Mother Nature fights the seal hunt
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007:
ST. JOHNS, Newfoundland– Climatic
conditions appeared likely to do the annual
Atlantic Canadian seal hunt more economic damage
in 2007 than all the protests and boycotts
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press on April
25, sealers were still assessing the combined
cost of a sealing season that was almost without
ice in much of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, while
drifting sheet ice trapped and badly damaged
sealing vessels along the Labrador Front,
northeast of Newfoundland. A dozen crews had
abandoned their boats after ice cracked the hulls.
“Two Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers,
the Ann Harvey and the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, are
trapped in the ice along with the sealing
vessels. Helicopters are flying food and fuel to
the stranded crews on the ice,” reported Paul
Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
As many as 90 sealing boats were trapped
in ice, as of April 23, up from 60 ten days
earlier, according to the St. Johns Telegram.
The icebreakers had managed to free only about 10
boats in five days of effort, before becoming
“An onshore wind is compacting the ice,”
explained Fisheries Canada spokesperson Phil
Jenkins. “The boats were on their way back from
sealing and then got stuck.”
Earlier, on April 13, the 65-foot L.J.
Kennedy burned at dockside in Port au Choix,
Newfoundland, after taking aboard a full load of
fuel and ammunition in preparation to hunt seals
along the Labrador Front.
The seal hunt usually occurs in two
phases, opening in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
which is relatively accessible to protesters,
shifting to the Labrador Front after the Gulf of
St. Lawrence quota is filled.
This year, lack of ice for birthing and
nursing meant that tens of thousands of infant
“I’ve witnessed the hunt for nine years,
and I’ve never seen ice conditions this bad,”
said Humane Society of the U.S. anti-sealing
campaign director Rebecca Aldworth.
Agreed Associated Press writer Rob
Gillies, “In the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence,
the worst ice conditions in more than two decades
have nearly wiped out the herd.”
Fisheries Canada cut the 2007 sealing
quota from 335,000 to 270,000, in recognition
that the Gulf of St. Lawrence population might be
jeopardized, but insisted that there are still
about 5.5 million harp seals in Atlantic Canadian
waters, down just 300,000 from the official peak
reached in 2004.
The sealing quotas in recent years have
been among the highest ever. In 1900, by
contrast, Atlantic Canadian sealers killed only
100,000 harp seals.
Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans
researcher Mike Hammill told the Toronto Globe &
Mail that much of the Gulf of St. Lawrence also
failed to freeze in 1969 and 1981, without
lastingly reducing the seal population.
“We have been anticipating this in our
modeling,” Hammill claimed. “We have been
putting into our model the assumption that we’re
losing 100,000 extra pups due to poor ice
conditions. I think the numbers will be higher,”
he allowed, “but I’m not sure how much higher.
It’s not an ecological disaster,” Hammill
However, Fisheries Canada moved the next
scheduled comprehensive seal census forward a
year, to 2008, to better assess the impact of
the lack of ice.
About forty boats were eligible to hunt
seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from ports in
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward
Island, but Canadian Press reported that only
two boats ventured out on opening day.
International Fund for Animal Welfare observer
Sheryl Fink told Canadian Press that she could
find only one boat from the air.
Fisheries Canada spokesperson Jenkins
said just 860 seals were killed during the first
three days of the 2007 hunt.
The 2007 on-the-ice observation and
protest phase was among the quietest in years.
Barred from entering Newfoundland or otherwise
approaching the sea massacre, Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society founder Paul Watson could
only observe through electronic media. IFAW
activity, after the first few days, appeared to
consist entirely of “virtual press conferences”
conducted from the IFAW headquarters in Cape Cod.
Aldworth, a Newfoundland native,
observed the hunt for two weeks, mostly from the
air. She left on April 14.
Aldworth and Fink of IFAW were denied
observer permits for the first two days of the
commercial Gulf hunt.
“To us, that says there’s something the
Canadian government didn’t want the public to
see,” Aldworth told Andrew Buncombe of The
Independent. “In this case, I believe it was the
image of just a few seal pups clinging to tiny
pans of ice and seal hunters still coming with
clubs and guns and shooting and killing every
last pup they could find.”
Fisheries Canada spokesperson Jenkins
told Canadian Press that observer permits were
not issued because so few seals, hunters, and
boats were involved this year, implying that the
government felt it was necessary to keep the few
protesters on the scene from creating a traffic
“The ice floes are now empty, and the
only signs of the pups who were once here are the
blood trails left across the ice,” Aldworth
wrote on April 13, in her last of a series of
web postings from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“We would typically also see thousands of
carcasses discarded on the ice,” Aldworth said.
