From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1998:

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland– –
Canadian fisheries minister David Anderson on
December 30 set the 1998 Atlantic Canada sealing
quota at 275,000, the same as in 1997, but
increased the number who may be hooded seals to
10,000, 2,000 more than last year.
The Seal Industry Advisory Council
requested a 1998 quota of 300,000 seals, but
Anderson said the Department of Fisheries and
Oceans would do a harp seal census this year
before making any further quota changes.
Anticipating continued high quotas,
Caboto Seafoods Ltd. of Newfoundland earlier in
December advanced plans to remodel a fish processing
plant into a sealing plant, to extract oil
from carcasses and tan pelts.
DFO scientists have leaked data publicized
by the International Fund for Animal
Welfare indicating that sealers actually kill two
seals for each carcass landed, keeping just males
because penises are by far the most lucrative part.

Further, some DFO data amplified by
IFAW indicates harp seals are being killed at two
to three times their rate of survival past infancy.
The seal hunt will receive $500,000 in
direct federal subsidies in 1998, which are to end
after 1999––unless they are reauthorized under
political pressure from the Atlantic Canadian
provinces. Under similar pressure, Canadian
human resources minister Pierre Pettigrew on
December 16 extended compensatory benefits to
27,000 out-of-work former cod fishers until
August 1998; they were to have expired in May.
Six of the 10 Canadian provinces have
Atlantic coastal communities hit hard by the collapse
and closure of the cod fishery five years ago
due to overfishing. Many fishers turned to lobstering,
but the Atlantic Canada lobster catch has
fallen 25% since the cod moratorium began, with
a 60% drop off Cape Breton.
Newfoundlanders have been especially
eager to blame the cod collapse on seals, but even
the St. John’s Evening Telegram e d i t o r i a l l y
admitted on January 5, 1998 that “scientific evidence
to date suggests cod are not a primary food
source for seals. A sound economic argument can
be made for the seal hunt,” the editors insisted,
“without having to scapegoat seals.”
But data gathered by IFAW from
Canadian government sources counters that claim,
too. Besides the direct subsidies, the seal hunt
gets indirect subsidies in the form of government
payments for seal meat, grants to the Canadian
Sealers Association and seal processors, waived
interest on loans to processing firms, and costs of
related scientific, administrative, legal, and
search-and-rescue work, totalling actual federal
funding of circa $3.4 million a year, or $28,250
to $33,900 per fulltime job equivalent created.
The December edition of C o n s e r v a t i o n
Biology published findings from DNA analysis by
University of Guelph marine mammalogists
David Lavigne and Rick Smith, who is also
Canadian director for IFAW, that almost a third
of the so-called “seal penis” potions sold in traditional
Asiatic medicine shops are actually made
from the remains of domestic cattle, dogs, and
sometimes even camels and water buffalo.
Lavigne, Smith, and colleagues purchased
21 “seal penis” samples of various types in
Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, San Francisco,
Bangkok, and several other Asian cities. Twelve
samples (57%) did come from seals: 11 harp
seals and one hooded seal. Another may have
come from either an endangered Australian fur
seal or a Cape fur seal, hunted in Namibia. Two
samples appeared to come from African wild
dogs, an endangered species.
Other pinipeds
At least 8,000 California sea lion and
northern fur seal pups starved to death on San
Miguel Island before Christmas, within Channel
Islands National Park, off southern California, as
the El Nino weather effect heated the surrounding
waters five degrees above normal. Squid, herring,
anchovies, and sardines fled north, leaving
the sea lion and northern fur seal mothers unable
to get enough food to nurse their young successfully.
The toll is expected to reach 65% of the
23,000 sea lions born on San Miguel in 1997, and
75% of the 2,000 seal pups. Pup deaths also
soared during the 1983 and 1992 El Nino
episodes. Friends of the Sea Lion, at Laguna
Beach, treated 20 orphaned pups who made their
way to the mainland, but the National Marine
Fisheries Service and National Park Service
prevented rescuers––and other visitors––from
going to San Miguel, to prevent sea lion and seal
stampedes that might crush pups with a chance of
survival. About 80,000 of the 180,000 west coast
sea lions and 11,000 northern fur seals breed on
San Miguel. The Marine Mammal Center, in
Sausalito, on San Francisco Bay, rescued five
times as many fur seals as usual last fall, and
expects a record number of rescue cases––500 or
more––when the San Miguel survivors struggle
north in the spring, finding food scarce all the
way. The warm water is also harming California
coastline algae, kelp, rockfish, abalone, and sea
urchins. Elephant seals and California sea otters
are expected to be likewise hard-hit.
Poor communication plagued the
December 23 return of two juvenile
Mediterranean monk seal pups to Barco de
Azucar, Cape Blanc, Mauritania, where they
were rescued by the Spanish Monk Seal Team in
May 1997 at the outset of epidemics that killed at
least 120 members of the last monk seal colony
along the western Sahara coast. The rehabilitated
seals were released five days behind schedule due
to bad weather, according to SMST members
Luis Mariano Gonzalez, Luis Felipe LopezJ
u r a d o, and Pedro Lopez, who were highly
critical of the identification and acclimatation
techniques used by two other involved agencies.
The trio said they learned that the release was
finally going ahead by accident, and arrived in
mid-afternoon, just as a military training exercise
began to shell the area. “Some shots hit the sea
just a few hundred meters from one seal,” they
wrote in a joint account. The shelling finally
stopped several hours later, and the seals were
last seen about one hour after that. Mediterranean
monk seals have also been caught in military
exercises in their other major habitat, in the
Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey, where
no-man’s-islands in disputed territory nonetheless
attract them more than mainland beaches developed
for tourism.

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