Harpseals.org is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Charity Working to End the Slaughter of Harp Seals and Other Seals in Canada and Namibia
Canada's 2015 seal slaughter was hell for over 35,000 seals; but for sealers, it was a bust
According to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), sealers killed 35,304 this year (the official number from May 21). This is essentially all a result of the offer of a newcomer to the industry to buy 30,000 seal pelts.
The seal skin processing company that has been buying almost all the pelts from sealers over the years, Carino, did not buy pelts this year due to excess stockpiles.
The new seal skin processor has said that his goal is to establish a seal fur industry in China. Given the economics of selling to the Chinese market, it is unlikely that this project will be a success.
Canada's Killing Quotas vs the Precautionary Principle
Even though harp seals are ice seals, that is, they are dependent on thick, large floes of sea ice for whelping, and such floes are decreasing due to climate change, the Canadian government maintains high kill quotas on these seals.
The official quotas for killing seals in Canada in 2015 were as follows (from the DFO website):
"The Hooded Seal Total Allowable Catch for 2015 is rolled over from 2014. The Total Allowable Catch is 8,200 animals."
"The Total Allowable Catch for Harp Seals for the 2015 season is set at 400,000 animals. This includes a 20,000 developmental quota for approved projects."
"The grey seal Total Allowable Catch for 2015 will be set at 60,000 animals, which is a rollover from 2014. The Total Allowable Catch specific to Hay Island, Nova Scotia is 1900 animals, which is also a rollover from 2014."
The Precautionary Principle of wildlife management, to which Canada claims to adhere, requires that the government avoid policies that may jeopardize the future of the species, taking the more conservative approach to management, whenever there is uncertainty about how a management policy will affect the population.
According to the DFO's own scientists, M.O. Hammill and G.B. Stenson, "Over the last decade, we have incorporated a level of ice-related mortality into the assessment, but this has been based on expert opinion, with little attempt to define more rigorous parameters." (Changes in ice conditions and potential impact on harp seal pupping, Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, Research Document 2014/025, August 2014)
Grey Seals Killed in 2015
Grey seal pup. Photo: PA
Sealers also killed 910 grey seal pups in the Magdalen Islands region. This is the official number that does not include any seals who were injured by got away.
When seals are injured but escape, they are called 'struck and lost' and are not counted in the official tally. This is less common with grey seals, who are killed on land, than it is with harp seals, who are killed on ice floes.
Brief Background on the Seal Slaughter Worldwide
The two largest massacres of seals in the world are the harp seal slaughter in Canada and the Cape fur seal massacre in Namibia. There are some significant differences between the two in the ways in which the killing is conducted and in the politics behind the slaughter, but there are also similarities.
In both massacres, seal pups are the main targets; and they are killed in their rookeries. In the Canadian harp seal slaughter, the pups are just three weeks to three months of age. Although they have been weaned already (at about 10 days to 2 weeks of age), they are still playful babies who are years away from being sexually mature adults. Harp seals are born on vast ice floes and stay on the ice for the first few weeks of their lives, until they are able to swim. Read more about the Canadian seal 'hunt' here.
Most of the Cape fur seals who are killed in Namibia are less than a year old and are still nursing. They are born on islands and beaches. There are seal 'reserves' in Namibia at Cape Cross and Atlas Bay at which seals pups are separated from their mothers and clubbed and stabbed to death in front of each other and still near their mothers, every day for over 4 months. The daily massacre in the crowded seal reserves causes chronic stress for the seals. The consequences of such chronic stress are not well known but likely include abandonment of pups by panicking mothers and malnutrition. Read more about the Cape fur seal massacre here.
The Kill Quotas are Astronomical, but the Numbers Killed are Decreasing
Sealer drags harp seal pup onto boat. Photo from HSUS/HSI video 2014
Since the European Union and subsequently, Russia and Taiwan banned imports of seal products, the demand for seal fur and seal oil has decreased. With declining markets for seal products, fewer seals are being killed. Although the Canadian government has maintained kill quotas of 400,000 seal pups over the past several years, the actual numbers of seals killed has been far less.
