THE GREY SEAL HUNT
Although harp seals are the main victims of Canadian sealers, grey seals have also been targeted over the years. The Canadian government set annual kill quotas of 12,000 to 50,000 grey seal pups from 2007 to 2010. During 2007, 887 were recorded as killed. During 2008, the official number of grey seal pups killed was 1,472. In 2009, the number was 254. In 2010, the grey seal 'hunt' was canceled due to the lack of pelt buyers.
The Killing on Hay Island
Hay Island, just off the northeast shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, is the second largest grey seal breeding colony in the world and has been the main site of the carnage thus far. Hay Island is a provincial nature reserve and has been designated a Protected Wilderness Area. However, due to the strength of the sealing/fishing lobby, sealers were allowed to trample on the island to kill the grey seal pups.
Seal activists lodged a complaint as sealing is illegal in a Protected Wilderness area unless it is deemed necessary to protect the biodiversity of the island. Since the Environment Minister of Nova Scotia was unable to justify the slaughter on that basis, the legislature passed a law removing this requirement. Thus the Environment Minister had only to authorize the slaughter, without any justification at all.
On Hay Island, the grey seal pups are killed on the land by sealers with wooden bats. Bridget Curran, of the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition, witnessed the slaughter in 2008 (along with Rebecca Aldwork from Humane Society International), despite the attempts of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers to keep her out of the area.
Ms. Curran saw the sealers herd all the seals together and then begin clubbing the seal pups. The sealers targeted mostly the seal pups who had already molted (at about 1 month old). She saw the mothers and whitecoats watching this carnage and screaming. One screaming whitecoat grey seal pup was surrounded by bloody bodies of other seal pups.
The clubbed seal pups were bled, and their pelts were taken to a ship in Main-à-Dieu harbor. Ms. Curran saw a seal moving while sealers were cutting him/her open.
The Future of Sable Island
The largest breeding colony of grey seals in the world is on Sable Island, which is about 175 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sable Island has been a highly protected sanctuary for birds, wild horses, and grey seals.
Sable Island is a small, 13 square-mile, crescent-shaped island consisting of sand dunes and fragile grasslands. It is home to about 300 feral horses known as the Sable Island ponies, who have been protected from human interference since 1960.
Breeding colonies of harbor seals and grey seals also reside here. In 2003, an estimated 50,000 grey seal pups were born on the island. An estimated 60,000 seal pups will be born on the island between December 2010 and January 2011. Predators of the seals include sharks that inhabit the waters around the island.
In addition to seals and horses, the island is home to Arctic terns, Ipswich sparrows, and several other bird species. It is the only breeding ground of the Ipswich sparrows. The threatened Roseate Terns spend time on the island during the summer months. Because the island serves as a temporary home to several migratory birds species, it has been designated a Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
In order to visit the island, which has only a half dozen permanent residents, permission from the Canadian Coast Guard is required. To protect the flora and fauna of the island, only small numbers of scientists have been allowed to visit the island.
In May 2010, the Canadian government declared its intention to designate Sable Island a National Park. "It is a landscape of national significance and it deserves to be further protected under federal law," declared the Honorable Jim Prentice, Canada's Environment Minister.
Hypocrisy of the Canadian Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)
In 2009, the DFO commissioned a study by CBCL Limited "to examine the logistics and costs associated with two options for managing the grey seal population on Sable Island. The options examined in this report as required by the Statement of Work...issued by the DFO are:
i) a targeted population reduction, i.e., 100,000 animals removed in the first year, with 30,000 removed in each of the subsequent four years; and
ii) the implementation of an immunocontraceptive vaccine program targeting 16,000 female grey seals each year for five years."
The 'targeted population reduction' referred to is a massacre comparable in size to the massacre of harp seal pups on the ice floes of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off Newfoundland and Labrador. In this case, the slaughter would take place on the fragile, protected sand dunes of Sable Island National Park.
In order to implement a massacre of this scale on this small, remote island, heavy equipment would have to be brought to the island to remove "a significant quantity of material, e.g. seal carcasses..." According to the study, "during the first year, given a planned targeted reduction of 100,000 seals, the weight of carcasses would range from approximately 550 to 15,000 tonnes, depending on whether the carcasses are pre-treated or intact. Assuming an on land disposal site and transport via tractor trailer, the first year of the project would require in the range of 18 to 500 hauls from the shore base to an acceptable disposal facility."
The study describes the type of equipment that would be required to lift dead seals off the fragile sand dunes: "Typical material handling and transport equipment used on Sable Island includes pickup trucks, all terrain vehicles, e.g. four wheelers and gators, and tractors. Based on the weight and size of the adult seals, this equipment is is not suitable to undertake a project of this scope. Heavy construction equipment is required to lift an adult seal that ranges in weight from 200 to 400 kg. Juvenile seals (pups) weighing in the range of 45 to 70 kg could be handled and transported short distances using small scale equipment such as skid steer Bob Cat tractors and trailers attached to pickup trucks and/or all terrain vehicles (ATVs). Given the proposed scope and schedule for this project, i.e., 100,000 seals between the end of December and the beginning of February, and the required transport capacities and cycle times necessary to achieve the objectives, the use of small scale equipment is not sufficient."
If the objective of designating Sable Island a National Park is to increase protections for the islands flora and fauna, how can the Canadian DFO consider a plan to open the island to a massive grey seal slaughter?
The Canadian government stated that the reasons for a potential sable island seal 'hunt' are
1. the seals are eating fish, in particular, groundfish that put them in competition with Nova Scotia fishermen
2. the seals are overpopulated and need to be managed
Canadian scientists have another point of view. According to Professor Sara Iverson of Dalhousie University, Canada, the grey seal population is stabilizing, and a cull or sterilization program is not scientifically justifiable.
The Canadian fishing industry continues to lobby the DFO to increase sealing. The costly study on opening Sable Island to a massive seal 'hunt' is a testament to the political power of the Canadian fishing industry.
What you can do
Political action by Canadians - letters to politicians and to newspapers and attendance at public hearings are necessary to thwart the efforts of the Canadian fishing industry and the DFO to slaughter hundreds of thousands of grey seal pups.
In addition, letters, calls, and emails by concerned people around the world will help avoid another massacre of seals.
Visit our Letters and Emails page for contact information and automated emails to politicians and tourism offices for the grey seals.