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Seal Tours

Yvonne and harp seal pupOver the years, one of the many questions people ask about are harp seal tours. These tours take people to ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, where they can interact with the whitecoat seal pups in their natural environment.

Harpseals.org supports the concept of these tours as healthy alternatives to the annual slaughter of the seals. However, we discourage people from taking these tours now for two main reasons:

1. Until the commercial killing of seals is banned, we encourage everyone to boycott tourism to Canada

2. These tours are run by sealers themselves. This is true even for the tours that are organized by a U.S. based company, as we will show in the correspondence below.

The two companies that have been providing these tours over the years are Natural Habitat Adventures, the U.S. based company, and Travel Wild Expeditions, based in the Magdalen Islands, one of the two main regions from which sealers hail.

The letter below, sent to to us by a Natural Habitat Adventures harp seal tourist named Yvonne (last name left out for privacy reasons), provides evidence of this company's use of sealers for their seal tours and of the callousness and brutality of these people who profit both from seal watching and seal killing. It also shows that Natural Habitat Adventures lied about their use of sealers to potential customers.

UPDATE:

As a result of the relentless efforts of Yvonne, Natural Habitat Adventures has cancelled its seal watching tours. Read the email exchange here.

 



Natural Habitat Seal Tours Exposed

Below is the text of the email sent by Yvonne to Harpseals.org

Interspersed throuought the text are links to emails between Yvonne and Natural Habitat Adventures and between her and another tourist.

Natural Habitat Adventures helicopter and harp seal

"I've just returned from the Magdalen Islands on a Harp Seal tour. I am also an avid conservationist and animal activist and am grimly aware of the harp seal pup hunt in Canada.

When I began researching a company to hire to take me to the Harp Seals I contacted GreenPeace and asked them if there were any companies that would take me to see the pups but NOT lead the hunters to the pups after I was gone. This was so important to me that I would forgo seeing the pups if all tour companies led the hunters to them. GreenPeace gave me Natural Habitat's name as the only company they knew of that would NOT lead the hunters to the pups.

Harp seal pup with motherI contacted NatHab and asked several times if the hunters were led to the pups after the tourists were gone and was assured that hunters would never be led to the pups and that all of the guides and helicopter pilots were in fact FORMER hunters who now believe that hunting the seals is wrong."

Here is an e-mail from NatHab to Yvonne assuring her that they do not use helicopter teams that will hunt/spot or lead prospective clients to the pups...

"I was also told that NatHab would not be endorsed by the WWF if they did not protect the seal pups. Because of the GreenPeace endorsement and the NatHab staff telling me about the moral quality of its staff I immediately booked my tour.

While readying to leave the ice after one visit I asked Leo (the owner of the helicopter) straight out "Do you hunt Harp Seal white back pups?" Leo's response was "I hunt everything". I asked him again if he hunted the Harp Seal white back pups? He looked around at the other people on the tour in the helicopter and nodded "yes" to me with a big smile on his face.

In speaking with another traveler of the tour about what Leo had said to me, one mentioned that Leo was poking a pup with the poles we used on the ice when she was near him out on the ice pan. Inside Natural Habitat Adventures helicopter

On the third flight out, right after disembarking from the helicopter I witnessed Rieu (I believe that is the guide's name -tall, shaggy beard) walk up to a pup who was trying very hard to get away from him by desperately wiggling away and barking at him with his mouth open and head lifted towards him. The guide yanked the pup by the back flippers about 4 feet backwards and then jammed his fist straight armed into the pup's back to make it hold still for the party of non NATHAB travelers he was with.

Leo was with me and another NatHab traveler on the pan this day as a guide - and as we approached a pup, Leo said to me in a VERY condescending manner and smirk on his face, “Do you think I would hurt these little guys?” I felt as though he was trying to see just how stupid I was.

I witnessed another guide, I do not know who, manhandling the pups on numerous occasions that day, for the purpose of another man (a non NATHAB traveler) he was with could to get close enough to take a picture with the pups.

When we lifted off the pan Leo took the helicopter further out instead of coming back to land and while looking through his binoculars told us that he had finally found the second herd. (I don’t believe for one second that finding the second herd was so that he could bring tourists to them.)

After we finally turned towards land we flew directly over a kill pan. I saw huge amounts of blood and a white row boat. Leo flew us right over it! I leaned over to my fellow traveler and told her I saw a hunter’s white row boat, but she couldn't have a conversation with me over the engine noise.

