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Tales and Insights from the Killing Floes

Reflections and observations from Harpseals.org founder, Ian Robichaud

On Farley Mowat with sealing boats around3/28/05
Prelude: Allow me to set the mood lights:
As I slowly turned in a full 360% circle, I remember counting over 50 different sets of lights coming from the generators of the idling sealing boats nearby...

It was very late in the night (early morning actually) and only a few hours before opening day of Canada's annual slaughter of baby seals began for 2005. The weather was bad and had been getting worse for days.

On the deck, amidst the blowing rain and sleet and freezing cold temperature, I and a fellow crewmember I had only recently met leaned on the handrails of the boat and talked about the craziness of our situation and the surreality of the moment...

After days of travel to get here, and for me over 2 years of waiting, the moment had finally arrived: We had made it to our destination... but where exactly was that and what were we doing here?

To us, it seemed to be the middle of nowhere, but in fact we knew ourselves to be in the middle of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, just a few miles off the coast of Quebec's Magdalen Islands, waiting for Canada's annual seal hunt to begin.

Harp seal beaterThis was indeed a very strange thing for us both: to be in this fascinating position of being onboard this vessel, completely surrounded by over 80 sealing vessels we knew to be in the area, and trying to be ready for a day that we knew we could never really be ready for.

As we stared out at the lights of the sealing boats, we wondered about what kind of people were onboard those vessels and what they must have been thinking about. Were they excited? Were they looking forward to tomorrow? Were they getting drunk and talking about how great it was going to be to be back on the ice in a few hours bashing in the heads of the baby seals again? Could they sleep? Or, was it just business as usual for them as they waited for the morning light?

The reality for us was that we were onboard the world's most famous conservation vessel, the Sea Shepherd Society's Farley Mowat, captained by none other than the enigmatic Paul Watson, (the world's most loved and/ or hated conservationist, depending on which side of the animal exploitation coin side you were on), determined to do what we could to document, record, describe, photograph, draw attention to, and God only knew what else- (as crew members, we certainly didn't) the largest mass killing and senseless slaughter of marine wildlife on earth... and we were waiting for the morning light to come.

Sealing boatAnd at this very moment, with only the sounds of the wind and rain hitting the ice, we looked over at the open water lead below us and a seal popped his little head out of the water just 20 feet from our eyes, and looked at us.

We looked down at him and said hello. We had already seen several seals in the past few days as their numbers had been increasing as we entered into their icy domain. Then another seal popped his head up, and another, and yet another... 4 little beautiful seal beings right in front of us, bobbing their smooth heads.

We wished we could talk seal and warn them about the upcoming day and to flee the area... but of course we couldn't, so we just leaned over the rail and watched them swim and play for a few minutes, then they went away.

We looked at each other and felt very emotional about the moment. These seals were in grave danger and would probably not be alive in a few days, maybe only hours... but we tried to look at it as some kind of a sign - and hoped to think they were saying they believed in us and what we were doing. We both promised them we would try our best, although neither of us knew what that would entail.

It is a moment frozen in time for me now as I think back on it.

Ian and harp sealThe Sea Shepherd Seal Campaign: 2005- Phase 1- Gulf Region

On the evening of 3/21/05, I left California and headed north for the ice floes of Canada to join Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd crew onboard the conservation vessel Farley Mowat, for our long awaited 2005 seal hunt opposition effort.

4/08/05: Although I didn't know exactly what would happen on the campaign, I had been very apprehensive, and can now look back on it and say the trip definitely lived up to it's expectations: the past 18 days have been a surreal experience.

Over the course of this campaign, I have seen and done many strange things...

A few weeks before the trip, I had applied for an "observation permit" for filming the hunt, and that was my position on the ship- one of several media and photographer personnel on board to visually document and describe it.

Although I had a pretty good understanding of the seal hunt after having studied it for over 2 years now, and having had actually been to the ice and experienced the indescribable magic of the baby seals 2 years ago, I still felt I needed to know more. I wanted to understand the issue more intimately- with the ultimate goal of playing a more effective role in stopping it... and, as much as I didn't want to witness the insanity of the killing, I knew I needed to.

