Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Canada's Seal Slaughter

“A sealer near us quickly clubbed every seal within a small radius to immobilize each of the pups, and then dragged the bodies to the center of his circle. One by one he flipped a seal on its back and skinned it. If the seal flipped around or fought against the skinning he'd flip it back to its stomach, club it several more times and then finish the skinning.” - IFAW Hunt Monitor

Canada's commercial seal hunt is a hunt like no other. It is a cruel and unethical practice that produces a product nobody needs. In fact, 98% of the animals killed in the past two years have been seal pups aged about 2 weeks to 3 months. This unmanageable hunt takes place over a vast area, making it impossible to carry out humanely.

Some seals are killed with a blow to the head using a wooden club or hakapik. The sealers stun as many baby seals as they can before going back to kill them. Some seals try to get away, but they are clumsy on the ice, heaving their fat little bodies with an uncoordinated flipper shuffle. Other seals are shot from a distance and then dragged from the ice onto boats using steel hooks.

Two recent independent veterinary reports on the Canadian seal hunt, as well as IFAW video footage, have documented unacceptable levels of cruelty to baby seals. This hunt is a highly competitive activity, carried out over an extensive area, and under very unpredictable conditions. Haste is the rule, as hunters rush to immobilize as many baby seals as possible in the short time available to them.

Seals are routinely clubbed or shot and left to suffer on the ice, before being clubbed again some time thereafter. Some seals are still skinned before being rendered fully unconscious and few sealers are observed checking for a blinking reflex to confirm brain death prior to skinning an animal. As one of the veterinary reports concluded: "Canada's commercial seal hunt results in considerable and unacceptable suffering.”

The Canadian government often misleads the public by comparing the commercial seal hunt to the killing of farm animals in the food industry. Unlike abattoirs, the seal hunt is an unpredictable, unmanageable hunt for wild animals, which takes place under hurried conditions. It is precisely these conditions that have led some experts to conclude that this hunt can never satisfy the requirements of a humane hunt.

Removing so many animals from any one population places the species at an unnecessary and significant risk. Over the last few years, the Canadian government has raised the annual seal hunt quotas to the highest levels in history, killing almost a million seals in just a three year period. The Total Allowable Catch quota for seals was 85,000 animals higher in 2006 than the “sustainable yield” estimated by Canadian government scientists.

The history of wildlife conservation shows that when large mammals like seals have a price placed on their heads – or hides – the end result is almost always overexploitation. To ensure that wild populations are not put at risk by human activity, a precautionary approach is needed. Yet the DFO management plan does not adequately account for either scientific or environmental uncertainty.

A recent scientific study released by IFAW also shows that in nine of the past eleven years, average ice coverage has fallen to well below levels seen over the last 37 years. This lack of stable ice is negatively impacting the harp seal population, which requires sea ice for pupping and nursing its young.

The Canadian government has indicated that it is dedicated to taking ‘real action’ on global warming. Why do they not start by ending the unsustainable and unnecessary hunt for harp seals?

Here are the top three myths told by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) about the commercial seal hunt:

Myth #1: The seal hunt is humane.

All available evidence, including veterinary reports and independent observations, indicates that each year tens of thousands of seal pups die in an unacceptably cruel manner inconsistent with contemporary animal welfare standards.

Year after year, observers report abuses such as the hooking and dragging of live seals across the ice, seals clubbed or shot and left to suffer on the ice, and seals skinned while conscious. And while all recent veterinary reports recommend reducing the suffering of seals, their recommendations have not been fully implemented.

There is no doubt that Canada’s commercial seal hunt continues to result in considerable and unacceptable suffering.

Myth #2: The seal hunt is sustainable.

Seal catch quotas set by the Canadian government are much higher than government scientists’ estimates of what is sustainable, and these quotas are allowed to be exceeded. A recent study by IFAW scientists found that the current management approach risks depleting the harp seal herd by as much as 70% in the next 15 years.

The DFO often states that the harp seal population has tripled since the 1970s. However, this ignores the fact that between 1950 and 1970 the harp seal population was reduced by as much as two-thirds from seal hunting. Since 1995, harp seals have been killed at levels similar to those that caused a dangerous decline in the past, and the DFO now admits that the population has decreased.

Climate change is also presenting a new threat to the harp seal population by negatively impacting their breeding habitat. Increasingly, poor ice conditions off the east coast of Canada are causing higher than normal seal pup mortality. For example, government scientists estimate that in 2002, 75% of the seal pups in the Gulf of St. Lawrence died due to a lack of ice before the hunt even began. Yet the government continues to set total allowable catches for harp seals above sustainable levels, putting the population at increased risk.

Myth #3: The seal hunt is closely monitored and well managed.

The seal hunt involves thousands of sealers competing for a limited number of seals during a short period of time. Sealers are concerned with clubbing or shooting as many animals as quickly as possible instead of checking to see if a seal is dead before moving on to club or shoot the next one.

Year after year, IFAW hunt observers encounter seals that have been clubbed and left to suffer on the ice, bleeding profusely, crying, breathing and attempting to crawl. These are not “reflexes” as the DFO claims, which are easily recognized and familiar to experience seal hunt observers.

During 2006, the DFO claimed to have had 12 monitors for the Gulf hunt, the largest enforcement effort ever. Yet sealers in one region were allowed to take three times their quota without any consequences. In fact the Total Allowable Catch has been exceeded in four of the past five years.

For more information, please go to: http://www.stopthesealhunt.ca/

How You Can Help

1) Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to let the public know how you feel about the Canadian seal slaughter.

2) Urge the Prime Minister to to end this barbaric and unnecessary hunt as soon as possible.

You can send your letter to:

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street.
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A2

Fax: (613) 941- 6900

The Humane Society of the United States

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