Upon landing, our NatHab representative met me to ask about the trip and I told her about Leo's comments and the fact that I had witnessed a kill pan. She got very upset and told me that she was going to speak with our van bus driver for the tour. That person came to my room and asked me what I had seen. I told her about the kill pan and I also told her about the comments Leo had made to which she responded in shock, "Leo actually said that to you?" She immediately got on the phone to the Fisheries and Oceans Protection department and they immediately sent out a patrol to the coast trying to catch the row boat coming ashore, but to my great disappointment they did not catch the illegal hunter. She told me not to mention anything to anyone, which I abided by. I completely understand why she asked me for my silence... I'm sure there would be those who might want to warn those who were hunting white coat seal pups illegally.

Natural Habitat Adventures base campAs our group was leaving the hotel in the morning the next day, the van driver pulled me aside and asked if I would give a statement to the authorities while at our lunch stop. I told her what ever I could do to help catch the hunter(s) I would do. When we arrived at the restaurant the NatHab representative and I went into the van and I met with 2 Fishery Officers and explained what I had seen and gave a written statement.

After giving my statement to the authorities, I went back into the restaurant and the NatHab representative had told everyone in the group what I was doing so several others in the group asked me what I had seen and started voicing their experiences while on the trip quietly around me at the table. We were quiet because I didn't want to ruin someone's trip with such horrible information and a “former” hunter now guide was sitting 3 people down from me. During the conversation between us, one traveler told me that on the second day, when Leo handed her the ice pole we were using to find blow holes he said, “Here’s your seal club.” Others strongly voiced that they had very strong suspicions before this conversation that Leo was still an active seal hunter but didn't go into details."

Correspondence between Yvonne and another NatHab traveler, regarding their experiences with Leo the helicopter owner... Natural Habitat Adventures helicopters

"I also want to say that the Harp Seal hunt was the giant elephant in the room for the whole trip. Those I spoke with in the group confirmed that no one on the Maggie's ever asked us "What did you see today? Are you enjoying your trip?".... nothing that would engage us in conversation about why we were there. It was very apparent to me that the Harp Seal pups are seen as a commodity… money to be made… an object, and not as a living part of Mother Nature.

 


 

I wanted to write to you for several reasons:

1) I am physically sick that even a penny of my money went towards any benefit of the owners/guides and pilots of the helicopters that were used on my trip.

2) I am compelled to inform you of my experience while on the NatHab tour. It is my duty as an advocate of the Harp Seals to inform you. What you do with the information is up to you.

3) The NatHab representative and van driver were EXTREMELY supportive of my concerns and I felt they did everything they could to inform the authorities on my behalf.

harp seal pup4) I will be contacting every agency I can to inform them that the Maggie's and especially the teams associated with the helicopters are active pup hunters. GreenPeace, PETA, WWF, HSI and any other agency I can find will be notified. If the authorities needed me to fly back to Canada to testify and recount my experience again I would pay for my flight out of my own pocket if it meant even one hunter being prosecuted.

I am extremely angry at the helicopter teams because they used our tours to scout the pans to figure out where they could kill the most pups and not for our benefit, as “former” hunters. By going on this tour, I feel dirty - because I paid to hire them and actually assisted them in finding their prey, which happens to be the animal I love so very much.

I contacted the owner of Natural Habitat Adventures, Ben Bressler, with the content of this letter and more, to which he responded that he is fully aware that the team they use to fly out to the pans are not necessarily committed to stopping the seal hunt, as they had told me before."

Here is that e-mail correspondence between Yvonne and Ben Bressler, owner of Natural Habitat Adventures - AFTER her experience on the ice with the seals...

"And although he was upset about my experience, he was not going to stop the tours. (Which I didn’t expect; what I am disappointed in is that they appear to be willing to continue to use the helicopter team they currently use knowing that they actively illegally hunt white back pups, or at the very least seem to be obvious spotters for the commercial hunters, or hunters themselves.)

5) Lastly, I wanted to tell you about my experience in the name of awareness. Your agency might not be able to “do” anything, but at least I’ve shared with you my experience in the hopes that it might anger someone into action as it has with me. As with NatHab, all I can do is share this with you…what you do with it is up to you."

Sincerely,
Yvonne

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