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* Seal hunt stalemate

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* Twenty years later, seal hunt still gets subsidies

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* Time for graceful exit from sealing

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Seal Hunt 2015 - Opinion Articles

Here we reprint opinion articles both for and against the seal hunt. They may have mistakes and misinformation and be deceptive, but we believe that it is beneficial to see what those who support the seal hunt claim.

We strongly encourage opponents of the seal slaughter to respond to these articles with letters to the editors of the newspapers and magazines and also with comments on the websites after becoming informed by reading factual information on Harpseals.org.

We will also include some of our comments, which we often post on these websites.



Seal hunt stalemate

July 25, 2015
Letters to the Editor
The Telegram

There’s been a lot of discussion about Rod Stewart this week and his flip-flop on the issue of seal fur.

As many readers have noted, Rod is no stranger to the luxuries of fur. He appears to be the owner of several lavish fur garments, and his entourage borrowed fur-trimmed capes for their performance.

Here in Newfoundland, Rod’s reversal and his rejection of the seal hunt seems to sting. So we laugh at ol’ Rod, call him a hypocrite and misinformed. It makes us feel good about ourselves, and about the seal hunt — for a little while.

What we continue to fail to realize is that many people — yes, even those who wear fur — simply aren’t comfortable with the seal hunt and do not want to be associated with it. We can call them hypocrites, but the reality is we all have different values for different animals.

We pet dogs, but pelt seals — their close relatives. We are outraged by dog-meat eating festivals, and rally together to support the welfare of our beloved canines and felines, but defend the seal hunt until we are blue in the face.

As a Newfoundlander, I understand the seal hunt was a fundamental segment of our history. But it occurs to me that we are about as likely to convince the world to accept seal products as we are to start eating dog meat. Perhaps it is time to start thinking of alternatives and promoting some of the other wonderful aspects of our beautiful province?

Renee Gosse
Mount Pearl



The Government's Grey Seal Cull Is Not Based on Science

By Sheryl Fink
July 15, 2015

Grey seal pup- AP
Grey seal pup. Photo: AP

An internal government memo obtained recently by the Blacklock's Reporter and marked "SECRET" confirms that there is no scientific link between grey seals and fish stocks, completely destroying Canada's claims that grey seals need to be culled to protect groundfish.

The 2015 memo to the Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans states that "no explicit science linkage has been identified between diminishing groundfish resources and the increased presence of grey seals..." but that "anecdotal commentary by fishermen indicate their belief in a strong correlation between these two species..."

Could it be spelled out any more clearly?

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is well aware that there is no scientific linkage between grey seal populations and groundfish stocks. There is only "anecdotal commentary" and "belief."

In addition, her own departmental scientists have pointed out that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that culling seals will assist in fish stock recovery, and have further stated that "it is not possible to specify a level of reduction that would be necessary or sufficient to reverse the cod decline."

Yet Canadian politicians continue to insist we need to cull grey seals, based on anecdotal evidence from fishermen who see the seals as a competitor for "their" fish.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a long history of making management decisions based on politics -- and perhaps now "belief" -- rather than science. But Canada's obsession with killing seals these days is truly baffling.

It's not as though there are commercial markets for seal products. In fact, the industry has always struggled to find markets for grey seal products. And it has not been for lack of effort or funding. Every year millions of tax dollars are handed out for new marketing viability studies and "research and development" of seal products.

Despite the complete failure of these efforts, the Harper government has pledged another $5.7 million to market seal products, and the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has offered the sealing industry $9.2 million in bailout loans since 2012.

The situation is so desperate that the Canadian government is now considering the potential of marketing seal penises as aphrodisiacs in Asia.

No scientific basis to cull grey seals, no commercial markets for the products and, let's face it -- support for the seal hunt is not going to be an election winner, even in Atlantic Canada.

We don't need a grey seal cull. It is time to stop wasting taxpayers' dollars trying to justify killing these marine mammals, and instead learn how to manage our own activities so that we may co-exist in harmony with them.



Twenty years later, suckling seal hunt still can’t wean itself from federal support

By Sheryl Fink
The Hill Times
May 4, 2015

In my files I have a 1996 internal government memo that recommends phasing out the Canadian Sealing Assistance Program “within two to three years.” I look at it often, and wonder if it will ever happen. Fast forward 20 years, and the seal hunt’s dependence on government support continues, with the latest $5.7-million for the sealing industry included as a highlight of last week’s budget announcement.

The Allowable Catch for this year is set at 400,000 harp seals, 60,000 grey seals and 8,200 hooded seals, but it is highly unlikely that the hunt will come anywhere close to this.

