you thought the clubbing to death of baby harp seals was ancient
Believe it or not, Canada recently announced that it would again allow seals
to be clubbed or shot to death for the next three years. Fisheries and Oceans
Minister Robert Thibault said hunters would be allowed to kill a total of
975,000 seals during that time, with the maximum count in any one year set
at 350,000 animals. This seal hunt, which usually begins in mid-March in
the Gulf of St. Lawrence and continues for two months, is by far the largest
slaughter of marine mammals in the world.
“Save the Seals”…Again?
In the 1970s the world was shocked by the savagery of the seal hunt as
images of white baby harp seals, vulnerable in the seal nurseries of northern
being bludgeoned or shot by hunters were shown on televisions and splashed
across newspapers worldwide. Friends of Animals founder Alice Herrington,
who twice witnessed Canada’s spring massacre, and Brian Davies, who
documented the slaughter, exposed the public to one of the most notorious
bloodbaths in the history of animal exploitation. This helped galvanize the
international “Save the Seals” campaign.
The public outcry eventually led to a boycott of seal fur by most
fashion houses, and the implementation of the 1972 U.S. Marine
Act. The Act banned U.S. imports and sales of all marine mammal products,
regardless of the number of seals living or arguments based on cultural
traditions in favor of hunting. Beginning in the late 1990s, however, with
assistance from the Canadian federal and provincial governments, the hunt
The excuse for the renewed hunt is that the seals eat too much
cod. In reality, cod comprise only a tiny part of the harp seal’s
diet. Scientists warned for many years that commercial fishing
is annihilating the cod. Warnings
were ignored; and now that the cod are all but gone, seals are blamed.
Back in Style
So, after years of being taboo, seal fur is making a comeback.
A deliberate marketing drive by the fur industry—and, yes, sealers—has
pushed up demand for seal fur.
New lightweight furs, including seal, have caught the inventive eye
for prêt-à-porter designers who use them with a new, casual
style. But since the primary characteristic of fashion is change, the fur
industry must continually announce new product ideas that
will keep fur in “fashion’s” forefront. Research and development
encourages myriad innovations through a variety of colors and styles, sculpting,
carving and shearing techniques, frosted and embossed effects, printing and
spraying techniques—in other words, the more ways the designers can
disguise the fur, the better their chances of selling it. Then, the
seal market may route otherwise unwanted carcasses to fur farms where they
are fed to other animals in captivity.
It’s also one of the few hunts to target young animals. Although the
Canadian government has outlawed the killing of pups who still have their
white coats, a two week-old seal pup who has molted is considered fair game.
(Hunters refer to seals this age as “beaters.”) While hunters
do kill adults, an estimated 95 percent of those killed are 12 days to
12 months old. The young are far more coveted by the fur industry.
The Canadian government, sealers and retailers all appear eager
to defy international protests by clubbing and shooting more
animals than they have in decades,
leaving the icy shores of Canada stained red.
Government assistance in Canada has included subsidies.
According to reports from the Canadian Institute for Business
and the Environment,
more than $20 million in subsidies were provided to the sealing industry
between 1995 and 2001. Those subsidies came from entities such as the Atlantic
Canada Opportunities Agency, Human Resources Development Council, and Canada
Economic Development-Quebec, and take a variety of forms, including funding
the salaries for seal processing plant workers, tax-free loans, product
promotions, market research and development trips, capital acquisitions
and the provision
of important services enabling sealers to locate and kill the seals.
The government condones the hunt by making public claims that it is “humane” and “sustainable.” Regardless
of their claims, however, this killing cannot be ethically defended: hunters
essentially utilize the same methods used 30 years ago—the seals
are clubbed or shot to death.
You Can Help
Along with other groups, Friends of Animals is challenging Canadian
government officials who have become apologists for the seal
hunt by sending them a
clear message: activists are unwavering in our opposition to the hunt and
we demand the end of the bloody practice—once and for all.
Please take a few minutes to write to the Canadian Prime Minister and the
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans; tell them that rather than expand the hunt,
they should abolish it.
Contact: The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien,
Prime Minister, House of Commons, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa,
ON K1A 0A6; fax: (613) 941-6900. The Honourable Robert Thibault,
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, House of Commons, Parliament
Buildings, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6; fax: (613) 990-7292.
Kymberlie Adams is a long-time animal activist
and vegan. She is the new Correspondent for Friends of Animals
in New York City. To learn more about FOA and their Seal Hunt Campaign,
visit www.friendsofanimals.org or
call (203) 656-1522.
Protect Seals: Do Something! is the catchy slogan
of the Canada Seal Campaign of the Humane Society of the U.S. The urgency
is merited: according to
the Canadian government’s own figures, during last year’s
hunt (between November 15, 2002 and May 15, 2003), 96.6 percent of the
286,238 seals reported killed were 12 days to 12 weeks old.
At a recent fund-raiser hosted by Peter Max at the artist’s studio,
HSUS’s Senior Vice President for Wildlife and Habitat Protection,
Dr. John Grandy, announced the launch of a drive to raise $3 million to
abolish the sealing industry “forever” over the next three
years. You can do something by sending a donation or buy the T-shirt created
especially for the campaign by Wildlife Works—a white or baby blue
shirt with the adorable big dark eyes of a baby harp seal staring out,
captioned with the slogan Do Something! ($32 for women’s; $36 men’s).
$10 of every sale is donated to the HSUS seal campaign. Visit www.savetheseals.org
or call (800) 525-8173.
Another way to do something is to volunteer for the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society’s direct action campaign. Founded by Captain Paul Watson
(also co-founder of Greenpeace), the Sea Shepherd Society will be taking
its ice-breaking flagship to the Canadian ice floes in the spring of 2004
for a direct action intervention to stop the seal hunt. Volunteers are
needed to join the ship’s crew and protect the seals by putting
their bodies between the hunters and their prey. Volunteers are also
to use their talents at home to get the word out to the press and perform
day-to-day logistics. Donations are also needed. For information, see www.harpseals.org
or call (360) 370-5650. —C.C.