Cruelty, Waste, Shame

Sealer swinging at seal pup
Sealer swinging at seal pup
A sealer swings at a seal pup, as the pup cries in desperation for life. | Photo: HSUS, Brian Skerry | Seal, Baby Seal, Clubbing, Ifaw, Cruelty, Animal, Rights, Death, Blood, Killing,

[GRAPHIC] Protecting the harp seals in Canada

It is a close up shot of a harp seal, famous for their large, charcoal-black eyes, contrasted with fluffy, snow-white, fur. The seal is burping up blood, as it dies.

A sealer is clubbing, hooking, and dragging a seal across the bloodied ice.

According to The Huffington Post, Canada, these images were too graphic for Canadian television, as the Television Bureau of Canada, the industry group who approves television ads and public service announcements, rejected the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) commercials in creating awareness about the annual harp seal hunts taking place in Canada. In order for the commercials to be aired, the scenes of the seals bleeding to death and the actual process in the killing of the seals had to be edited out. PETA Senior Vice President Dan Matthews did not yield, as the removal of these images would have "nullified the point of the ad," as the truth should be shown. "We think that if the government is this proud and goes to such great lengths to defend this program, this program should be seen by the country and by the people who pay for it."

As Danielle Katz, PETA Campaigns Manager, states, PETA had approached Vancouver-born actress Emmanuelle Vaugier to narrate a 60 second spot during the 2012 commercial, with the hope of "sparking a conversation" about the waste and cruelty of the harp seal hunt, costing taxpayers millions to support an industry which earns less than the amount it takes to support. As the Television Bureau of Canada felt the visuals of the hunts were harsh, PETA emphasizes the harshness for the Canadian taxpayers to pay for the hunts. Katz also cites a study done by the University of Guelph in Canada, where ending the seal hunt would actually save the government, and the taxpayers, at least 7 million dollars a year.

The goal of these commercials was to illustrate that "The commercial seal slaughter is obviously cruel but it is also an example of government waste," states Vaugier in the ad, as accounted by The Huffington Post, Canada. Vaugier continues, millions more are spent to support a dying industry, as the income from the slaughter "accounts for less than once per cent of the economy of Newfoundland where it takes place." Katz continues, less than 25 percent of the quota was met in 2013, where Newfoundland had bailed out the commercial sealing industry, boosting it with 3.6 million dollars. Unfortunately, even the beautiful, adorable faces of the harp seals, famous for capturing the hearts of people, cannot save them from the atrocious act of seal hunting in Canada.

The sustainable killing of harp seals, among hooded, harbor, and ringed seals, had taken place for thousands of years, as a means of necessity for the native people, where the seals were respected and valued for their contributions (the fur, meat, and bones were all utilized for clothing, food, and shelter) for survival. However, in the last 300 years, the modern reason for the continued slaughter lies in commercial exploitation. According to Diana Marmorstein, Ph.D., CEO of Harpseals.org, a nonprofit organization aspiring to permanently end the slaughter of the harp seals (and other seals) in Canada and seals in Namibia, utilizing mass media and grassroots activism to raise awareness about the annual slaughter, the practice of commercial sealing in Canada began when French and British settlers came to the New World and discovered the abundance of harp seals in the waters off of Newfoundland. They soon looked for ways to exploit the seals, as well as North Atlantic cod, for profit.

White coat harp seal pup
White coat harp seal pup

A white coat harp seal pup, famous for their large, charcoal-black eyes, contrasted with fluffy, snow-white fur. Copyrighted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), whose work connects animal welfare and conservation, emphasizing that healthy populations naturally sustaining habitats, and animal welfare are in | Photo: IFAW | Seal, Baby Seal, Clubbing, Ifaw, Cute, Cruelty, Animal, Rights, Death, Blood, Killing,

As Harpseals.org cites, sealers from Newfoundland and Labrador from the Magdalen Islands of Quebec and from Prince Edward Island killed over 90,000 harp seal pups in 2013, paid for by the Newfoundland taxpayers. The primary reason for the slaughter: the seal pelts. However, the annual slaughter offers little or no economic value, as the European Union (EU) has banned the pelt import, and generally, there is a minimal market for pelts. According to Dr. Marmorstein, many people in Canada oppose the slaughter, but lack the initiative to take active action to stop the practice. In addition, most Canadians are likely unaware they are paying to support the slaughter.