Once again, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has offered loans of $2-million to seal processors. Carino Ltd, a Norwegian-owned company and beneficiary of previous loans, sensibly refused the offer, noting that they still had plenty of pelts remaining in stockpile. PhocaLux International, a newcomer to the seal processing business, will use the loan to purchase some 35,000 skins from its members at about $30 a piece, prices similar to those offered last year.

With so few active sealers remaining, the Canadian Sealers Association announced they would be closing their doors, at least temporarily. The 2015 seal hunt will potentially be one of the smallest in recent memory.

The slow death of the seal hunt – despite decades of government support - is not surprising. What is more baffling is that the Harper government is so intent on propping up this boondoggle.

The commercial seal hunt as it exists today is essentially a Liberal make-work project, introduced by Brian Tobin in 1995 to deflect attention from the fact that the cod moratorium was going to last just a wee bit longer than the two years originally promised. There was “only one major player” still fishing the cod, cried Captain Canada, and “his first name is harp and his second name is seal”! Fishermen cheered and anyone with a basic grasp of ecology died a little inside.

An increase in allowable catch, and hundreds of million in subsides got the ball rolling, but not for long. The sealing industry acknowledges it blew itself apart in 2006 by paying too much for poor quality skins and flooding the market. Then came the 2009 European ban on commercially hunted seal products, followed by Russian and Taiwanese bans; new rumblings of bans from China; a failed challenge by Canada before the World Trade Organization; the WTO ruling that animal welfare was a legitimate public morals concern that could justify trade bans; and Norway ending government subsidies for their seal hunt. Back in Canada, the sealing industry has required bailout loans for four years in a row, loans that exceed the annual landed value of the hunt.

The Harper government’s enthusiasm for this Liberal boondoggle is even more baffling when you consider the return they will get from Newfoundland in the next election. They will get no thanks, no votes, and just more complaints that they are not doing enough to support the precious—and apparently priceless—seal hunt.

Honestly, it is difficult to see what more Canada could do. We created the position of fisheries ambassador to work on market access for seal products. We fought bravely for the seal hunt “on principle” at the WTO, and we lost. We funnel millions of dollars year after year into the industry and various sealers’ associations for seal product research, development, and marketing. We send delegations to high-end fur shows in China to promote Canadian sealskins. We hold “seal day” and other various events, forcing MPs and media to choke back seal meat canapés with a straight face, often to a photographer’s delight.

It is not for lack of government support that this industry has failed. Animal welfare concerns aside, sealing has always faced marketing challenges due to the nature of the products, and always will. The seal market research reports in 2015 are practically identical to those produced 20 years ago: highlighting the challenges of marketing seal meat due to its “unique” taste, the promise of ever-elusive Asian markets, and proposing creative uses for dead seals that will almost certainly never be commercially viable.

Twenty years on, it is clear that the revival of commercial sealing has failed. It has failed fishermen, failed communities, and failed Canadian taxpayers.

Even in Newfoundland, there seems to be a tacit acceptance that the days of the seal hunt are over and perhaps it is time to move on. That message has not yet made its way to Ottawa, but it should, and quickly.

It’s time to stop beating a dead seal. With fewer than 400 active sealers in recent years, the money wasted trying to keep the seal hunt alive could be put to much better use through support for a sealer’s licence buyout and providing viable development opportunities for out port communities.

Sheryl Fink is director, Canadian Wildlife Issues, International Fund for Animal Welfare.



Time may be right to discuss U.S. seal products ban: minister

Glen Whiffen
April 24, 2015

Recent comments in the national media by Bruce Heyman, the United States ambassador to Canada, that he wanted to foster deeper trade relationships between the U.S. and individual provinces of Canada got Keith Hutchings thinking about seals.

Hutchings, the province’s minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, decided to write to Heyman about the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972 that includes a ban on seal products being imported into the U.S.

In addition to cutting off a potential market for Canada’s sealing industry, the MMPA has, at times, led to embarrassing incidents for Canadians travelling to the United States.

Such a case was recently highlighted in the media of a Corner Brook woman having her sealskin purse confiscated when she was entering the United States.

Hutchings said after Heyman was quoted in the Globe and Mail about planning to encourage United State governors to visit Canada and explore opportunities for trade in the various provinces, he felt the time was right to raise the seal product ban.

“I’d like to meet with him to discuss the issue so he can be fully briefed and get an understanding of what the industry is here and how it is conducted,” Hutchings said Friday.

“Obviously, it is one of the most well-managed and humane hunts in the world. We stick by that, and we certainly would like to see him get a better understanding of that, if he doesn’t already.”

