Lesley Fox: Canada’s cruel seal hunt is on thin ice this federal election

Right now, off the east coast of Canada, the largest marine mammal slaughter in the world is taking place and the images are very disturbing.

It’s not my intention to be sensationalist, but it is a fact that when you kill hundreds of thousands of baby seals, the water and ice off the east coast of Canada turns red from all of the blood.

Making this year even more shocking than before, the Tories’ killing quota is the highest it has ever been—over 468,200 harp, grey and hooded seals are on the chopping block. Literally.

In a world when we marvel in the advances of computer science, medical wonders, and scientific discoveries, there is something seriously wrong with grown men wielding clubs and hooks to bash in the brains of baby seals.

Reports indicate that approximately 95 percent of seals killed are between the ages of two weeks to three months old.

While the killing of the fluffy newborn whitecoat seals is prohibited, once they have begun to molt their pelts (usually around 12 days of age) they are fair game.

It’s easy for sealers to target the babies because these young animals are reluctant to leave the ice, and are not yet strong swimmers.

But despite public outcry and general common sense, the seal slaughter has been going on for decades and with lots of support from the government.

Why is Canada killing seals? That’s a good question.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says, “As a time-honoured tradition, Canada’s seal harvest supports many coastal families who can derive as much as 35% of their annual income from this practice.”

But opponents point out that the hunt is cruel and unsustainable, and the sealers, who are essentially commercial fishermen, earn on average less than five percent of their income from killing seals.

Then there is also the question of political motives.

It’s no secret that there is much competition between political parties for votes in the rural areas of Newfoundland, and any party that opposes the seal hunt can consider themselves out of the running.

Furthermore, the primary objective of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is to ensure there is a booming fishing industry. But fish populations have been dwindling for years and rather than admit to over-fishing or mismanagement playing any part, it is a lot easier for them to just blame the seals for eating all the fish.

Imagine the advantage you would have as a business owner if you could literally kill your main competitor.

While no one really knows exactly why Canada loves killing baby seals, a few things are certain.

The math doesn’t add up.

Last year, it was reported that the Canadian seal hunt generated $1.4 million, but taxpayers paid $4.3 million for the Canadian Coast Guard to monitor the area.

And while the government no longer makes direct contributions to the seal hunt, funding is still available for ice breaking vessels and tax breaks seem to be doled out to any sealer who wants one.

For example, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is working to ensure a retroactive tax exemption for sealers who have not been paying the harmonized sales tax on pelts they have sold. Over the past three years alone, this could amount to a $6.3-million “tax break” for the sealing industry.

In addition to all of this funding, the Canadian government continues to subsidize research into developing new markets for seal products and is currently spending your money promoting and marketing seal products overseas.

This is a lot of money to waste on something that the majority of Canadians don’t even want.

And it’s not only Canadians that are rethinking the seal slaughter; it’s entire countries too.

Since 1972, the United States has closed its border to Canada’s seal pelts, and just recently the 27-nation European Union followed suit.

Currently, China is our main dumping ground for seal skins, but even that agreement is on thin ice.

Speaking of thin ice, the dwindling market for seal pelts isn’t the only problem facing the seal industry. Mother nature is proving to be an obstacle too.

Global warming is melting the ice that the seals rely on to give birth and to nurse their pups. Scientists who work for the Department of Fisheries have recently voiced their concern about the seals’ mortality rate, saying it could be far higher than normal because females don’t have enough ice to give birth to their pups.

Scientists are also reporting that the ice is breaking up faster than normal, and as a result, many seal pups are drowning because they are too young to survive in the open water.

So considering the global market for seal products is diminishing, and seal populations are in jeopardy because of global warming, the time is right to turn our attention to creating real solutions for the sealers and the animals.

Some suggestions include a one-time buyout of the commercial sealing industry where fishermen would be compensated for lost income, and funds could be invested into job retraining or alternative industries.

This isn’t a bad idea considering it worked for the whaling industry. In 1972, the Canadian government ended commercial whaling, and licence holders were compensated. Today, the whaling industry has completely reinvented itself with eco-tours and whale watching, which are proving to be a profitable attraction, particularly for tourists.

Whether you are opposed to the inherent cruelty of the seal hunt or the waste of taxpayer money, or it’s the impact of global warming on seal populations that concerns you, the time to act is now.

During this election, each one of us has an opportunity to voice our opposition over the seal hunt to our member of Parliament. Collectively, we have the power to end this slaughter for once and for all—and we can do that at the polls.

Lesley Fox is the executive director of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, a nonprofit animal-protection organization based in Burnaby.

