Sealers charge HSUS observers
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I.–The 2006 Atlantic Canada harp seal
slaughter started on March 26 with a quota of 325,000 landed pelts,
5,000 more than in 2005.
Up to 91,000 seals are to be pelted in the Gulf of St.
Larence, in the first phase of the hunt. The remainder will be
pelted later along the Labrador Front, where the hunt will start
about April 10. The Canadian Depart-ment of Fisheries & Oceans does
not announce the exact dates for each phase of the hunt until just a
few days beforehand.
Violence by sealers against protesters flared in earnest on March 27.
“I normally observe the hunt on foot,” wrote Rebecca
Aldworth, a Newfoundlander who directs Canadian campaigns for the
Humane Society of the U.S. “The ice floes are usually strong enough
to support several helicopters,” Aldworth said. “This year the ice
was fragile, so we were forced to base ourselves on a larger vessel
and deploy small, inflatable boats.”
Setting out with the first of the sealers at 4:00 a.m.,
Aldworth recounted, “We gained quickly on two large sealing boats.
They led us directly into an ice pack. The ice closed in behind our
inflatables. We had no means of escape. Almost immediately, the
sealing boats turned and charged. We frantically tried to move out
of their way, backing up against the unyielding ice and struggling
not to capsize in the sealers’ wake.
“We followed these two vessels into a narrow channel between
ice pans. The fog moved in fast, and we lost sight of our larger
vessel. Without warning, one of the sealing boats turned sharply
and raced toward us. We immediately backed up, but were again
trapped against the ice. If we were knocked into the frigid water,
our survival suits could protect us for only a couple of minutes.
“The sealers on this boat were not trying to kill seals,”
Aldworth said. “There were none in our area. It appeared they were
actually trying to kill us. The sealers rammed the inflatable next
to us, damaging one of its propellers. We were caught in the wake,
and our driver struggled to control the inflatable as the sealing
vessel crashed by just a foot away. I shouted at the captain that he
was breaking Canadian law and risking human lives. He smiled as he
pulled away. I looked up. The second sealing vessel was now bearing
down on us. A split second before impact, it swerved. I looked
back and saw our larger and more imposing vessel appear miraculously
out of the fog. The sealers were happy to take us on in our tiny
boats, but they were not so anxious to do battle with a 120-foot
“We caught up with another boat,” Aldworth continued, “and
the sealers yelled at us, throwing seal carcasses in our direction.
The climate of aggression continued, with sealing vessels charging
us repeatedly. At one point, two sealing boats chased us through
the ice floes. Our vessel captain radioed repeatedly to the Coast
Guard, asking for assistance. No one responded.”
However, Aldworth and five other protesters were soon
arrested for allegedly approaching sealers too closely. Their
videotapes documenting the incidents were seized.
Visits to the Gulf of St. Lawrence by composer Paul
McCartney, his wife Heather Mills McCartney, and former actress
Brigitte Bardot helped to draw global media attention to the hunt.
Bardot, 71, became aware of the cruelty of the Atlantic
Canadian harp seal hunt in 1955, at the height of her acting career,
from a film documentary by her friend Harry Lillie. By the time Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson brought Bardot to
the ice to protest in person in 1977, she had been wanting to stop
the hunt for more than half her life. Derided as a foreign meddler
by Canadian public officials and news media, she demonstrated then
that she knew more about the hunt than most of them did.
When the Canadian government suspended the offshore part of
the hunt for 10 years starting in 1984, Watson and Bardot pointed
out that the land-based portion of the hunt continued, using the
same methods. Watson also warned that when the collapsed Atlantic
Canada cod stock failed to recover from decades of overfishing,
seals would be blamed, as they have been, despite a dearth of
evidence that harp seals even eat much cod.
“I might not ever come here again. So I ask you with my
heart and soul…I want to see this massacre stop,” Bardot said. “I
would like that my life has served at least for that.”
“People around the world are boycotting Canadian seafood
until the seal hunt is ended for good,” McCartney said in a statement
videotaped in London but released in Charlottetown, Prince Edward
The statement coincided with the debut of the boycott in
England, led by Sally Stratford, widow of former Labour party
cabinet minister Tony Banks, a strong opponent of sealing, whose
obituary appeared in the January/February 2006 edition of ANIMAL
PEOPLE. Former Conservative Party cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe
and 188 current members of Parliament endorsed the boycott.
“Already,” McCartney alleged, “the seafood boycott has cost
Canada many times more than what the seal hunt brings in.”
The Canadian government claims the 2005 seal hunt raised the
equivalent of $14.5 million U.S. in revenue, chiefly from pelt sales
to Norway, Russia, and China. The sale of flippers from 31,000
seals and 6.7 tons of seal meat brought additional income.
Statistics Canada data cited by the Humane Society of the
U.S. indicates that Canadian snow crab exports to the U.S., the
boycott focus, have fallen by more than 36%, or about $150 million
U.S., since the campaign began. The Canadian Department of
Fisheries & Oceans contends that the decline is actually due to labor
unrest, a crab disease, a glut of crab from Alaska, and even the
economic effects of Hurricane Katrina.