A: Since the first protest in 1955, those who wished to stop the killing have filmed the horrors, published articles about it, obtained proclamations from the U.S. and foreign governments in opposition to the killing, proposed and facilitated alternative sources of income for seal killers, written countless letters to Canadian officials, and staged demonstrations around the world. The U.S. Congress introduced legislation in 1972 to ban the importation of commodities made from marine mammals, but it wasn't until a worldwide outcry led to European actions in the 1980's- the ban on the importation of baby seal pelts (whitecoats) in 1983, and the threat of a boycott of Canadian fish products in 1984- that the killing declined dramatically. But it never ended. The Canadian government and the sealing industry worked tirelessly to develop new markets to replace those eliminated by these actions; and the government required that seal killers wait until seal pups molted at about 2 weeks of age, when, according to the government, they become adults.
An average of 60,000 seals were killed each year between 1984 and 1994. In 1995, the commercial hunt was resumed when a Newfoundlander named Brian Tobin became the Minister of Fisheries. This was two years after the cod fishery collapsed due to over-fishing. The fishermen blamed the seals for the decline of the cod and demanded a kill. Since 1994, the kill quota has risen each year. Markets were developed in Asia; and seal skins were sold in the seal killing nation, Norway, as well as in Denmark, Poland, Estonia, and Greece. The three year plan ending in 2005 was to kill almost one million seals. When the "struck and lost" seals are included, the total killed exceeds one million, making this the largest marine mammal slaughter in the world. Still the Newfoundlanders are not satisfied and are demanding that even more seals be killed. Some Newfoundland politicians have called for eradication. As an aside, it is a mistake to credit Greenpeace with ending the hunt. Greenpeace was one of the organizations opposing the hunt between 1976 and 1982. There were many other organizations involved including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Fund for Animals and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. From 1984 until 2005, Greenpeace refrained from actively opposing the hunt. (see more details about the annual Canadian seal slaughter)
A: Most of the pelts are first purchased by processors in Newfoundland. The main companies are Carino, based in South Dildo, Newfoundland, and Atlantic Marine Products, with its main plant in Catalina, Newfoundland.
Carino is a subsidiary of a Norwegian company named Karl Rieber and Sons based in Bergen, Norway. NuTan Furs, formerly known as Atlantic Marine Products is a subsidiary of the Barry Group, a major seafood processor and exporter in Atlantic Canada.
After the pelts are processed, some are sold in Canada but most are imported into Norway. In 2004, other major importers were Greenland, Germany, China, Poland, Denmark, Hong Kong, Greece, France, Russia, and South Korea (in order from most to least number of pelts imported). In prior years, Ukraine, Estonia, and Japan also imported large numbers of pelts.
The pelts are sold in Canada, Europe, Asia, and possibly other parts of the world, but they are not sold in the United States due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Canadian government is currently developing plans to subvert this treasured environmental protection through such measures as appeals to the World Trade Organization and NAFTA boards.
The slaughter of the seals is not by itself economically viable. The wholesale prices typically vary between CAN$30 and CAN$50 for the most perfect skins. Without government subsidies, including the work of the Coast Guard in carving paths through the ice for the sealing boats, the commercial seal "hunt" would not survive. (See more details about the seal skins and fur market)
A: Most of the meat is left to rot. Some if it is sold to fur farms and some is ground up into animal feed. A few thousand seal flippers are sold for human consumption in Newfoundland. There was also a growing demand for the seal penis bone in the Far East as some sort of remedy for impotence. The penis bones were typically taken from adult males. This market has been impacted by the commercialization of drugs like Viagra.
A: Most of the younger seals are killed with clubs or hakapiks in order to avoid damage to their pelts with a bullet hole. This would reduce the value of the pelt.
