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November 2003
Seal Fur Increasing: True or Faux?

By Kymberlie Adams

If you thought the clubbing to death of baby harp seals was ancient history—think again.

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 Canada, 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 Mammal Protection 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 considerable assistance from the Canadian federal and provincial governments, the hunt quietly resumed.

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 or call (203) 656-1522.

Do Something!

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 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 needed 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 or call (360) 370-5650. —C.C.



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