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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
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.
Harp seal mother and whitecoat pup. Photo: Eric Baccega
Cape fur seal pups are massacred for their fur and blubber in Namibia from July to November. They are killed in so-called 'seal reserves', where pups are born and nurse for up to a year. These pups are still nursing when they are forcibly separated from their mothers, corralled in an area of the reserve, and then clubbed and stabbed to death, in the vicinity of their mothers.
This horrible killing takes place 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.
Cape fur seal bulls are also killed, shot for their genitalia, which are considered aphrodisiacs in China and some other countries in Asia.
Cape fur seal pup
This massacre occurs every morning and wreaks havoc on the seal community, creating panic and continual stress that can have many long-term consequences.
Cape fur seals are already suffering mass die-offs all too often, due to the poor availability of prey in many years.
Sealer clubs injured seal pup after shooting this pup and the other nearby. Photo HSI from 2015 video footage.
Canada's Seal Massacre Was a Bust for Sealers But a Horror for Over 35,000 Seal Pups
According to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), sealers killed 35,304 harp seal pups in 2015. This number is far less than the quota of 400,000 harp seal pups.
These days, the Canadian government's quotas reflect its desire to provoke anti-sealing activists more than to set realistic Total Allowable Catches (TAC's).
For a summary of the seal slaughter in 2015, click here.
When Canada's seal slaughter ends for good, we will look back to 2009 as the beginning of the end. This is when the European Union banned imports of seal fur and other products made from seals.
After this announcement, markets for seal products plummeted and the killing declined.
The sealing industry and the governments that support them, Canada, Namibia, and Norway, fought the EU ban on multiple fronts. In 2014, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the ban did not violate free trade rules in its essence but that certain aspects of the ban were in conflict with free trade rules.
In July 2015, the EU modified the ban. The new wording eliminates the exemption for seal products obtained from Europe's much smaller seal culls that are done at the fishing industry's behest. This means that although some EU nations, such as Norway, Sweden, and Scotland may continue to allow such culls, the seals killed in them cannot become trading commodities.
The EU modifications still allow trade in seal products obtained from Inuit "subsistence hunts." The EU must ensure that customs officers can differentiate between seal products obtained from such hunts and other seal products that are illegal to import into the EU. If the seal products come from hunts conducted for subsistence purposes, they will be made from adult seals, not the young beaters or ragged jackets targeted by fishermen for their pristine coats.
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 in 2014, 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.
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)
Politics of Seals and Sealing
Harp seal pup. Photo by Eric Baccega
Why are harp 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 2013 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.