seals, dogs, cats – as immoral, inhumane, or different.

    The U.S. keeps nonhuman animals in concentration-camp-inspired factories, pumps them full of antibiotics and hormones, and then slaughters most of them before they reach adulthood. Baby cows have their horns burned off, or tails cut off without anesthetic. Baby male pigs are castrated without anesthetic. Many pigs, chickens, and turkeys are still conscious when immersed in boiling water.

    Is this what the U.S. wants to be known for as it’s source of unity and pride?

  2. Bruce Foerster said on April 20th, 2010 at 12:40pm #

    Nothing can justify the horrible treatment that most farm animals endure in order for us to consume their flesh which only ultimately makes humans sick as well. Alice’s article however is not about ‘domesticated’ animals which is a whole other subject. Her article is specific and is al about the Canadian commercial seal hunt so let us please stay on-subject or the substance of her articel will be lost or at least very dilluted down.

    The seal hunt is an atrocity that has no comparison either in modern or in ancient times. Never have human being stooped so low in their treatment of animals. This is the largest and cruelest slaughter of marine mammals on earth. This is the disgrace of a country that pretends to be, but is not ‘advanced’ nor is it ‘compassionate’. Not even developing or ‘third world’ countries commit crimes against nature on anything near this scale. It has made our once proud nation ‘the most protested country on earth’, and fer very good reason. The commercial seal hunt has no reason to exist other than as a mechanism for politicians to pander to voters in mostly Newfoundland who staunchly defend this bloody slaughter as a proud tradition.

    These people are often describes as crude, knuckle dragging, toothless, drunken, inbred, brutal baby killers. Sounds about right to me. I am not a religeous person but I do hope that there is a hell because this is where every one of these baby seal killing cretins will be spending eternity, no doubt whatsoever about that.

  3. kalidas said on April 20th, 2010 at 5:41pm #

    “If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.”

    “‘Thou shalt not kill’ does not apply to murder of one’s own kind only, but to all living beings; and this Commandment was inscribed in the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai.”
    -Leo Tolstoy