Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SealHunt Musings


It is that time of year again when there is an uproar about the killing of the overpopulated Harp seals living off the coast of Newfoundland. It's quite amazing how some people will look at pictures of a dead animal, and without learning the facts of the hunt (not the slaughter) create such an uninformed cry to put an end to it. Shamefully, I was one of those ignorant people who would take one look at a picture of a dead baby Harp seal, and cried out that this was an injustice. But I was made aware by more informed people about what is going on.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm about as big a treehugger as any other. Don't ever get me started on why whales should not be hunted.

The killing of baby Harps in Newfoundland, and ALL of Canada is ILLEGAL. The humane killing of adult Harp seals IS legal.
There are 517,900 people living in Newfoundland, and 4,700,000 Harp seals frequent the Newfoundland coastal waters, consuming 88,000 pounds of cod, which isn't even their preferred fish.

The killing of baby seals is just as illegal as the killing of whales in Canadian waters, and I am against BABY seals being killed, but the seal hunt must continue. There are too many seals, and if we do not control their numbers the whole ecosystem will be ruined, as the idiot government fools allowed other countries to fish our waters, depleting the numbers of fish. It is much like hunting deer in the Northern States, and in Canada. It is a necessity, because, as humans, we have already ruined their habitat, and to let them overpopulate what is left, will ruin it.

If we do not kill these animals (with all parts used, no doubt. From what I hear, you aren't a Newfoundlander, unless you've eaten a seal flipper pie ;)) they will overpopulate the waters, eating all of the fish, and starve themselves to death.

For the record, I have seen two adolescent Harp seals up close, and personal, in a tank on a little island off the Quebec coast, Les Iles de la Madeleine. They are a bit... scary looking, to say the least. And from what I was told (in French, mind you) these creatures, when fully grown are actually quite dangerous. I, as a tourist, bought a necklace with a seal claw (hell yes, they have claws, what did you think they were, fish?) on it, and trust me when I say it's quite sharp. Did you know that female Harp seals do not lose their white fur until the age of twelve? It’s the age of seven for males. They only live 35 years, so I’m pretty sure it is safe to say that a 12 year old seal is not a pup.

No matter what I say, even if I start complaining about how we depleted the whale populations to a mere percent of what is used to be, therefore leaving the Harp seal with no truly visible enemy (transient orcas) other than ourselves, I can not even remotely begin to explain things the way a true Newfoundlander might be able to.

So instead, I shall get off my soap box, and give to you the words of a man who grew up with the seal hunt, unlike the rest of us. This was written in 2006 during the season the seal hunt took place, and Paul McCartney and his wife helped PETA, and the American SPCA to try and put a stop to the hunt of an overpopulated species.


March 2, 2006
Tour Diary St. John's, NL

Paul McCartney was in St. John's yesterday. Cool, eh? I bet he was in town to check out the cool musical historical connections between this worldly sea port and his own home town of Liverpool in England. Or maybe he was here to show support for struggling coastal communities near flattened by the globalization of the fishing industry.

No. Paul and his wife, Ms. Mills-McCartney were just stopping over on their way to PEI from where they will fly over the ice in search of an opportunity to hug a cute baby seal and mug for photographers. Much ado has been made in the media today about the arguments for and against the seal hunt. Many marine biologists and educated members of the fishing industry have duked, and will continue to duke, it out with members of environmental and animal rights groups that range from practical and sensible to fanatical and downright criminal. These people are much more qualified for the finer points of these debates than I, and I suspect most of us.

My opinion, I suspect, is shared by many. I think killing seals is cruel and ugly work. I think killing rabbits, moose, cows, chickens, and anything else with a pulse, is cruel and ugly work. I have never done it.

I, like many, accept that there are circumstances on Planet Earth where choosing to be a vegetarian is not an option. If you live, or certainly if you lived a few decades ago, in a coastal community in Newfoundland and Labrador, during the winter months, you'd have hard time finding an avocado salad.

I, like most, also accept that in this day and age animals are hunted and farmed for food, clothes, medicine, and a variety of commercial reasons. I, like most, expect that these industries be closely regulated and scrutinized and act in a humane and environmentally responsible fashion. Simply put, I don't want animals to suffer inhumane lives or deaths, and I don't want commercial hunting or fishing to result in the endangerment or extinction of a species.

From what I understand from respected individuals in the beef industry, the vast majority of cattle farmers act in a humane and responsible fashion and no one dares suggest anything else. Oprah was almost crucified in the US for questioning the American beef industry.