So what did I do? I volunteered to be on the most direct action, hard core, animal saving crew I knew about: the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society guided by my mentor and friend Paul Watson.

The horror begins:
Sealers killing sealsOn 3/29/05, the horror began. Morning light comes, and even though the weather is really bad, we see all the sealing vessels moving around and look through our binoculars to see the crews running on the ice, raising and lowering their hakapiks. With each swing of the killing tool, we know another seal has been beaten to death. As the day wears on, our vessel confronts and documents numerous sealing vessels systematically slaughtering Canada's famous baby harp seals.

At the end of the day, reports had told us that somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 seals had been beaten to death- many skinned alive, their bodies left for waste on the red ice.

What we did and what we saw:
Bloody seal bodiesAnd now I have finally witnessed with my own eyes the killing of baby harp seals by hakapik death. Take a moment to view some clips of the latest kill footage now:
Sea Shepherd kill footage HSUS kill footage

(Note: Although this is a truly brutal thing to view, I recommend watching it- even if it makes you cry, cringe, or beat your fists down on the table, because I want people to be outraged by this!)

It's the most brutal deed one can possibly imagine. Heartless men smash the heads of beautiful, defenseless baby seals and then leave their bodies on the ice after skinning them. Many are obviously still alive when skinned. All the while these sadistic jokers act like they're enjoying it. They laugh, smoke cigarettes, shout obscenities at us, and never seem to shed an ounce of emotion or sympathy.

In some cases, just hours before, our crew had laid on the ice with several of these seals and looked into their beautiful sleepy eyes.

On Farley Mowat with Coast Guard Cutter in viewEvery day, I took in everything I could of the wild scene I was involved in with my cameras always at the ready. By the end of the trip, I had photographed many live and beautiful seals lying peacefully on the ice and in horrid contrast, mayhem and massacre of every baby seal on the ice floes in the area. These were the ones who didn't escape the spotter helicopters and binoculars of the ever-chasing sealing boats. After they ravaged the seal nursery, I photographed piles of bloody carcasses on red ice patches, and sealing boat after sealing boat jockeying from ice floe to ice floe searching for more babies to kill.

And of course, I can't forget about the trusty coast guard icebreakers that cut ice for the killing boats when they needed it. They claim they don't do this but we recorded it on tape several times. These coast guard vessels saved the sealers' sorry asses when the ice conditions threatened their hulls, and "protected" them from us- the worst kind of nuisance- the seal defenders and observers of the hunt. (All this courtesy of the Canadian taxpayers, thank you very much.)

When we could, on certain occasions when the weather and ice conditions permitted, (and when the coast guard cutters were away, busy rescuing sealing boats from the ice), groups of us would take turns leaving the boat and foraying out onto the ice where we could encounter seals. All of us thoroughly enjoyed this activity. We would photograph them, hang around with them, and also "spray them" with a non- toxic vegetable dye that would, in theory, lessen the value of their pelts for a while. The reason we did this should be obvious: the seal killers were always nearby.

Time between "ice action" was spent writing letters, editing tapes, and working shifts on the boat. (Paul Watson was always in contact with various press, writing, documenting, making phone calls, strategizing, etc.) During the times when the harsh weather (good for the seals) gave a break, we followed around other sealing boats, and did what we could to document the tragic circus of events.

On some occasions, we also managed to save a few seals by using our boat as a shield from the sealing vessels, floating near them until the cowardly killers got tired of waiting on us and went away.

Sealer attacks activistsThe Attack:
On a particularly interesting day, just after the weather broke, there was some sealing activity nearby our boat. Some of our crew lept into action and traveled nearly a mile over the ice floes to observe the sealers. When we arrived, my ice partner and I were quickly assaulted and attacked with hakapiks by these "poor hunters, working so hard just to eek out an existence on the ice". (the words in quotes are my parenthetical mockery of the sympathy shown towards the sealers by some of the local press.)

It was a clear cut display of aggression by these cowardly baby killers, 7 of them with hakapiks waving around and swearing and yelling ignorant and belligerent crap at us while we just stood there and filmed them. By the time I had finished photographing the whole incident, I had been assaulted multiple times by 2 different sealers and witnessed several other crew members assaulted.

