The politics of seal slaughter by Captain Paul Watson
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:
It isn’t easy being a Canadian. We don’t get a hell
of a lot of respect. To most of the world, especially the U.S.,
we’re a quiet people with an unremarkable history, occupying
a considerable amount of frozen geography.
They’ve heard of maple syrup, Canadian
Club––and that we host the largest single slaughter of a
wildlife species anywhere on Earth.
Our annual massacre of harp and hooded seals is
infamous internationally both for scale and for gruesome cruelty.
The seal club is better known than the rye whisky kind.
Not that it makes economic sense. It doesn’t make
money and hasn’t for decades. The sealers are glorified welfare
bums, living high on subsidies and being paid more for
who they are than what they do.
Sealing in Atlantic Canada, especially Newfoundland,
is a cultural icon. More Newfoundlanders have died on
the ice floes than in wars, never mind that it was because of
the arrogant folly of ignorant merchants and sealing captains
who prized seal pelts over human life. To criticize sealing is
to criticize the very soul of Newfoundland.
The long and short of it is that the price of their
piece of rock in the Atlantic was tarnishing of all Canadians
in the eyes of the world as club-wielding killers of baby seals.
There once was a market for seal pelts and seal fat.
Today, with a million seal pelts stored in Norwegian warehouses
at government expense, there is no market. Seal pelts
are as illegal in Europe and the U.S. as heroin and cocaine.
But the Canadian Department of Fisheries and
Oceans, after spending a few million dollars, created a new
market by convincing Asian impotents that powdered harp
seal penises mixed with powdered tiger bone will get them up
and running again.
So now we have Canadian government snake oil
salesmen peddling Mr. Stiffy to the Chinese voodoo medicine
market. Ask a reputable Chinese medical doctor, Dr. MaoShing
Ni of Santa Monica, about the seal cure for impotence,
and he just rolls his eyes: “Quack medicine.”
But a market for penises was enough of an excuse to
lend legitimacy to reviving the commercial seal hunt.
It must be remembered that killing seals in Canada
never stopped. From 1984 through 1995, the average kill
was about 60,000. This was called the noncommercial hunt,
conducted by thousands of landsmen who spread out over
thousands of miles of coast. Each took a few seals for personal
use. In recent years they targeted males.
Not satisfied with the quiet reactions to the noncommercial
hunt, Admiral Brian Tobin, fresh from his smokeand-mirrors
“triumph” over the Spanish drag-fishing Armada
last spring, decided to pull out the stops. In December 1995,
Tobin called for a quota of a quarter million seals.
He couldn’t care less if the rest of the planet looks
on him as Lorena Bobbit to nature. He had a good solid reason
for concocting the penis trade and escalating the numbers.
Brian wanted to be Premier of Newfoundland. Like
any good little Newfoundland boy with aspirations of being
top dog, he would say what Newfoundlanders want to hear.
Now, one thing Newfoundlanders do not want to
hear is that they were responsible for the destruction of the
cod. No, not the Spanish, not the seals, but their very own
fleet of home-built monster draggers. Aye, that’s the b’yes
who done it for sure. But they don’t want to be reminded of
that fact, no sirree George.
They needed a scapegoat, and Brian gave them one.
“The culprit’s first name,” said Tobin, “is Harp, and his last
name is Seal.”
The man from Dildo
How convenient coming from a man who said in
July 1994, six months before former Newfoundland premier
Clyde Wells announced his retirement, that the seal hunt was
dead. His exact words, as published by the Toronto Star and
Ottawa Citizen were that, “Canada will not consider a return
to seal culling despite fishermen’s claims that the seals threaten
Newfoundland’s endangered northern cod. Evidence of
the impact of the seals in the destruction of cod was not
clear,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that man has
been a far greater predator.”
Politics is the art of the possible. What Brian wanted
to make possible was his election as Premier of Newfoundland.
Announcing that killing seals would bring back the cod,
Tobin began selling snake oil to his own province.
Peddling the Big Lie that seals are the reason the
cod are not recovering, Tobin conveniently forgot that the
harp seal is not a big cod gourmet. The seal actually preys on
other fish that prey on cod, and there is evidence that rather
than harming cod, seals are beneficial to them. Following
government logic, cod should be killed to protect cod,
because the biggest predator of young cod are older cod.
Oh, the b’yes were cheering in Dildo, Newfoundland,
a fitting name for the home of the seal penis processing
plant. Brian’s promise to bring back the seal hunt translated
into the fantasy that Newfoundland will be glorious again.
I remember debating former Newfoundland prime
minister Brian Peckford at Memorial University in 1989. I
did not have a single member of the crowd on my side, and
most wanted to cut my throat.
Mark Small, president of the Canadian Sealing
Association, wearing his signature sealskin jacket, asked me
what would happen if the commercial seal hunt started again.
I answered him truthfully: “You are a rock in the
North Atlantic advocating something the rest of the world
finds abhorrent. You will be crushed with an economic
sledgehammer like you won’t believe.”
And now the economic sledgehammers are swinging.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare has called a
boycott of canned Pacific salmon, one of the most visible of
Canadian exports, in Europe. A debate has already taken
place in the British Parliament, whose members represent a
nation of animal lovers. The boys on the west coast are now
wondering just what is Newfoundland good for? Certainly
their fixation on seal-bashing isn’t going to do British
Columbia much good.
But Brian doesn’t care. He doesn’t have to. With
Jean Chretien of Quebec around for a while as Prime Minister
of Canada, he can only move up by moving back home and
grabbing the highest office on the rock. He can always return
to Ottawa after a few terms to snatch Chretien’s crown when
it’s ready to drop.
Tobin is smart enough to know that the seal hunt
can’t survive economic realities such as the fact that it yields
a pornographic product with limited prestige for Canada.
Oh, there will be economic benefits, but not for
Newfoundland. Greenpeace and IFAW will be carting the
greenbacks, pounds, marks, and francs to the bank in wheelbarrows.
When the public gets angry, the donations flow.
Since 1970, there has been more money to be made
from saving seals than from killing them. This is economic
reality. The money follows demand, and the international
public is demanding the end to the seal slaughter.
This month, the seals are being slaughtered on the
ice. Canadian taxpayers are shelling out huge subsidies to
underwrite this grisly welfare program. British Columbian
fishers are being hurt by the salmon boycott. Meanwhile,
seal protection is a thriving business, churning out millions of
pieces of mail that return millions of dollars.
Brian Tobin is the only man in Canada who has
benefited. Having used his office as federal Minister of
Fisheries to enhance his political stature in Newfoundland, he
is now premier.
That’s what it is all about.
[Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder
Captain Paul Watson has led seven campaigns to the ice to
protect seals, and is now completing a book on the history of
the anti-sealing protests. As ANIMAL PEOPLE goes to
press, he is on the ice off Prince Edward Island, along with
German investor and manufacturer Tobias Kirschner,
demonstrating the potential of harmlessly brushing molting
seals to gather their wool for manufacture into clothing.]