Since older seals are faster, more aggressive, and can swim, most are shot at a distance with high powered rifles to limit their ability to escape. Since sealers shoot for the head to avoid damage to the pelt, and this is a difficult shot, many seals are only wounded by the first gunshot. Sealers will often try to club a wounded seal, but these wounded seals will head for the nearest open water where they often will simply slip away under the ice and perish. (See the hunt page for more details about the hunt)
5) You guys (opposing the seal hunt) aren't against native peoples killing seals, are you? What gives?
A: There are few indigenous peoples involved in the commercial seal "hunt", defined as the slaughter of seals for their pelts. Most of the sealers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are residents of the Magdalen Islands of Quebec. These are French speaking people. Most of the sealers on the Newfoundland Front are descendents of British immigrants. We oppose commercial sealing by anyone: the Inuit or the European descendents.
On the other hand, we do not campaign for an end to the sealing by the Inuit who live a subsistence lifestyle (or a modernized version of such a lifestyle - as Canada's Inuit nowadays hunt with rifles and use snowmobiles and modern kayaks and motorboats). These individuals, by definition, do not export pelts. They kill only the seals they need to and use all the parts of the carcass. They typically kill adult seals as these provide more meat. These Inuit live and hunt mostly in the arctic and primarily kill ringed seals though they also kill some harp seals.
There are a few Inuit in Canada who try to bridge the two types of sealing. They kill seals to use the meat and oil but sell excess skins. We are not actively campaigning against this practice but also do not actively support it.
For a number of reasons, we believe that this trade can have negative repercussions on the effort to end commercial sealing. In part, the issue is one of 'free trade'. Free trade agreements may not accept these exemptions as being legitimate. Rather than attempting to make exemptions for Inuit-obtained seal products fit the free trade regimes, it is better to make blanket rules prohibiting trade in seal products. Alternative means of ensuring that Inuit communities can maintain an adequate standard of living can and should be found.
Another reason to ban the seal product trade without exception is that it will be much more difficult to enforce the bans if some seal products are legal. It is not easy to distinguish between different types of animal fur. Having some seal fur garments that are legal and some that are illegal in a given market makes enforcement of the trade ban all the more difficult.
A: There is a black market for seal penises in Asia (and perhaps Asian stores in other countries). The seal penis is considered an aphrodisiac in some Asian cultures.
With the closure of more and more markets to seal products, the black market for seal products, including seal pelts and seal oil, has grown. Seal oil capsules have been smuggled into the U.S., and smugglers were arrested in Los Angeles in 2013.
We urge everyone to keep an eye out for seal product contraband in all countries in which these products have been banned. Please let us know if you find these products.
7) If polls show that the majority of Canadian citizens are against the hunt, why don't they just stop it with a vote?
Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd demonstrates brushing of molting harp seal pup (c) Sea Shepherd
Nevertheless, sealers have been offered alternatives, such as 'seal brushing'. Each individual hair follicle of the whitecoat seal pups is hollow, keeping the babies warm and happy in the subzero temperatures. As the babies continue to their second stage of growth, they begin to molt and lose this outer layer of hair. This is when they can be easily brushed and the hair collected for bedding and other applications. Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have attempted on multiple occasions to introduce this idea to the Canadian sealers, even finding a businessman who offered more money for each brushed seal than the sealers could make from the pelt. Unfortunately, the idea was rejected time after time.
The sealers reasoning for rejection? As one sealer put it in 1999 in the Magdelein Islands, "Seals are meant to be clubbed, not brushed. We don't want nothing to do with no faggoty idea like that".
Another alternative for the sealers is seal tourism. Some sealers already make money this way - before the sealing starts. This could supplement their income more if the seal hunt ended. Many who know about the slaughter choose not to support the sealing communities with tourism as long as the seal hunt continues.
A: Get involved. Check out our help section for ideas on opposing the slaughter of seals... And sign up now to join our Seal Action Team (no particular commitments necessary; just the desire to help)!
Click here for additional FAQ's.
These questions were asked by a Newfoundland college student and answered by veteran seal warriors, Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Rebecca Aldworth of HSUS).
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