Harpseals.org is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Charity Working to End the Slaughter of Harp Seals in Canada
This year, over 66,800 seal pups were killed in Canada's bloody, cruel slaughter
The official number does not include "struck and lost" seals who were injured but got away, only to die later of their wounds.
The killing began on April 10th and continued for about a month. Most seal pups were born in March, so when they were killed, they were only about one to two months of age.
This cruel, senseless killing must end. Please join us and demand an end to the seal massacre.
This seal pup was shot on April 13, 2016. Photo: Rebecca Aldworth, HSI 2016
Sealing in Namibia is Happening Now
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 in February or March on vast ice floes and stay on the ice for the first few weeks of their lives, until they are able to swim.
Cape fur seal pups are massacred in Namibia from July to November. They are killed in so-called 'seal reserves', beach colonies 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.
Clubbers killing Cape fur seals. Photo: AP
In both seal massacres, seal pups are killed for their fur and blubber. In the case of Namibia, Cape fur seal bulls are also killed, in this case for their genitalia (which are considered aphrodisiacs in parts of Asia). The same thing used to happen in Canada, but this either does not happen now or is rare. It is not part of the 'official' seal kill.
The horrible Cape fur seal massacre takes place every day for over 4 months. The daily massacre in the crowded seal reserves causes panic and 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 seals are already suffering mass die-offs all too often, due to the poor availability of prey in many years.
Read more about the Cape fur seal massacre here.
Canada's Liberal Government Continues Reckless, Wasteful, Cruel Policies of Its Predecessor
Despite his name, Stephen Harper was not a friend of the harp seals. Neither was his fisheries minister, Gail Shea.
In the last few years, Shea established a kill quota of 400,000 harp seal pups, knowing full well that the market for seal pelts afforded sealers the opportunity to kill about 10% of this number of seals.
In 2015, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau was elected, giving environmentalists and seal lovers hope for positive change.
Unfortunately, Canada's new government appears to be continuing the policies of the Harper government.
The Liberal platform states, "We will use scientific evidence and the precautionary principle, and take into account climate change, when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management."
The government's own scientists have stated that many seal pups will drown this year as a result of climate change and the very poor sea ice conditions that it is causing. Despite this, the Trudeau government will allow the seal 'hunt' to take place this year, even in the areas most affected by poor sea ice.
It is expected that even more seals will be killed this year than last year because the main seal pelt processor, Carino, is planning to buy the pelts of 50,000 seal pups.
The Trudeau government also continues to provide commercial sealing subsidies even though the 'hunt' is not economically viable.
The Trudeau government is developing a "certification program" to promote Inuit commercial sealing and trade. This is an effort to exploit the loophole in the European Union ban on seal product imports. It is also a misguided effort to right the wrongs of past administrations in their treatment of the Inuit communities.
If the EU abides by the precepts that it established in creating this loophole, the efforts of the Trudeau administration should fail.
The EU policy states, "Inuits will be allowed to sell seal products in the EU only if their hunting methods have due regard to animal welfare, are a part of their tradition and contribute to its subsistence."
Traditional Inuit sealing involves killing just the number of adult seals required to feed and clothe the population. On the contrary, Inuits involved in commercial sealing target pups, just like the white sealers/off-season fishermen who kill seals in Quebec, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.
The pups have a much smaller amount of flesh, making them less desirable for subsistence hunters, who eat them, but more desirable for commercial sealers, due to the "better quality" of seal pup fur.
Minister Tootoo seems to view the seal 'hunt' differently from his predecessors. His support seems to stem from his belief that commercial sealing is important for the Inuit; whereas previous Fisheries Ministers were more beholden to the fishing industry, acting on behalf of fishermen who believed that seals represented competition for fish and that reducing their numbers would lead to a larger catch for the industry. This ignores the complexity of the food web.
Read more about Inuit sealing issues here.
Please take action and write to the Trudeau government today.
How many seals will survive before the 'hunt' in 2016?
Late February and early March is the time in which harp seal pups are born. In this century, it has been a time of trepidation for seal lovers and conservationists. Not only do harp seals face clubbing with hakapiks at just a few weeks of age, but in the first few weeks of their lives, before they learn how to swim, they face the threat of drowning.
Harp seal mother and whitecoat pup. Photo: Eric Baccega
This is because harp seals are born on sea ice floes, and these floes have been more sparse and thinner due to climate change.
The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is warning that there will be few pups who survive in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence this year, due to the very poor state of the sea ice.
This year the effect of El Niño is exacerbating the effects of climate change, so much so, that all seal tours in Canada have been canceled.
DFO scientists are uncertain whether harp seals will be able to adapt to the changing climate and abandon their usual pupping areas in the Gulf, choosing to stay further north instead.
Learn more about seal conservation issues here.
Before any announcement about a seal quota for 2016, please take a moment to send an email to Canadian officials, urging them to stop the seal "hunt."
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.
The beginning of the end
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.
Another reason why seals are killed in Canada is the "guilt factor." Years ago, the Canadian government mistreated the Inuit by, among other things, forcing the children to attend boarding schools, where they were forbidden from speaking their language or maintaining their culture. Over the years, the government connected commercial sealing to Inuit traditional sealing in the minds of Canadians and promoted commercial sealing by Inuit, Now many citizens are loathe to put an end to commercial sealing due to the notion that this would adversely affect the Inuit and the guilt that they feel regarding past transgressions.
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."
You can help end this atrocity
Please join us in boycotting Canadian and Namibian seafood and tourism and spreading the word about the cruel slaughter.
We depend on your donations to spread the word, with outreach at fairs, billboards, tv commercials (like the one below), and printing and distributing leaflets.
Use our automated emails to contact Canada's leaders, Namibia's leaders, and others who can help stop the slaughter.
Read about more ways to help here.
Help the Seals - Boycott Canadian Seafood
How can you help end the slaughter of seal pups in Canada? The best way is to join the boycott of Canadian seafood.
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.
In addition to boycotting Canadian seafood, please boycott tourism to Canada, especially to the Maritimes provinces.