Harpseals.org states, the European ban on seal pelts and the boycott of Canadian seafood in Britain in the mid-1980s had a tremendous impact on the number of seals killed, and the commercial market; in 1987, the Canadian seal pelt market was nearly destroyed, yet the government intervened with subsidies to bolster the businesses. The Canadian government spent millions of dollars on developing new markets; as Dr. Marmorstein states, "The Canadian government sends trade missions around the world to drum up sales and new markets' spending millions of dollars in the process." As Harpseals.org continues, the government also exploited the loophole of the European ban on whitecoat pelts by banning the killing of less than 14-day-old seals (the whitecoats), sending sealers to kill seals once they began to molt. In 2009, the European Union (EU) expanded their seal pelt ban to include all seal products originating from seals of any age, any species; this became law in November of 2009.

As Dr. Marmorstein continues, sealers had attempted to take the case to the EU General Court, and failed. The Canadian and Norwegian governments are fighting the EU ban at the World Trade Organization (WTO), an intergovernmental, treaty-based organization which makes and enforces rules that liberalize trade between its members. The hearings took place in the Spring of 2013, where the verdict is due in the fall. "' We hope that the WTO will agree the ban is acceptable in light of the cruelty and the widespread opposition of the European public to this massacre." According to Katz, it is costing the Canadian government, the taxpayers, 10 million dollars to challenge the ban.
Harpseals.org continues, each spring, pregnant harp seals gather on the stark ice floes off the Canadian Atlantic coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the east of Quebec to give birth. When the ice conditions permit and the seal pups begin shedding their white coats, a few hundred to a few thousand Canadian sealers (off-season fishermen) bludgeon and shoot two-week to two-month-old seals, then hook and drag them, sometimes skinning the pups while they are still alive and conscious. As Rebecca Aldworth, Director of Canadian Wildlife Issues for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and a native of Newfoundland and Labrador, accounts,
"The pup, sensing danger, tried desperately to crawl towards the edge of the water. But the two men bearing down on her were faster. One sealer struck her on the side, then twice again on the head. He grabbed her hind flippers and pulled her back across the ice, stopping to club her twice more. He grabbed her front flipper and turned her over' the second sealer kicked the wounded pup with his boot. Seeing a reaction, he motioned to the first sealer, who clubbed her four more times on the head' the second sealer grabbed his hakapik [long sticks with a hook blade on one end] and clubbed the baby seal once more. He flipped her over and began to cut her open -- only to roll her back over so the first sealer could club her three more times. This poor baby seal was clubbed thirteen times in total."
The hunters attempt to sell the pelts to European and Asian furriers, as the bodies of the innocent seals are left to rot. Approximately 95% of the seals killed are no more than 3-months-old.
The first phase of the hunt takes place in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where sealers club the seals with a hakapik; they are supposed to check to see if the seals' skulls are crushed before skinning them. If the seals are still alive, the sealers will continue clubbing the seal pups on the head with the hakapik. Sealers will not always check to see if the seal is alive, where consequently, the seal is still conscious while the hook blade is plunged into the mouth or head, as some of seals are skinned alive.
The second phase of the hunt takes place in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador, where sealers usually shoot the seals from boats (as the seals are able to swim), aiming at the head to prevent damage to the pelts. If the sealers wound the seals, they get out of the boats to club the seals, unless the seals are able to escape in the water. The seals, then, are likely to die in the water. If the seals are retrieved, they are hooked, while they are conscious, in their mouths and dragged onto the boat.

In 2008, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) had set new standards for sealers in the killing of the seals. However, to Dr. Marmorstein, the standards are essentially useless, as there is no "good" way to kill. "The seals are suffering greatly' [as] Just the panic from seeing others around them get killed [clubbing, shooting are cruel] is bad enough' 'Palpating' the broken cranium with a pole, if the seal pup isn't dead yet, would be excruciating."

Due to the pressure exerted on Canada, Dr. Marmorstein believes we are closer to ending the slaughter, but the Canadian government is extremely stubborn. The government also uses the seals as a scapegoat for their diminished fisheries, rather than facing the fact of overfishing, a product from people. According to Harpseals.org, Newfoundland politicians used the seals as the "official explanation for the collapse of the fish stocks'" However, the consensus among scientists was that the harp seals were not responsible for the fishery collapse, or the failure of the recovery of the cod population, as cod is only a small percentage of the harp seal diet, as well as consuming predators of the cod. "Biologists know that healthy fisheries need healthy seal populations to prosper." The DFO even admitted the harp seals did not cause of the collapse of the fisheries; however, the damage had been done, where sealers still believe in this propaganda. Dr. Marmorstein concurs, "The destructive fishing practices and over-fishing will continue to wreak havoc on the ocean ecosystems and motivate fisherman to blame seals' until we force the fishing industry to change its ways." One of the best ways to help seals is to not eat seafood.