From what I understand from respected individuals in the sealing industry, the vast majority of sealers act in a humane and responsible fashion. Yet Paul McCartney is not one bit shy about throwing his considerable weight behind a campaign to have the Prime Minister put an end to the seal hunt. Moreover, he seems perfectly willing to pose for a propaganda photo with a baby seal on behalf of the Humane society of the United States no doubt aiding the organizations fundraising efforts for a long time.

Now I've got nothing against the Humane Society and I don't wish to make the lives of the inhumane easier by casting doubts towards on the Humane Society's efforts. But this photo-op will be misleading to the public and unfair to the humane and responsible sealers in small struggling communities everywhere as there has not been a cute and cuddly baby seal hunt in a long long time. Older harp seals are what the sealers are after but I'll bet these much uglier dudes won't make the final photo.

But Paul is a smart, worldly man who is well versed in Newfoundland and Labrador history and economics, right? I am sure Mr. McCartney has considered all the above before he agreed to this photo opportunity today, right? If so, lets call this what it is. Mr. McCartney has thought it through and chosen seals over sealers, regardless of whether these sealers are humane and responsible. He is voting for fundraising for the Humane Society over the continued existence of Coastal Communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Well, Mr. and Ms. McCartney, enjoy your trip to Atlantic Canada. If your efforts today are really successful, there may be a few less towns to see next time you stop by.

Alan Doyle
Great Big Sea

What else am I supposed to say? I know at least one friend will not support my view at all and that is fine. Her idea is to stop the slaughter of all animals, and I have a different view. Sure, we’re sort of on the same page. We both want to help save the animals… but I have chosen a road less traveled when believing in animal rights. I choose to only help those in dire need. Those who are in peril of becoming extinct.

I am not a vegetarian. I am of the belief that we, as omnivores, need to eat meat. Our incisors are proof that we were made to eat meat. Those teeth are made for ripping into flesh, not fauna. Bears are omnivores. They eat vegetables and meat. I don’t see them becoming vegetarians.

I understand the morals that go into becoming a vegetarian. Honestly, I do. I don’t agree with them, but I understand them, and respect them.

However, I do not appreciate vegetarians pulling a “Catholic” move. Yes, I said it. A Catholic move. “My religion is right, and yours is wrong so you’re going to hell. I understand not all Catholics feel this way, but most (especially the leaders of this religion) do. But that is neither here nor there. What I’m trying to get at is that some vegetarians will start “spreading the word” about veganism and why it is “wrong” to eat meat. I don’t appreciate it, just like I don’t appreciate being told I’m going to hell, or that my opinion doesn’t matter because I’m just a little girl.

And the thing that gets me the most about the arguments on the seal hunt is that these people are claiming that we’re doing it only for the fur! I agree that it’s a major reason as to why the seal hunt goes on, but it is not the only reason! Think of these: overpopulation, meat, under-population of fish stocks, fishermen who have no other option for income.

And trying to make the seal hunt illegal because of those poor white-coats? Sigh… poaching will continue whether the adults are legal to kill or not.

Don't get me wrong, please. I generally hate humans. We killed whales for nothing but the oil, and fat, and left the rest of the carcass to rot in the sand. We killed whales so that one species that was bountiful, and swam in the oceans in great numbers has been reduced to a measly 400 Northern Right Whales.

I ask you, why use your energy to help save a species that has over four million numbers alone? Why not try and make a difference with a species that's actually on the brink of extinction?


  1. Hi there, I just wanted to point out an error in your article. Harp seals do not lose their white fur at 12 years - they are in fact far younger than that.

    Harp seals begin to moult their coat at 12 DAYS (not years). It is at this point that it is legal to kill the pups. The majority of pups killed in the seal hunts are 12 days to three months. At this age, they are not yet eating solid food, are unable to swim and cannot defend themselves or escape from the sealers. Given the fact that harp seals reach sexual maturity at approximately six or seven years of age and have an average lifespan of 35 years, a seal of 12 days to three months is definitely NOT an adult.

    You said that you were "made aware by more informed people about what is going on" - was it the "more informed people" that told you harp seals moult their white coats and are killed at the age of 12 YEARS? Either they are pulling your leg or you misunderstood them. This is why it's important for people to do their homework before reaching the decision to support the commercial killing of seals in this country.

    A few other clarifications I make from years of research and personal observation of seal hunts:

    - There is no scientific evidence to suggest that seals are responsible for the depletion of fish stocks. Many factors are to blame for depletion of and subsequent failure to rebound of groundfish stocks, the largest one being gross human overfishing. Overfishing continues to this day, and Canadian fishers are just as much to blame as foreign fishers. Even now DFO is further ravaging cod stocks by recent actions, including re-opening the recreational cod fishery with outrageously high daily quotas and insufficient monitoring and enforcement of same.