In 2014, Canada's sealers (who are off-season fishermen) killed 54,661 harp seal pups in the second and main phase of the slaughter, which takes place off the coast of Newfoundland, and 145 seal pups in the first phase. This is down from over 90,000 seal pups in 2013.
In Namibia, where the government has set a quota of 80,000 seal pups and 6,000 bulls each year, clubbers killed almost 26,000 seal pups and were not expected to reach the quota of bulls. The government has claimed that this is due to insufficient processing plants, but, more likely, it is due to decreased demand for seal fur coats and other seal products.
Politics of Seals and Sealing
Harp seal pup. Photo by Eric Baccega
Why are seals killed? In part, they are killed because a small number of people (off-season fishermen) can make money from killing them and from selling seal fur, blubber, and other body parts. Beyond this, conflicts between fishermen and seals fuel the killing and the support of governments for these massacres. In Canada, the fishing industry is behind the slaughter, lobbying for increased killing of harp seals and for a large slaughter of grey seals. The fishing industry is a strong political force, especially in Newfoundland, the main province from which the sealers hail. Read more about the politics of the Canadian seal 'hunt' here.
In Namibia, the ties to the fishing industry are indirect (since the clubbers are not fishermen but are unskilled seasonal laborers), but government officials have admitted that they support the slaughter because they believe that seals eat too much fish, competing with the fishing fleets that bring the nation significant revenues.
All over the world, fishermen scapegoat seals when their catches decline, rather than addressing issues of over-fishing, ocean pollution, and climate change. Read more about the ecological issues surrounding the seal slaughters here.
The slaughter of seals is horrific. Since Canada has laws requiring transparency and freedom of access, observers are allowed to document the killing. These efforts have contributed to the closing of markets to seal products. Transparency poses a threat to the industry, so the main seal pelt processor in Newfoundland, Carino, is trying to reduce the exposure of the killing to the public by having a bill introduced into Parliament.
Namibia, on the other hand, has no such laws requiring transparency or public access, so it has effectively prohibited any independent observation and documentation of the Cape fur seal slaughter. Nevertheless, undercover investigators have managed to obtain footage of the killing and even document violations of the regulations (which do not mitigate the cruelty anyway).
One person who has observed the slaughter of seal pups for many years and who was born and raised in the sealing province of Newfoundland and Labrador is Rebecca Aldworth of Humane Society International. In her journal, she described what she saw on the ice floes:
"As we passed one large red vessel, we saw sealers jump off the side onto the ice. They ran towards a single live seal pup, hakapiks in hand.
The pup, sensing danger, tried desperately to crawl towards the edge of the water. But the two men bearing down on her were faster. One sealer struck her on the side, then twice again on the head. He grabbed her hind flippers and pulled her back across the ice, stopping to club her twice more. He grabbed her front flipper and turned her over.
But then the second sealer kicked the wounded pup with his boot. Seeing a reaction, he motioned to the first sealer, who clubbed her four more times on the head.
Not to be outdone, the second sealer grabbed his hakapik and clubbed the baby seal once more. He flipped her over and began to cut her open -- only to roll her back over so the first sealer could club her three more times. This poor baby seal was clubbed thirteen times in total."
Harpseals.org conducted studies to assess the effectiveness of the Canadian seafood boycott campaign. We have found that Americans are very willing to join the boycott. In fact, two months after viewing our edited 30 second TV spot, over 45% of people polled in our nationwide study are willing to participate in the Canadian seafood boycott: over 25% are boycotting Canadian seafood or intend to boycott Canadian seafood; another 21% say that they would join the boycott if they knew how. After they learn about the Candian seal slaughter, what we have found is that they simply need to know how to identify Canadian seafood.
Snow crabs from Canada are being boycotted.
Harpseals.org aims to inform Americans about the seal hunt and provide Americans with the knowledge they need to help end the slaughter - by boycotting Canadian seafood. Now we have a new, updated TV commercial. Please help us conduct a national advertising campaign for the seals.