Hutchings said people who don’t know the sealing industry need to understand how it supports people in coastal and rural communities, and how important it is as an addition to the province’s overall fishing industry.

In the letter, Hutchings asks Heyman whether they can meet to discuss the issue.

He stated: “Harp seals (the primary species harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador) are not an endangered species. In fact, seal overpopulation along the eastern coastline may be a significant ecological threat at present. Since 1970, the harp seal population has tripled, and as of 2014 stood at 7.3 million animals.

“The Government of Canada shares our government’s commitment to continue to be strong supporters of the sealing industry as an important cultural and economic practice in Canada. Our government also supports Canada’s efforts to oppose seal products bans, (which are) based on the mistaken view that seals are not harvested humanely. This view does not reflect the reality that Canada’s seal harvest is one of the best-managed and humane in the world.

“I ask that you consider recommending to your government that the MMPA and the seal products ban be lifted as an unnecessary and counter-productive trade irritant.”




Seal hunt inhumane? How about a bullfight?
The hypocrisy of the European Union's ban on Canadian seal products

By Jane Adey
CBC News
Apr 23, 2015

My suitcase was just about full and I was ticking off my packing list before heading off for a couple of fascinating weeks in Europe.

It was mid-March and I knew the temperatures in Germany and Spain might be on the chilly side from time to time. I had scarves and warm sweaters and I was looking forward to sporting a pair of stylish new gloves I had been given for Christmas.

Spanish bullfight - photo Jane Adey - CBC
Ivan Fandino is a famous Spanish bullfighter. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Trouble was, those black leather beauties had a seal-fur cuff. I decided to leave them at home for fear they'd be snatched from me at customs.

The European Union, as you're probably aware, bans all seal products from Canada. Last year, the World Trade Organization appeals process upheld an earlier ruling that the EU's seal regime is "necessary to protect public morals." There are exceptions for European travellers who buy seal products in other countries, but I didn't want to take a chance.

The ban has always seemed to me to be a hypocritical policy, but never more so, than after an unforgettable day in Madrid — a bullfight at Las Ventas Bullring.

When I travel, I think it's important to try and understand the culture. Sure, taking in good food, wine, museums and architecture is all part of the experience in a new country, but there's nothing like immersing yourself in a long standing tradition to give you a feel for the culture.

We had seen an amazing flamenco performance in Barcelona and now we were entering a huge stadium in Madrid for a much different Spanish spectacle. We parked any sort of judgment we might have had at the gate and took our seats among the other 25,000 people who had come out to the event.

It was the first fight of the season and there was a palpable sense of excitement among locals in the stands. Young and old were there to watch bullfighter, Ivan Fandino, go up against six angry bulls. Before any animal appeared in the arena, Fandino and his team, known as a "cuadrilla," presented themselves to the president and executive committee of the bullfight.

Fandino and the others wore what looked like black ballet slippers, bright pink tights and some of the most gorgeous and flamboyant embroidered costumes I had ever seen. At that point, it seemed like such a piece of theatre to me. Once the first bull was released from its dark holding pen, it didn't take long to realize that the drama we were about to witness was not staged in any way.

Fandino's cuadrilla was made up of one sword servant and five other men. The five were essentially, as far as I could see, a team of tormentors. It was their job to wear down the raging bull before the matador came in for the fight. There were three banderilleros who each planted two barbed sticks in the bull's shoulders.

The two picadors were mounted on horseback with sharp lances. It was their job to encourage the bull to attack the horse so they could get close enough to jab the mounds of muscle in the bull's thick neck. (The horse, by the way, was covered in armour on one side and blindfolded.)

By the time Fandino took his place in the ring, the bull was dripping with blood. Fandino tested the bull's savagery with a large pink and yellow cape before reaching for the smaller red muleta. He tucked his sword underneath. The red cape signified the final stage of the fight called the "tercio de muerte" or "the third of death."

The rules say the matador must, at that stage, kill the bull within 15 minutes. After dozens of passes under the hidden sword and cries of "Olé" from the cheering crowd, death was imminent for the bull. Fandino revealed the sword, aimed it straight at the exhausted animal, lunged forward and dug the blade in deeply between the bull's shoulder blades.

Fandino's cuadrilla re-emerged with yellow capes as the bull staggered and struggled to stay alive. There was one final, lethal act from a banderillero with what looked liked a dagger and a quick blow to the bull's head.

Seconds later a team of men and horses rushed into the ring, tied ropes around the bull and its horns and dragged it, lifeless, out of the stadium.