Coast Guard cutterIronically, I then witnessed the arrest of the same crew members who, without violence or weapons, had so bravely defended me from the attacking sealers as I filmed this encounter. The sealers were targeting a fellow crew member, Jonny V, and me, it seemed, because of our cameras. We were the only 2 appointed videographers on the ice that moment, recording the whole crazy scene. After the incident wound down, I ran like mad for the Farley Mowat and barely made it back in time to avoid being arrested myself. Had that occurred, the blatant assault footage I carried would surely have been taken away by the coast guard.

Amazingly, Jonny V. showed up after me, video footage in hand, having a story of his own to tell on how he made it back. (Having actually given his name to an arresting officer, he had somehow managed to slip away and walk around the stopped coast guard vessel unchecked only because the crew members around him were keeping the RCMP busy by being non-compliant.)

My arrested crew members alleged crime: "being within a half nautical mile of a sealer fishing for seals without an observation permit."

I return a new person:
Needless to say, I returned to California on 4/08/05 a different person... I now have a new insight into the hunt- and for that I'm glad...

But to be honest, for right now, as bad as I know I need to explain my trip in more detail, I'm groping for good words to describe my emotions, which I'm still wrestling with...

Just a few hours ago, I saw for the first time our primary hunt photographer's latest video kill footage (he had to rent a helicopter to do it) up close and personal, sharp focused and steady... and it made me cry as I just sat and watched it and felt awful about the whole thing. It wasn't the first time I have seen footage like this, but for some reason it got to me yet again.

2 years ago, I was blown away by the beauty and peacefulness of these amazing wild animals while observing them on the ice, and this year they mesmerized me again... only this time the situation was very different. I wasn't here to watch them lay around and be happy seals, I was here to record their violent and completely unnecessary destruction.

Looking for words...
So how can I accurately describe my feelings on this whole matter of the decimation of baby seals I find myself so involved in?

I honestly don't know. I'm mad. I'm sad, I'm eager to get back to the business of implementing our strategy to stop it... I can't really elaborate any more than that for now, it seems...

Anyway, as odd as this may sound, I'm not really so surprised at this new feeling.... for I had actually come to the ice this year to experience this circus of death... to record for the world and to see for my very own eyes. (This is something that after having now witnessed it, I come to realize I will never truly be able to comprehend fully).

But the good news is now I' m more angry and resolute in stopping it than I have ever been.

Summary:
Seal pupFor now, I'll just say: Everything about this disgusting, wasteful, and needless Canadian seal massacre is wrong. It's a hunt for coats and greed - performed by ignorant, violent whiners unwilling to look at alternatives, and unable to feel emotions. They are subsidized fisherman who feel sorry for themselves... but I don't feel sorry for them.

How can this unbelievable f_d-up massacre of the innocents go on and why you may ask?

I'll be blunt and tell you why: The killing continues for political positioning, fur coats for the rich and aphrodisiacs for frustrated Asian men. It continues for the "lifestyle and cultural heritage rights" (BS!) of a small minority of white, evil, ignorant men. It continues because of the greed of a select few FISHING companies and processing plant owners and it also continues because of an arrogant government bureaucracy that simply doesn't care what the majority of its people say year after year: Stop the seal hunt.

Lastly, it continues because the rest of the seafood industry remains silent, complicit in the massacre that companies like the Barry Group lobby for year after year, demanding ever-increasing quotas.

So, Canada, hear this: Your fishing industry will pay with our Canadian seafood boycott. Your politicians are scoundrels. I look forward to pressing charges against the fools who attacked me and the other Sea Shepherd crew members. And most of all, I look forward to seeing you capitulate to the world's demand to ban seal killing this year!

For now, in addition to the regular changes you will see on this website, I recommend checking out the actions and points of view of Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

I also recommend reading the journals of the HSUS wildlife director, Rebecca Aldworth. She is one of the seal's best defenders, and her words explain a lot about the situation. As for me, with my new understanding of the matters pertaining to this insane tragedy, I will continue to focus Harpseals.org on ending the seal hunt. Surf it regularly and please join us in defending the seals of Canada!

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