“This year, sealers have kept the dead seals
aboard their boats, not throwing the carcasses
into the ocean until our cameras are out of view.
The sight of hundreds of seals, some still
moving, stockpiled on each sealing vessel’s
deck, awash in blood, is one of the most
disturbing images I have seen.”
Earlier, Aldworth and other personnel
were mobbed at their helicopter refueling site.
“About 20 carloads of people surrounded us,”
Aldworth wrote. “They shouted at us and banged
on our truck, telling us to stop filming the
hunt. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police
surrounded our team, but said they could not
remove the crowd.” The mob left only after
puncturing the truck’s radiator.
Accompanying Aldworth for several days of
observation was Daily Mail animal welfare writer
Danny Penman, whose vivid account of
“unimaginable sadism and cruelty” appeared on
But there has never been any lack of
testimony as to the brutality of seal-clubbing.
Jack London in The Sea Wolf (1904) made the
sadistic sealing captain Wolf Larson his most
The March 1933 edition of The National
Humane Review, published by the American Humane
Association, recalled that sealing in both
Atlantic and northern Pacific waters brought
intensive humane protest before 1911, as “No
cruelty was too horrible for the seal hunters.”
The pioneering ichthyologist David Starr
Jordan (1851-1931), for whom the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research
ship David Starr Jordan was named, was an early
and outspoken opponent of seal-clubbing.
Another noteworthy early critic of
seal-clubbing was Sir George Baden-Powell, who
helped instill in his younger brother Robert the
love of nature that inspired him to found the Boy
The first wave of protest against sealing
ended after then-President Theodore Roosevelt in
1911 endorsed into law a set of fur seal
conservation measures that eventually were
combined with whale and dolphin protection
legislation to become the Marine Mammal
Protection Act. But contrary to widespread
impression, encouraged by the sealing industry,
the 1911 law did nothing to make sealing less
Protest was revived after an exposé of
the Atlantic Canada seal hunt appeared in the
July 1929 edition of The National Geographic.
Further exposés subsequently appeared in at least
five leading British magazines, along with a
1932 pamphlet called The Cruelties of Seal
Hunting, by Sydney H. Beard, of London.
Protest reignited repeatedly–after Harry
Lillie obtained the first film of the Atlantic
Canada seal hunt in 1955, after New Brunswick
SPCA inspector Brian Davies started the “Save The
Seals Fund” in 1960; after Davies transformed
the “Save The Seals Fund” into IFAW in 1968;
after Greenpeace activists led by Paul Watson
confronted sealers on the ice in the early 1970s;
and, when Greenpeace backed away from
anti-sealing and anti-fur campaigns, after
Watson formed the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society in 1977.
A boycott of Atlantic Canadian cod
brought a 10-year suspension of the offshore seal
hunt, beginning in 1984, but when overfishing
caused the cod stock to collapse–as Watson among
others had predicted–blaming seals for the
collapse proved politically convenient, and the
seal hunt resumed. Sealing opponents have been
looking ever since for something else to boycott
effectively, a difficult task because
Newfoundland exports so little.
Boycotting Canada as a whole would be
counterproductive because public opinion is
already opposed to the seal hunt in the provinces
that export the most. Canadian political support
for the seal hunt reflects the unique position of
Atlantic Canada as the perennial sources of
“swing votes” in competition for dominance among
three major parties.
HSUS has for several years promoted a
boycott of Canadian seafood, now boosted in
Europe by British organization Respect for
Animals, and endorsed by hundreds of smaller
“British supermarkets have already begun
reviewing their fish buying policies,” wrote
Penman of the Daily Mail. “Canadian authorities
are clearly rattled by the possibility of a
consumer backlash. International outrage against
this year’s slaughter has reached unprecedented
levels. Belgium has banned the import of all
seal products. France, Germany and Italy are
all considering following suit. The European
Union is coming under increasing pressure to
extend its ban on seal pelts, and the European
Parliament has voted for a complete ban. The
present ban,” explained Penman, “only applies
to seals less than twelve days old. This allows
fishermen to profit from battering to death seals
just a few days older. The U.K. government says
it supports a European ban, and will continue
pushing for it.”
The major seal pelt markets, however, are in Russia and China.