In that moment, some might have been disgusted; others would have probably expressed anger and outrage, but what I felt overwhelmingly, after seeing that first bull die, and others after, was complete confusion. How could any government in the European Union consider a regulated seal harvest in Newfoundland and Labrador inhumane?

Our Spanish neighbour in the stands that day, made us feel right at home. He explained the stages of the fight and told us about the breeding of the bulls. He fed us smoked sausage and bread and introduced us to his friends and family. The reporter in me considered asking him about how he felt about the seal hunt and whether he thought it was fair to kill bulls for entertainment while Newfoundlanders and Labradorians killed seals as part of a livelihood.

I didn't ask those questions. You see, I was only there to observe their culture and learn a bit about their traditions. I didn't feel I had any right to make him and his family feel shame for their involvement in a weekend bullfight. I wouldn't consider calling for an end to bull fighting in all of the arenas in Spain. So, why then, does the European Union feel it has a right to ban seal products as a way of indirectly shutting down the seal hunt?

To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about bullfighting. After all, I had just seen one fight, on one day and I know so very little about the history and what everyday Spaniards think. I might not be ready to take a position one way or the other on this tradition, and who am I to judge, but I'm pretty sure I know where I stand on hypocrisy.

[HSO: Is there a country in the world that does not have any example of immoral, despicable treatment of animals? Animals are suffering all over the world. Should compassionate people sit silently by because there are examples of cruelty to animals in their own country? Or should we fight for an end to cruelty everywhere that it exists?]



Time for Canada to make a graceful exit from the seal hunt

By Rebecca Aldworth
Apr 20, 2015 5:08 pm

Sealer drags harp seal pup - photo Canadian Press Jonathan Hayward 2005

The commercial sealing season is not an easy time to be a Canadian politician. On the one hand, sealers constantly criticize them for not doing enough to promote and protect the industry. On the other, animal protection groups and Canadian taxpayers condemn government support for this outdated slaughter, and the pointless allocation of tens of millions of dollars in subsidies that keep it going.

But what if there was a way to keep everyone happy? What if Canada could gracefully exit this controversy with the full support of sealing communities? The good news is that such a solution exists — and Canada has applied it successfully before.

A sealing industry buyout would offer sealers financial compensation for retiring their licenses while economic alternatives are developed in the communities involved.

It’s exactly what our nation did in the 1970s when Canada imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling. Whalers were paid for their licenses and Canada invested in economic diversification in fishing regions. Today, whale watching and other marine ecotourism provides crucial employment in many coastal communities affected by fisheries closures.

You might think, given the posturing by the Canadian Sealers Association and some elected officials, that this plan would be opposed by most sealers. But polling suggests half of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion are in support of the idea — and that’s without any government promotion or endorsement of the concept.

This year, the Newfoundland government offered up a whopping $2 million in financing for processors to buy seal products. Yet the largest buyer of seal fur in Canada, the Norwegian-owned Carino Processing Ltd., rejected the funding, noting the company still has a stockpile of seal skins.

Another company — a startup called PhocaLux — is taking the financing with the goal of developing markets in China. But we all know that millions of dollars have been spent trying to develop that market over the years, and those efforts have failed. There’s a good reason for that: Seal products are not a good fit for the Chinese market, which is already saturated with its own fur production and increasingly is the target of vocal opposition from a fast-growing domestic animal protection movement.

Carino CEO Dion Dakins has attempted to claim that the seal hunt is a form of population control needed to protect fish stocks. But Fisheries and Oceans scientists are clear: Harp seals, the primary targets of commercial sealing in Canada, do not have a negative impact on cod stocks, either through direct consumption or through competition for prey species. Moreover, this ice-breeding population is contending with rising mortality as climate change destroys its sea ice habitat.

The commercial sealing industry employs just a few hundred seasonal workers and contributes just a tiny fraction to the GDPs of Newfoundland and Canada. Yet it costs Canadians millions in tax dollars to defend and promote. It also comes at a high cost to our international reputation.

Despite government efforts to change regulations, animal protection groups still document instances of cruelty — including conscious seal pups impaled on metal hooks and dragged across the ice and wounded seals left to suffer. As these images are broadcast around the world, the international community can only ask how a nation as progressive as Canada can allow this to continue. With veterinary studies concluding commercial sealing is inherently inhumane and Canadian government landings reports confirming 98 per cent of the seals killed are pups less than three months of age, the public outrage seems justified.

There are so many compelling animal welfare, ecological and economic reasons to end the commercial seal hunt. For the seals, the sealers and all Canadians, it’s time we figured out a way to work together to achieve that goal.

