Four sealers drown at start of 2008 Atlantic Canada hunt

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2008:
ILES-DE-LA-MADELEINE, Quebec; St. Pierre, Miquelon–
Treacherous ice conditions for the second consecutive year inhibited
the opening of the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt.
Sixteen vessels carrying approximately 100 sealers left
Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, on March 28, heading toward a large
seal rookery in the Cabot Strait. One of the smaller boats,
L’Acadien II, with six men aboard, lost rudder control, possibly
from the rudder striking ice, and was taken in tow by the Canadian
Coast Guard icebreaker Sir William Alexander.
L’Acadien II captain Bruno Bourque and crew members Gilles
Leblanc and Marc-Andre Deraspe were killed and crew member Carl
Aucoin was missing and presumed dead after the boat hit a truck-sized
chunk of ice early on March 29, and flipped over while still under
tow. The sealing vessel Madelinot War Lord, following the tow,
rescued sealers Claude Deraspe and captain Bourque’s son,
Bruno-Pierre Bourque.

The Sir William Alexander is much larger and faster than the
boats usually used to tow vessels as small as the aluminum-hulled
L’Acadien II, sealer Jocelyn Chiasson told Jonathan Montpetit of
Canadian Press. Chiasson, a crew member of the
Iles-de-la-Madeleine-based Emy Serge, said that L’Acadien II
accepted a tow from the Sir William Alexander to avoid disrupting the
hunt for other sealers who might have done the towing instead.
“It was an accident, but it could have been avoided if
somebody had been paying attention,” Madelinot War Lord captain
Wayne Dickson told Montpetit.
Another of the 16 Madelinot sealing vessels, the Annie
Marie, was crushed soon afterward when trapped in ice. The crew
fled from the sinking boat to the ice, and were rescued by
Six of the remaining Madelinot fleet returned to
Iles-de-la-Madeleine for the funerals of the dead L’Acadien II crew,
apparently without killing many seals.
“Perhaps if the Canadian Coast Guard spent less time trying
to prevent documentation of the seal slaughter and more time being
concerned about protecting human lives, these men would not have
died,” said Sea Shepherd Conservation Society captain Paul Watson
from Los Angeles. The Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat was in the
vicinity, but under command of Alex Cornelissen.
“Two coast guard vessels shadowed the Farley Mowat all
morning,” Watson said the next day. “The Coast Guard vessel CCGS
Des Groseilliers ordered the Farley Mowat to leave Canadian waters
and to not approach any sealing operation,” but despite the order,
Watson added, the crew saw “seals being shot and wounded and
thrashing about in agony on the surface of the ocean,” about 35
miles north of Cape Breton.
As to the dead sealers, Watson said, “These men are
sadistic baby killers,” who “died while engaged in a viciously
brutal activity. One sealer was quoted as saying that he felt
absolutely helpless as he watched the boat sink. I can’t think of
anything that defines helplessness and fear more than a seal pup on
the ice, who can’t swim or escape as she is approached by some
cigarette-smoking ape with a club.”
Longtime Sea Shepherd advisory board member Elizabeth May,
now heading the Canadian Green Party, resigned from the board in
objection to Watson’s remarks. The Canadian Green Party has veered
back and forth over the years between opposing and supporting the
Atlantic Canada seal hunt.
The Greens have historically drawn significant support from
Atlantic Canada, especially Cape Breton, where coal miners
protested against the proposed construction of a nuclear generating
station as far back as 1966. The last Cape Breton coal mine closed
in 2001, adding to the unemployment in the Atlantic Canadian region
resulting from depleted fisheries, and leaving behind pollution
problems that are a Green campaign issue.
Cut mooring lines
The Farley Mowat on April 4 tried to dock at St. Pierre, the
capital of the French-held Miquelon Islands south of Newfoundland,
but police confirmed to Canadian Press that local sealing supporters
cut the mooring lines with axes.
Andre Varcin, identified by Canad-ian Press as “a senior
official with the French government,” predicted that if the Sea
Shepherds file a complaint based on video of the incident, “The
prosecutor will deliver some reprimands and warnings, but I don’t
think there will be any convictions.”
Paul Watson “can return at his own risk and peril,” Varcin
added, apparently unaware that Watson was not aboard. “But to put
it simply,” Varcin said, “he knows very well that he will be
Canadian fisheries minister Loyola Hearn appointed retired
Canadian Navy rear admiral Roger Girouard to investigate the Acadian
II sinking, but did not wait for an inquiry before alleging that the
177-foot Farley Mowat intentionally collided on April 30 with the
321-foot icebreaker Des Groseilliers about 40 miles north of Cape
“It rammed the stern end of the Farley Mowat and when the
Farley Mowat was stopped, it came back and hit them again,”
responded Watson. “It was twice so it was intentional.”
Farley Mowat captain Cornelissen told Alison Auld of Canadian
Press that the two vessels were on a parallel course when the coast
guard ship steered into the Farley Mowat’s port side, hitting the
vessel a second time with icebreaker’s stern.
The Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans charged
Cornelissen and first officer Peter Hammarstedt with breaking “rules
that prohibit a person without a valid seal-hunt observation licence
from coming within 900 metres of the hunt,” and also charged
Cornelissen with obstruction or hindrance of a fishery officer or
inspector, reported Michael Tutton of Canadian Press.
“The charges were brought forward in Nova Scotia,” Tutton
added, “and could result in fines of up to $100,000, or up to one
year in prison, or both. The department is alleging that the Farley
Mowat also broke up the ice around sealers to prevent them from
getting off their vessels to hunt seals.”
Said Watson at a brief stop in St. Andrews, New Brunswick,
en route to join the Farley Mowat, “There’s no legal validity in
these charges, and if they try to storm the vessel and arrest the
officers, I think it will provoke an international incident. In fact
it would be taken as an act of war.”
The Farley Mowat is registered in The Netherlands,
Cornelissen is a Dutch citizen, and Hammarstedt is from Sweden.
Observers barred
Humane Society of the U.S. representative Rebecca
Aldworth–who like Watson is originally from Atlantic Canada– was
among about 60 would-be observers who were denied permits to monitor
the opening phase of the sealing.
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson Phil
Jenkins told the Prince Edward Island CBC affiliate that the DFO
“doesn’t want the observers to dramatically outnumber the hunters.”
Activists who did reach the ice reported that sealers often
disregarded new rules requiring them to check the eye-blink reflex or
skull palpitations of each clubbed or shot seal for signs of life,
as in past years, and then bleed the seal by severing arteries
under the flippers.
“This new requirement of bleeding out is not being done,”
International Fund for Animal Welfare representative Sheryl Fink
charged to Canadian Press. “It’s the same as always. The hunters
are rushing. They’re not taking time. It’s horrible out there.”
The rules are meaningless anyway, because the sealers are
“shooting at moving seals from moving vessels, often at a distance
of 50 to 60 meters,” Aldworth told Marianne White of Canwest News
Service. “Even if you were able to stun that animal with one
gunshot,” Aldworth pointed out, “it would take a significant amount
of time to reach that animal and test for unconsciousness…and
that’s done by impaling the animal through the jaw with a hook and
lifting it on to the boat. That does not fit with internationally
accepted standards for a humane death.”