Comments (30) Add New Comment
carolyn bianco-thompson
this is such a horribel sick thing! i have been against this for many years!!!! why is the rest of the world allowing this sick shit to happen? i dont understand why it is still happening. i can only pray the sick barbarians will get their day in hell!!!!! they are murderers and may God serve them their due!!!!
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charlene sjoberg
I couldn't of said it better myself! Go Lesley!
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aaron
give me a break, if we let the seal population get out of control there will be no fish left for the seals or us and they'll end up dying anyways

i suppose you're against the slaughter of chickens, cattles, bulls, cats, dogs, moose, bulls or any other animal

if not you're just a bunch of hypocrites
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dan.w.s.
you eat meat? drive a car?
for many families out there, this is 1 of a handful of seasonal jobs families result to put food on the table and clothes on their child's back.
It's cruel. Completely Agree. but you only know a fraction of the story.
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Nathaniel Poritier
We have the power to change this. Please vote for politicians who have the guts, courage and heart to say I oppose the seal hunt instead of wasting our tax dollars on the dying industry. Vote for politicians who will make responsible decision to use our tax dollars for good use and not for greed, power and selfish means. Any politician who sees the reality of the commercial sealing industry and agrees that it must be banned is who I will vot for. To the politicians, please have the courage to speak up for the majority of the Canadians in our beautiful country, Canada. You are not alone.
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Shelly
Aaron you're a F**king idiot! Of course I'm against the slaughter of chickens, cattle, bulls, cats, dogs or any animal. At least most animals if used for meat are killed in a humane manner. These animals aren't even being killed for meat let alone humanely. I suppose you're one of the seal slaughterers. I haven't had a single piece of meat today and I'm doing just fine!
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Birdy
Harper spent $75,000 on pro-sealing blog comments last year, I wonder how much this year?

http://www.news1130.com/news/national/article/58287--harper-government-m...
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macacanadian
Let me get this straight, the only job you can find is beating a weeks-old seal to death?

I don't buy it.

The meat industry is an odious industry for sure but bashing baby animals to death for someone else's vanity takes the bloody cherry on that crap cake.

Humanity is capable of so much more.
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Mia
Excellent article, Lesley. Thank you for telling the truth about what is happening to the seals. I am ashamed that my Canada would be responsible for such cruelty. I hope that the next government puts an end to this barbaric practice.
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Paul Gilbert
Shelly;

Yes, they are being used for meat. They're also being used to control the population. Either we kill them to relave their overpopulation, or they die of starvation. Your choice.
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Pat Crowe
Why don't they just plant vegetables and get jobs at the malls and lumber mills?
Who cares if those Canadians have been managing and utilizing this resource for over 500 years?!
Why can't they just be like people who live on the North Shore and in Coquitlam?
Sheesh.
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Regis Banks
I feel like seal clubbing takes the moral weight of all animal slaughtering practices because 1) it's not mechanized (in that guys chase them around with clubs) and 2) seals are much cuter than, say, cows...

which brings us to reason 3) it's okay to slaughter thousands of animals such as cattle every day when WE eat them, but these seals which are someone else's food and trade are immoral

Because they near extinction? Pfft, they'd start seal farms before they let that happen, and the same people would be against it.
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Anne Troake
"But opponents point out that the hunt is cruel and unsustainable"

Both of these charges entirely inaccurate. Animal rights groups have been crowing about the "unsustainability" of the quotas for decades now and meanwhile the herd has been steadily growing to its current size of over 10 million animals. Now look up sustainability in the dictionary. Enough said.

Second, the charge of "cruelty" is specious in the extreme. Yes, a human delivering a blow to the head of an animal (not to mention a beautiful anthropmorphically-advantaged young seal) seems cruel to the majority of first world urbanites who have a much closer relationship with their iphones than the source of their dinner. However, anyone who actually works for animal welfare knows that the destroying the brain of a mammal is the fastest way to kill it. It is pain free and the animals are not subject to the stresses of transport to an unfamiliar environment - a potentially horrid experience (at least that's the way my cats see it) to which we subject even our most beloved pets when they must be put down - not to mention the stresses to which factory farmed animals are subject.

Fox claims that she does not intend "to be sensationalist" but this is exactly her intention. If she and her group were serious about welfare and conservation, they would turn their attention away from Harps, the most populous species of seal on the planet, and the most scrutinized hunt which has proven itself over and over from the standpoints of welfare and sustainability.

Hawaiian Monk seals, Mediterranean Monk seals, Galápagos Fur seals, and Caspian seals are all endangered (the first two critically). The Caribbean Monk seal was declared extinct in 2008. Where were Leslie and her IFAW, HSUS and PETA cohorts? Writing about Harp seals in emotional sensational language, posting pictures that will surely be misinterpreted by people who have no experience with the work of primary producers (the folks who do the dirty work that supports the urban consumers lifestyle) and pulling in millions donations for their efforts is where.