    - Seal populations are not exploding, as government likes to claim. The Canadian government proclaims that seal populations have tripled in the last 30 years, but they neglect to add that by the end of the 1970s seal populations were decimated by roughly two-thirds due to overhunting in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Current kill levels exceed kill levels of that period. Climate change is also having a detrimental impact on seal populations. Female harp seals need ice upon which to give birth and nurse, and pups rely on the ice until they have learned to swim. In the past few years, infant mortality rates have spiked when nursery ice melted early and the pups drowned. DFO estimated that the infant mortality rate in the southern Gulf in 2007 was approximately 95% or higher. This is not a rarity; it is happening year after year.

    In the grey seal hunt in Nova Scotia, quotas are set higher than the actual number of pups present on islands. For instance, a quota of 2,500 pups was set for Hay Island (part of the Scaterie Island Protected Wilderness Area) while in actual fact there were only approximately 1,300 pups born on the island that year. This is not a plan for conservation - it is a plan for extermination.

    - The seal hunt is a hunt for fur. There is no "full utilization". DFO admits that there is very little recoverable meat on the pups targeted for their fur (again, 12 days - 3 months). One has only to look at DFO's Landings and Landed Values by Species to see evidence of this. In 2008, 207,522 seal pelts were landed. However, only 41,679 flippers were landed. A mere 35 kg of meat was landed and 210,120 kg of fat was landed. These figures pale in comparison to landings of other species. For instance, the endangered Atlantic cod - Newfoundland fishers landed a whopping 17,535,957 kg. ( Source: http://www.nfl.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/publications/reports_rapports/Land_All_2008.htm )

    - Putting aside all arguments made in support of killing seals, one cannot use any of these arguments as a justification for the horrific manner in which they are killed. I have witnessed and documented three seals hunts - the killing of harps in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2007, the killing of harps in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2008, and the killing of grey pups in Nova Scotia. I can say with all honesty that the seal hunt is conducted in an extremely inhumane manner and is not enforced or monitored adequately by DFO. In actual fact, it is impossible for the seal hunt to be conducted humanely and for DFO to monitor and enforce the seal hunt adequately for several reasons, including geographical location, extreme weather conditions, and ratio of sealing boats to DFO (hundreds of sealing boats operating in an area larger than France with a handful of DFO officials monitoring). It is inherently inhumane, can never be made humane and that's why it must be abolished.

    - Alan Doyle needs to check his facts. The "older harp seals" are definitely *not* what the sealers are after. Sealers target young seals between the ages of 12 days and 3 months because of the pristine condition of their pelts. In actual fact, the harp seals sealers are after are only a week or so older than the whitecoats photographed each year by HSUS. HSUS photographs the whitecoats shortly before they moult and are killed by sealers. Mr. Doyle is also mistaken about the "older dudes" not making the final photo. HSUS has taken plenty of photographs of ragged jackets (moulting pups), beaters (pups which have moulted) and adult seals, and they are freely available on the internet. One has only to look. It is unfortunate that Mr. Doyle didn't make the effort to research the facts before he made those claims.

    Contrary to what pro-sealers say, there are alternatives to killing seals. Many alternatives have been suggested throughout the years but the Canadian government and sealing industry have refused to consider them. One such alternative is a license buyback program which would encompass generous cash settlements for sealing licenses, early retirement for older sealers, retraining for younger sealers, and financial assistance programs for eco-tourism infrastructure. Studies have been conducted which show Newfoundland has vast potential for eco-tourism.

    One last point, I'm not sure what the point was behind your comment about harp seals being scary looking and being dangerous. Of course they are dangerous - they are wild animals. Whether an animal is wild or tame, "cute" or "scary looking", that animal does not deserve to be killed in a manner that causes fear and pain.

    I'd be more than happy to discuss this further with you.


    Bridget Curran
    Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition

  2. Bridget Curran said.... "Contrary to what pro-sealers say, there are alternatives to killing seals. One such alternative is a license buyback program which would encompass generous cash settlements for sealing licenses."
    What will the sealers/fishermen do in the years following the license buyback program? Will the amount of money they receive be enough to support their families in the years to come? Also, many people forget or just don't realize that there are more than just fishermen who depend on the seal hunt. Some of these people are... the suppliers of groceries to the sealing fleet, the suppliers of fuel, the outfitters who supply the gear needed, the folks that work in the plants, the truck drivers that deliver the product, dry dock workers that repair the vessels, the people that sell the meat, the makers of seal oil pills, and the list go's on. What do you propose to do with all these people? Plus, if all these other peoples incomes are cut there will be less money to go around which means more unemployment. It's not as easy as just saying stop the seal hunt when so many people depend on it.