E.U. weighs pelt ban

The bleeding requirement was added this year in response to
European Union environment commissioner Stavros Dimas’ pledge to
introduce proposals to curtail the passage of seal pelts through
European ports en route to buyers in Russia and China.
“The commissioner is very concerned at the inhumane way that
baby seals are killed,” a spokesperson for Dimas told Peter Popham
of The Independent. “Last year, we sent a team of experts to
observe the cull, who were shunned by the sealers and not allowed on
the boats. What the team saw did not alleviate the commissioner’s
The European Food Safety Authority Animal Health & Welfare
Panel on December 19, 2007 concluded that “Seals are sentient
mammals who can feel pain, distress, fear and other forms of
suffering,” and that although “it is possible to kill seals rapidly
and effectively without causing them avoidable pain or distress…in
practice, effective and humane killing does not always happen.”
Canadian ambassador for fisheries conservation Loyola
Sullivan visited London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Vienna during
a 10-day campaign in defense of the seal hunt. The sealing quota
for 2008 is set at 275,000, up slightly from 2007. The highest
actual number of seals killed in recent years was 335,000 in 2006,
whose remains reportedly sold for about $25 million.
The Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans last surveyed
the seal population in 2004, finding it to be about 5.9 million.
The DFO estimates that the current seal population is about 5.5
million. Sealing opponents believe the DFO figures are significantly
high, just as DFO projections of the Atlantic cod population were
for years preceding the crash that precipitated the revival of the
seal hunt in 1995, after a 10-year suspension.

Rescue seals?

Seal Alert founder Francois Hugo, of Huot Bay, South
Africa, meanwhile recommended a tactical change of direction for
sealing opponents. “It’s time to stop taking pictures of sealers
killing seals,” Hugo asserted. “It’s time to mount the largest
environmental rescue operation in history: the relocation of over a
million weaned seal pups to safer ice floes, or as many as possible.
Seal Alert has been doing so for years, ” Hugo said, “rescuing baby
Cape fur seals and weaned pups fleeing sealers, and re-colonizing
them into new and safe offshore colonies.”
But Seal Alert, the most prominent opponent of the annual
Namibian seal hunt, works in a much less logistically challenging
environment. While protest against Atlantic Canadian sealing focuses
on the opening phases of each year’s hunt in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, most of the killing is done later along the Labrador
Front, a region so inhospitable that only two Sea Shepherd voyages
have ever been there, and no other protesters.
“Is it possible?” asked Hugo. “Russian sealers regularly
transport tens of thousands of harp seal pups from ice floes to seal
farms,” Hugo pointed out.
Held to molt at the so-called seal farms, the pups are
slaughtered later.

Russian hunt halted

But “The slaughter of thousands of seals, many only a few
days old, has been halted this year amid protests by celebrities and
environmental groups, and calls for hunting to be outlawed,”
reported London Times Moscow correspondent Tony Halpin on March 13.
“Officials in Archangel,” the hub of Russian sealing, “insisted
that the cull had been cancelled to protect the hunters, not the
seals, because ice sheets close to the White Sea were too thin to
walk on,” Halpin continued. “The decision, however, came at a
time of heightened protests by animal rights groups,” including “a
demonstration in Archangel by a group of celebrities and prominent
journalists against the practice,” which was broadcast on Russian
About 335,000 Russians signed a petition against hunting baby
seals, approximately ten times as many as the number of seals in the
2008 quota, acknowledged Russian environmental monitoring agency
deputy chief Oleg Mitvol.
“We have asked the state committee to work on legislation to
ban this trade for humanitarian reasons,” a spokespersonn for
Archangel governor Nikolai Kiselyov told Halpin.
Former Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2000 vetoed
legislation that would have banned sealing, after it cleared the
Russian parliament by a vote of 273-1. Reaching the end of his term
at the end of February 2008, Putin turned the presidency over to his
chosen successor, Dmitry Medvedev, but remains in effective control
of the Russian government as prime minister.

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