Sealing on thin ice
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2012:
CAP-AUX-MEULES, Quebec— Seal clubbing and shooting started on March 22, 2012 for Iles-de-la-Madeleine vessels, five days ahead of schedule, because ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence were receding so rapidly that Quebec sealers were at risk of finding no seals to kill.
Canadian Fisheries Department area director Vincent Malouin told Canadian Press that only two to five boats from Iles-de-la-Madeleine were expected to hunt seals in 2012. Iles-de-la-Madeleine was allocated a sealing quota of 25,000, from a total Canadian quota of 400,000, the same as in 2011, despite a lack of evident markets for seal pelts since 2010, when the European Union banned seal pelt imports.
Canadian sealers killed 37,609 seal pups in 2011, after killing 67,000 of a quota of 330,000 in 2010. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hoped to arrange a sale of seal pelts to China during a February 2012 state visit to China, but the deal did not materialize.
Instead, Chinese media amplified objections to the proposed sale raised by the Capital Animal Welfare Association and the Beijing environmental charity Green Beagle, named in honor of the ship that carried The Origin of Species author Charles Darwin on his 1831 voyage of discovery to the Galapagos Islands.
“In the wake of international bans on the sale of seal products, including Russia banning imports and exports recently, it is unacceptable that the Canadian government has turned to China in continuous attempts to create a new market,” Capital Animal Welfare Association director Qin Xiaona told Wei Na of Global Times. In absence of other buyers, Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries minister Darin King hinted to John Furlong of CBC, the provincial and/or federal goverments may buy and stockpile seal pelts.
Receding spring ice may doom the Atlantic Canada seal hunt more surely than either economic conditions or protest, hinted Duke University researchers David W. Johnston, Matthew T. Bowers, and Ari S. Friedlaender, and International Fund for Animal Welfare scientist David M. Lavigne in a January 2012 paper entitled “The Effects of Climate Change on Harp Seals,” published by the online science journal PLoS ONE.
Explained the paper, “We tested the effects of short-term climate variability on young-of-the-year harp seal mortality,” comparing “sea ice cover in the Gulf of St. Lawrence against stranding rates of dead harp seals in the region during 1992 to 2010.”
This, the authors found, “revealed that changes in sea ice may have contributed to the depletion of seals on the east coast of Canada during 1950 to 1972,” when the Atlantic Canada seal hunt expanded with little protest, “and to their recovery during 1973 to 2000,” when the seal hunt became a globally prominent issue.
“Sea ice cover in all harp seal breeding regions has been declining by as much as 6% per decade” since satellite photos of Gulf of St. Lawrence ice conditions became available in 1979, Johnston et al warned.
“Hunting mortality may also affect the population dynamics of harp seals,” the authors continued. Up to 389,410 seal pup pelts per year were landed during the 1950-1972 time frame. By contrast, the highest number of pelts landed between 1973 and 1982 was 202,169. The offshore seal hunt was then suspended for a decade. The highest number of landed pelts from 1983 to 1995 was 94,046. By 2005, however, the toll had increased to 365,971.
“It should be noted that in some regions,” the authors wrote, “the magnitude of hunting mortality has been lower than the level of natural mortality reported in poor ice years.” Concluded the study authors, “Harp sealsŠare well suited to deal with natural shifts in climate, including the effects on sea ice conditions. However, these animals may not be well adapted to absorb the cumulative effects of human influences, short-term climate variability, and global warming.
“Other ice-associated seals are also likely to be vulnerable to these combined effects,” the authors warned. “In particular, hooded seals may be at risk. The Northeast Atlantic stock, which breeds off the east coast of Greenland, has declined by 85-90% over the last 40-60 years, prompting a listing of this species as Vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.”
Pol speaks out
The Conservative government, the Liberal opposition, and the leadership of the second opposition party, the New Democrats, have remained adamantly supportive of the seal hunt. Only one Canadian government has ever been elected without majority support from the four Atlantic Canadian provinces. That was the government headed by Brian Mulroney, 1984-1993. Mulroney was a Quebec member of the Progressive-Conservative Party, which was later merged into Harper’s Conservative Alliance to form the present Conservative Party.
But Newfoundland and Labrador member of Parliament Ryan Cleary, a New Democrat, on January 24, 2012 broke ranks with the seal hunt defenders.
“Part of our history is also whaling, for example, and the day came when whaling stopped,” Cleary told the CBC. “Now, is that day coming with the seal hunt? It just may be. I may be shot for talking about this, and for saying this, but it’s a question we all have to ask,” Cleary said.