Seals save life, need help
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1999:
ST. JOHN’S––Charlene Camburn,
30, of Cleethorpe’s, England, is one fish
processer who has only good words for seals.
Watching the colony of 400 grey
seals at the Donna’s Nook nature reserve on
February 1, Camburn became stranded by high
tide on a sand bar off the Lincolnshire coast,
along with her boyfriend, Chris Tomlinson,
36, and their son Brogan, seven. As night fell,
they decided Camburn, the strongest swimmer,
should strike for the mainland to seek help––but
the current swept her into the bitterly cold, fogshrouded
“I kept going under toward the end.
It seemed much easier to die than stay alive,”
Camburn told Steve Dennis of the London
Mirror. “I thought Chris and Brogan had died.
But I could feel the seals going under my feet.
They nudged my legs and feet and kept diving
beside me, and I kept bobbing back up.
Without those seals around me,” sharing their
body heat, “I would have given up,” Camburn
continued. “They were calming and kept me
going. All I could see were their faces. Not
one faced away, and they barked and squealed.
I will never forget the seal in front of me. He
was there all the time, swimming backward
and staring at me. I owe them my life.”
Seeing Camburn go under, believing
she had drowned, Brogan and Tomlinson ran
the two-mile length of the sand bar and found a
narrow gap they were able to wade to the mainland.
They called a Coast Guard rescue team,
who found Camburn drifting, near death from
hypothermia, an hour later. She saw the boat,
but couldn’t shout over the waves. The seals
pushed her to it. She was unconscious by the
time the crew pulled her in.
As the seals saved Camburn, dead
grey seals bearing gunshot wounds washed up
along the north coast of Britain. Hit with cuts
of 27% in European Union-allocated North Sea
whiting quota and 23% in North Sea haddock
quota, caused by years of overfishing, destruction
of bottom habitat by dragnetting, and
recent climatic changes, the Scottish Fishermen’s
Association urged the government to
start a seal hunt. Scottish National Party fisheries
critic Fergus Ewing reportedly promised a
seal hunt would be started, should the SNP
achieve an independent Scotland, but was
rebuked by other SNP policymakers.
Fishers in the Pohjanmaa region of
Finland also demanded a seal hunt, even
though 1997 scientific studies determined that
the sustainable level of hunting for all three
Baltic seal species would be effectively zero.
Baltic grey seals are an internationally recognized
endangered population, and Baltic ringed
seals are considered threatened.
Across the Atlantic, New England
fishers blamed seals for a collapse of the Gulf
of Maine cod stock so severe that the New
England Fishery Management Council in
December 1998 cut the allowable catch for
1999 by 80%. Three harp seals illegally killed
by gunfire washed up on Cape Cod.
West Coast fishers meanwhile blamed
seals and sea lions for the ongoing decline of
salmon runs, pushing the National Marine
Fisheries Service into asking Congress for
amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act which
would allow more “lethal removals” of seals and sea lions from
near the mouths of spawning streams.
Frustrated fishers around the world enviously eyed
Russia, Namibia, and especially Atlantic Canada, where bashing
the brains out of baby seals isn’t bringing back fish, but is
providing a vent for their feelings of impotence.
Russian sealers began clubbing baby harp seals on
March 2, allegedly to sell pelts to Europe despite the longstanding
European Union ban on seal pup pelt imports.
“Russia is not using all of its white coats internally.
There isn’t enough demand,” said International Fund for
Animal Welfare representative Mark Austen. “We have hard
evidence that the EU ban is not being enforced. According to
the EU’s own statistics, seal pup products are entering western
Europe from Russia through Norway.”
Any fishers’ envy of Russian sealers was severely
misplaced, Manchester G u a r d i a n correspondent Tom
Whitehouse indicated in a report from Zolotitsa, one of the
centers of Russian sealing.
“Zolotitsa is a virtual prison,” Whitehouse wrote,
“whose 300 inhabitants are held captive by their common
employer, the White Sea fishing company. A former state collective
farm, White Sea was bought by its directors in the early
1990s. Its workers have subsequently seen their wages decline
and then disappear.” Most have not been paid in two years.
“The company blames Russia’s collapsed economy
for its failure to pay wages,” Whitehouse continued, “but has
somehow found money to build a new apartment block in
Archangel for its directors and managers.”
IFAWcampaigned against both the Russian seal hunt
and the Namibian hunt, which is widely believed to be unsustainable
because the Namibian seal population is especially vulnerable
to the effects of even small rises in water temperature
which in turn adversely affect their food supply.
The biggest seal massacre, however, remains the one
off Atlantic Canada. Again in 1999 the quota is set at 275,000
harp seals and 10,000 hooded seals. It may be changed next
year, depending on findings from an aerial seal population
study begun just before this year’s hunt did. The most recent
previous survey, done in 1994, put the Atlantic Canada seal
herd size at 4.8 million. The Canadian Department of Fisheries
and Oceans guesses it is now up to 5.4 million, based in part on
the ease with which sealers have killed their quotas in recent
years. But, furious that cod stocks have not substantively
increased since the Atlantic cod fishery was closed as an emergency
measure in 1992, Newfoundland fisheries minister John
Effords has demanded that at least six million seals be killed,
even if there is no market for their remains.
Seals are picky eaters?
Studies finding that harp seals don’t eat much cod,
based on the bone contents of dead seals’ stomachs, are bogus,
according to Effords, who insists that seals have a unique
method of eating just the bellies of cod, avoiding ingesting the
tell-tale skulls. To “prove” it, Effords along with fishing and
sealing industry representatives on March 9 released a video
showing hundreds of cod whom seals allegedly cornered in Big
Chance Harbour, Newfoundland, eight days earlier, and than
killed by eating their bellies only.
What actually happened, theorized International
Marine Mammal Association director David Lavigne and
research ecologist Peter Meisenheimer, is that an unusually
cold stream of water sent the cod into thermal shock. They
were then washed ashore at low tide and gutted by “sixty to 70
American eagles, two or three hundred crows, and 4,000
gulls,” described by the video narrators, who arrived at low
tide and stayed long enough to show the dead fish under a few
feet of water later, but never did show a seal.
Scavenging gulls are well known to eat the oily livers
of dead fish first, and to leave the rest to seek more livers when
whole schools of fish become stranded.
Seals, on the other hand, have never been scientifically
observed eating fish in any manner other than at a gulp,
all at once.