She writes: "no one really knows exactly why Canada loves killing baby seals". That's because no one likes killing juvenile seals (not "baby" - that's a young human or a Disney cartoon). It's hard and dangerous work. But it is a significant amount of income that can make the difference for an inshore fisher (the folks who go out and catch that wild fish so beloved by vegetarians and foodies) to stay in his or her community rather than migrating west to labour in the oil patch.

It is exasperating when we are losing so many species and so much habitat at such an alarming rate that so much media attention is given to a non-issue like the Canadian seal hunt.

It's fiddling while Rome burns.

I would love to counter the rest of Ms. Fox's weak and misleading arguments, but this is a comment thread and I don't want to take up any more space. And besides, it's suppertime in Newfoundland and I have to get the flippers in the oven.
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In this day and age
It is not only cruel but it is inexcuseable. I can just see the farmer in his field trying to take his cattle down for the count with a bat. What a bloody mess that would be just like the clubbing of baby seals. Just think when families take a ride in the country they can also catch cows being clubbed to death and blooded in the field as farmer clubs them to death. What fun.
There is no excuse for what is going on surely in this day and age the primative and cruel ways to kill the baby seals needs to be stopped. It just dosen't have to be there are other ways.
Apparently BC acted to quickly when finding the owner of the sledge dogs wrong for his clubbing and beating them to death when it was all in a day's work.
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Alan
The vote argument doesn't stack up. Lesley argues that It’s no secret that there is much competition between political parties for votes in the rural areas of Newfoundland, and any party that opposes the seal hunt can consider themselves out of the running. She then claims the hunt is something that the majority of Canadians don’t even want. If that is the case then all political parties would certainly oppose the hunt to secure these votes and the issue would be removed as a source of competition for votes in the few Newfoundland rural ridings as she alleges.
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Taxpayers R Us
Clubbed baby seal is very delicious. Unclubbed baby seal (the way it's normally delivered) is not tenderized enough in my opinion.
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Denise Perrin
How can coastal communities fall for the lie that the slaughter is necessary for the economy when most of the carcasses are left on the ice? (which is ANOTHER Marine Mammal Regulation by the way)
They must be a never-ending source of tax money.
Any non-subsidized business would have folded.
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Eltha
Hey Sealer! If you want a job can have any other. How a person can do that to an animal? Want to bring food to your family?
Find a decent job! Don't become a murderer!
The cruelty is indefensible. I can't believe that there are people who agree with this.
How anyone can look at those pics without cry? without wanting to fight?
SHAME Canada! a big shame! You have to stop this! The world's eyes are on you!
Come on Canada! Enough of stupid excuses! Seal hunting is dirty, brutal and cruel. It's not necessary. Arguments? where? why? business?There is no argument for this. The world is changing. And you have to make a difference for a better world. CANADA IS WITH YOU !
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lovetheplanet
Funny how no matter how high you put the quota on seals, the cod still having bounced back. It's also interesting that with the melting ice caps and the corpses of white coats and beaters that have washed ashore, no one is taking into account the ecological disaster for other predators that needed seals to survive the seasons and fee their young. Let's take the polar bears for instance. the ice caps have melted so much that in the past year about 50 of them were found swimming for miles to the point of drowning, dehydration and starvation. one of their main foods is the seal, yet the seals aren't within range of the polar bears to hunt and feed on. With the amount of melting ice making it hard for seals to migrate and whelp on and the polar bears not being about to reach them. Add the mercury levels and other pollution in the seals and the polar bears and the rest of the ocean life forms and you have an ecological disaster that is the result of humans and their horseblinder view of the planet. The whales were one of the first species canadians had to stop hunting because we were to greedy and self absorbed to stop, some of the whales we hunted on are still on the endangered species list, then came the cod, we over fished and polluted their ocean in which the need to live and then decided oh the seals MUST be the scapegoats for that. Cod isn't the only species seals eat. with not enough ice for polar bears to reach the seal, one of the more natural predators can't control the seal population. Also with the oceans heating up, the orcas are migrating elsewhere because the climate isn't right for them, plus they being saught after for aquariums they use them for stupid human tricks. My point is, when humans interfere with ecology of the wild with either over hunting,overfishing or pollution or what have you, a part of that ecosystem is damaged. It may or may not be able to be fixed. I know that people living in the outports depend on the oceans and wildlife for food and money but when it's all gone or depleted or poisoned beyond fixing, where are you going to turn then? Tradition can only go so far. When there is nothing left to make money off of and no more of a competing predators to point a finger at to blame for your misfortunes on, what will you do and where will you go? All the training and time you spend on the oceans could be used to patrol foreign overfishing or illegal hunting or illegal dumping of hazardous waste that infect all the ocean life. Using the life skills from your time on the open ocean could help the environment.
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lovetheplanet
On an added note, what right do we have to claim we have to control another species population when the human race can't even control our own. 6900000000 humans and increasing everyday.
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