The DFO is now blaming grey seals for the diminishing cod populations, according to Harpseals.org. A study was done to determine the negative impact of the grey seal predation of the Atlantic Cod. However, the study did not account outstanding factors, such as climate change, the reduction of the genetic pool, and most compelling, the increased cod population around Sable Island, where the grey seal population has also increased.

Despite the fact that the majority of Canadians oppose the hunts, and numerous viable options have been proposed as alternatives to the seal hunts, sealers have rejected the ideas, and the DFO are simply not interested. As Dr. Marmorstein continues, ecotourism is a pragmatic means of generating revenue. If the seal hunts were to end, the boycott of Canadian tourism would also end, increasing the interest in sightseeing tours to see the seals. Shari Duffin, Legislative Assistant to the Honourable Senator Mac Harb, observes, "Eco-tourism has a great deal of potential'" in many seal and whale areas, such as the Magdalene Islands.

Canadian Senator Mac Harb had introduced a Bill S-210 during the Canadian Senate session in May of 2012, an act to amend the Fisheries Act. According to the Parliament of Canada website, the bill sought to amend the Fisheries Act to prohibit the commercial fishing for seals in Canadian fisheries waters, disallowing the issuance of commercial licenses for the seal hunting. As accounted by The Huffington Post, there was resounding support for the bill, where it was seconded, as the Senate unanimously consented to continue the debate over the issue. As Senator Harb observes, "It's time for Canadian politicians to face the fact that the commercial seal-slaughter industry is over." The Canadian federal government has also spent millions of taxpayer dollars in efforts to create a market in China, which has failed to take place. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated in late February of 2013.

According to Duffin, a new bill could be introduced in the new session of Parliament (as a bill cannot be reintroduced in the same session); Duffin is hopeful a Member of Parliament will step forward to introduce legislation in the House of Commons, "as there is a much better chance of a bill succeeding" with support in both houses, since there is growing support for ending the hunt amongst the Members. The predicament faced is the fact the local politicians and those in Ottawa are supporting the status quo "to appease those in the fishing industry who mistakenly blame the seals for the results of human overfishing';" there is also a strong sentiment in that Ottawa should not be dictating what can and cannot be hunted. What results is a "strong localized support for the hunt'" where the major parties are reluctant to risk votes from the sealing regions, despite the fact that those views are "'contrary to the views of the rest of Canada and the world beyond our borders."

Injured seal pup
Injured seal pup

An injured seal pup looking on at a deceased seal pup. | Photo: HSUS, Brian Skerry | Seal, Baby Seal, Clubbing, Ifaw, Cruelty, Animal, Rights, Death, Blood, Killing,

Although the harp seal slaughter has been progressively dying through the past few years, particularly due to the ban of seal products by the United States, the European Union, Taiwan, Mexico and Russia (who was responsible for 95% of the imports), according to Katz, we must all work together to end the harp seal hunt permanently.

To Katz, creating awareness is key in making a change. It is imperative for Canadian citizens to speak out, as well as writing to their Parliament to express their concerns; people who are not Canadian citizens can also make a difference, by contacting Canadian embassies and consulates, as they are not helpless in this issue, where their voice will make an impact. Katz also hopes for people to make kind choices in their everyday lives, such as using products not tested on animals, or opting for a non-animal-based diet. People can make a huge difference for animals by doing something simple, such as walking your dog. "Whether you like to be out on the front lines or you prefer to work behind the scenes," PETA can help you become active by participating locally, through their Action Team. As Duffin states, animal rights groups have generated mammoth attention to the world of the seal hunts, in hopes of stopping the practice. However, for Canada, "it may ultimately come down to an economic argument'" with the wasteful government spending on an industry where there is no real revenue from the sale of seal products.

We can all make a difference to end the waste of money to support an atrocious industry, but most importantly, to stop the immense cruelty in the slaughter of thousands of innocent lives.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:08 PM EDT | More details


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