  3. "There is no scientific evidence to suggest that seals are responsible for the depletion of fish stocks."

    I never said the seals were to blame. In fact, I may have even said that "as the idiot government fools allowed other countries to fish our waters, depleting the numbers of fish."

    Perhaps, before spewing forth your own skewed statistics, you should read the entire blog first.

    You will not change my mind, so your comment was entirely wasted.

    That is all I have to say, as this was just my opinion, and I do not feel like arguing any points.

  4. Considering the fact that Mr. Doyle is a native Newfoundlander I think he is closer to the details than what is found online. I rarely, if ever, place stock in much of what is posted on a majority of websites.

    Typos happen, and I'm pretty sure that Kogo meant '12 days' and not '12 years'. I guess it is possible to be blinded by overwhelming zealotry and not take possible typos into consideration.

    I live in Newfoundland and have spoken to many sealers who engage in the hunt. Yes, there are some that go after white coats, but a great many more go after the older seals these days. White coats are protected by law. They are also killed as humanely as possible as well...not using clubs as they were in the past. It is much different than commonly portrayed in the media. A media, I might add, that tends to use old pictures.

    I wonder how many people are aware that Paul McCartney and Heather Mills doomed the white coat they had a picture taken with. As soon as they touched that poor pup it was doomed...mother seals will not touch their pups if they are 'tainted' by the touch of humans. Starvation is a worse way to go than a shot between the eyes.

    No full utilization? I beg to differ. I've eaten seal meat and dined on seal flipper pie. The oil taken from them has health benefits. They are valued for more than just their fur.

    Current kill levels are higher, yes. But there are also more seals now.

    The comments made by somebody who already has an anti-seal bias render the argument nul and void, in my opinion.

    I'm with Geoff on his observations too, btw. Newfoundland has been screwed over multiple times by such programs, so why would they stand by and let it occur yet again just because some bleeding heart liberals think that it's the 'right' thing to do?

  5. How typical. The comments I posted as a response to your blog article were polite and informative and I indicated I would be willing to discuss the matter with you further. Rather than extending me the same courtesy, you and subsequent posters have been personally insulting and showed a singular unwillingness to discuss the matter in a civilized manner in order to find some common ground.

    But that response is not uncommon. It's been my experience that people on the pro- side of the seal debate react with vitriol, personal insults and righteous indignation (and sometimes even physical threats), while accusing people on the anti- side of being "overzealous" and "emotional".

    LadyAire, why did you bother to respond to my post? By your own reasoning, the comments made by somebody who already has a pro-seal hunt bias "render the argument null and void, in my opinion".

    Also...if you believe that native Newfoundlanders have a better understanding of the issue than others, then you must agree that Rebecca Aldworth of HSUS and HSI Canada, who was born and raised in Newfoundland, also has a better understanding of the issue when she insists that the seal hunt is inherently inhumane, ecologically irresponsible and financially unnecessary. Or maybe it's just the Newfoundlanders who ignore the obvious and insist the seal hunt is humane, regulated and monitored that have the better understanding? Maybe the Newfoundlanders who oppose the commercial seal hunt don't have the same deeper understanding? Yes, that's probably it.

  6. I have not been personally insulting you, I have shown you that you disregarded my own blog to state something that did not need to be stated. Show me where I said the seals were at fault for our fish stock depletion.

    Your statistics are JUST as SKEWED AS MINE, so stop harrassing myself and my blog readers. This is a blog of MUSINGS, from a Delusional Stereotypical Rebel. Why the hell are you even here? I've already stated that I'm delusional. You were forewarned.

  7. The funny thing is that I'm not a native Newfoundlander...I was born in Ontario and spent most of my life in BC. And I would like to think that I am fairly open-minded about a lot of things.

    Biases occur concerning pretty much everything. People are either for or against things and they have their own reasoning behind their opinions. So be it. Everyone is welcome to say their piece and base their arguments on their own experiences or study.

    My question concerning all of this is: If a person is against the seal hunt are they also against any sort of hunting, or eating the flesh of any living creature? Considering that animals like pigs, cows, poutry, etc are raised for the intention of being killed for their meat and hides, and often in not the most humane of ways it amuses me to no end when even family members of mine go off against things like the seal hunt while they are devouring a huge steak. Just because the animals many people eat are domesticated does not change the fact that they were once alive. Same for people who eat fish.

    As well, I was not necessarily insulting you personally. I merely stated my opinion, and considering the tone of the first reply my opinion seemed to be merited. The repetition of an error made in the OP was unnecessary when it only needed to be stated once.