A kinder, gentler seal hunt

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1997:

by Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Since 1993, the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society has
tried to work with the Canadian
Department of Fisheries and Oceans
to create an industry using naturally
molted baby harp seal hairs.
After four years of
research, we have discovered and
demonstrated the following results:
1. Molting hairs from harp
seals can be brushed or plucked from
three-week-old seals without causing
injury or trauma to the animals. This
observation is backed up by Dr.
David Lavigne of the University of
Guelph––one of the world’s foremost
experts on harp seals.


2. The individual hairs are
short, semi-transparent, and hollow.
This translates into a quality heatretaining
fiber, ideal for use as an
insulating material. The hair fiber
can be compared in quality to eiderdown,
according to German textile
expert Tobias Kirchhoff.
3. The advantage over
eiderdown is that harp seal hair can
be collected in larger volume, can
be acquired more easily, and
requires less cleaning prior to production
use. Harp seal hairs also
have water repellent qualities not
possessed by eiderdown.
4. The Sea Shepherd
Society has recruited two German
companies willing to invest in the
purchase of harp seal hairs for commercial
application. These companies
are Kirchhoff Bedden-warenfabrik
and ORIGO Inc. Kirchhoff is
a textile manufacturer of bedding
materials. ORIGO is a mail order
supply company specializing in natural
fibers.
5. Both companies have
determined that products like bedcomforters
can be manufactured
with harp seal hairs and that the
value of such products is enhanced
by the attractive prospect of marketing
the merchandise as cruelty-free
and non-lethal to the animals.
6. Each seal can yield
between two and three ounces of
hair. Five or six seals must be
brushed to collect a pound; 15 to 20
seals to collect a kilogram. Kirchhoff
estimates that a king-size bed comforter
made from two and a half to
three kilos of harp seal hair requiring
approximately 60 seals can be
retailed for between $4,000 and
$5,000 Canadian dollars.
7. Seal hair collectors
could receive up to $200 per kilo of
hair. This would make each live seal
worth about $10 each. This can be
compared to the present, when the
government must subsidize the taking
of seal meat at 52¢ per kilo.
All that prevents developing
an industry based on use of naturally
molted harp seal hairs is lack of
cooperation from the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans, which will
not issue the permits required to
begin a commercial venture. The
government cites opposition from
traditional sealers. Sea Shepherd
argues that this is an idea that can
provide jobs, and if the sealers do
not want the jobs, there can be jobs
provided for others who need jobs.
A person collecting seal hairs from a
boat in the ice could potentially earn
over $1,000 per day over a 12-day
period, for a total of $12,000.
On December 16, Tobias
Kirchhoff and a representative from
ORIGO met with representatives of
the Canadian Government to discuss
advancing the project. They were
told that the Department of Fisheries
and Oceans recommended that the
two companies work with the
Canadian Sealing Association.
In September 1996, I
received a letter from Canadian
Minister of Fisheries Fred Mifflin in
which he said that I must work with
the Canadian Sealing Association to
make our idea work.
Tina Fagan of the
Canadian Sealing Association has
said that, “The idea would be worth
looking at, if Paul Watson had not
thought about it.”
This statement makes little
sense. The idea either has merit or it
does not. It can provide jobs and
bring money into a depressed economy.
Tina Fagan has a well-paying
job on a government subsidy, justifying
a dying industry. She may not
need a job, but other people do. It is
a good thing I did not think of
inventing the telephone; if I had,
Tina Fagan would be using smoke
signals to talk to her sealers.
Even more ominous, the
President of the Canadian Sealing
Association and one third of the
board of directors were indicted in
November 1996 for violating the
Canadian sealing regulations by
killing and selling baby hood seals
and newborn whitecoat harp seals.
The total illegal kill was some
25,000 harp pups and 8,000 baby
hoods. Mark Small, the president
of CSA, was charged with selling
152 blueback pelts (hood seal pups)
to the Carino Seal Processing plant
in Dildo, Newfoundland.
The Canadian government
is now advising us that the only way
we can create a cruelty free, nonlethal
method of sealing is to work
with men who are under indictment
for breaking government sealing regulations.
This is like being told that
we can open up a day-care center
under the condition that we work
with people who are under indictment
for child molestation.
Despite the hostility from
and the scandal associated with the
Canadian Sealing Association, the
government of Canada refuses to
cooperate with this project to create
jobs––even though Sea Shepherd,
Kirchhoff, and ORIGO are not asking
for subsidies, grants, or support
of any kind. All we have asked for
is permission to create jobs and the
opportunity to develop a revolutionary
new industry that would enhance
Canadian prestige instead of continuing
to tarnish Canada’s reputation
as the host of the bloodiest wildlife
slaughter in the world and a supply
source for the quack Asiatic animal
parts sex potion trade.
Tobias Kirchhoff is at a
loss to understand the lack of enthusiasm
on the part of the government
of Canada. Earlier this year in
Prince Edward Island, Kirchhoff
said, “Twenty years ago, people
laughed when we suggested that
Mongolian goat hair could be used
profitably without harming the
goats. Today it is a $40-million-ayear
industry. Look how lucrative
the collecting of eiderdown feathers
from nests are. Harp seal hair is just
as promising a product.”
The market for seal penises
is glutted and prices are dropping.
There is no market for the pelts.
Rieber and Sons in Norway has over
one million harp seal pelts in storage
that it cannot sell. The Norwegian
government is subsidizing Rieber’s
storage costs. The meat must be
subsidized for use as feed for fur
farms and even then, abattoirs are a
cheaper source of meat. Most of the
meat is simply dumped after the subsidy
is paid. Speculation about
using seal oil as a health product is
ridiculous: people who buy health
products tend to be progressive
thinking people, who will reject seal
oil as morally unacceptable. It is
also a product that would be banned
from sale in the United States by the
Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Canada has an opportunity
to launch an industry that coupled
with seal-watching can be both profitable
and prestigious for the country.
Living in harmony with wild
populations of seals is the kind of
behavior to be expected of people on
the threshold of the 21st century.
There is nothing noble or endearing
about bashing a seal pup over the
head and certainly nothing appealing
about cutting off his penis. Sea
Shepherd offers a kinder, gentler,
seal hunt and few except some seal
killers, seal haters, and some
Canadian bureaucrats and politicians
can see the fault in that.

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