Rebecca Aldworth is executive director of the Humane Society International/Canada
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.


EU seal ban

Seal ban undermines EU credibility in Arctic

Seal skin - Arctic Journal
OPINION Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder

By Bill Justinussen and Randi V Evaldsen
April 15, 2015

Given Brussels’ goal of playing a larger role in the Arctic, one would expect it would be more concerned about the effect its seal ban has. That it is does not bodes ill for its future on the region

Each year, the leadership of the West Nordic Council meets with a delegation from the EU to discuss its policies that affect our member countries: the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland.

On the agenda for this year’s meeting, which took place on March 26 in Brussels: the development and the activities of the West Nordic Council and the EU, the Arctic, the environment and, not least, the EU’s ban on seal imports.

Present at the meeting for the West Nordic Council were chairman Bill Justinussen, who also serves as a member of the Løgting, the Faroese national legislature, and Randi V Evaldsen, a member of Greenland’s Inatsisartut. The EU was represented by Jørn Dohrmann, a Danish MEP who heads the an European Parliament’s delegation responsible for relations with our region, and Marit Paulsen, the Swedish vice-chair.

When it comes to the seal ban, the West Nordic Council was interested in discussing how the EU was planning to alter its so-called Inuit exemption after the WTO last year found that it could be in violation of international trade regulations.

To make the West Nordic Council’s position clear, Ms Evaldsen first showed a video produced by Inuit Sila, a pro-seal organisation, and which explains that the Inuit seal hunt is sustainable. She also enquired about whether it was true that the EU plans to impose a complete ban on the import of seal products, which would prevent Greenland from utilising its natural resources.

Ms Evaldsen further explained that Greenland has used large sums of money to promote its seal hunt and to document the sustainablity of its seal hunt, as well as make clear that seals hunted are not endangered in any way.

She then urged the EU to fund efforts to restore consumer confidence in seal products. At the same time, she made it clear that the EU cannot be considered to be a credible player in the Arctic if it does not take steps that will help Greenland.

Mr Justinussen, supporting Ms Evaldsen’s argument, added that that given the EU’s goal of becoming an accredited observer on the Arctic Council, he would have expected that the union would be actively working to change public opinion about the seal hunt. He noted that the EU has, in fact, generally made life difficult for west-Nordic countries. The boycott of Faroese mackerel and herring last year was another EU decision that had made it more difficult for the West Nordic Council to co-operate with the EU on Arctic issues. Mr Justinussen made it clear that the way the EU choses to react to the WTO decision will be decisive for determining what kind of relationship it has with the Arctic.

Mr Dohrmann and Ms Paulsen took note of the West Nordic Council’s position and asked a number of serious questions. Mr Dohrmann welcomed a discussion about the issue, and admitted that Greenlandic seal was a natural a product as could be found. He underscored, however, that the matter is one that must be discussed by all 28 member states, and that that necessarily meant compromises would need to be made.

In response, Mr Justinussen explained that the despite the good intention of the Inuit exemption, it had hurt Greenlandic hunters, and he called on the EU delegation to work on behalf of the people it had unintentionally impacted.

The EU, he noted again, is intent on playing a role in the Arctic, but undermining the way of life of hunters precludes any interest Arctic states might have in collaboration. Instead, Mr Justiniussen urged the EU to use its clout to support the west-Nordic countries by speaking up for their populations, given that they, on their own, are too small to have an influence abroad.

Ms Paulsen, a keen supporter of animal welfare, expressed her satisfaction with the information she had received during the meeting, and explained that the animal rights groups that had pushed for the ban in the first place were chiefly concerned about the methods used to kill seals during the hunt.

In response, Ms Evaldsen explained that many people confused Canadian seal-hunting methods with Greenlandic seal-hunting methods, and used the opportunity to present the delegation with the report “Management and Utilisation of Seals in Greenland”.

Mr Justinussen underscored that, even with public awareness campaigns, it was hard to compete with the deep-pocketed animal-rights groups and appealed to the delegation to help publicly set the record straight.

Ms Paulsen explained that animal-rights groups could accept a commerical seal hunt, provided it were sustainable, provided the hunting methods are humane. She proposed having the Greenlandic government, seal-product producers and hunters invite foreign journalists to witness the seal hunt first-hand so they could report about it to their home countries.

She also suggested that the EU could organise an event that would describe the various hunting methods. The West Nordic Council would welcome such a measure as way to give decision-makers a better idea of how the Greenlandic seal hunt is carried out.

The authors are the chair and the alternate vice-chair of the West Nordic Council.



Greenlanders' way of life heads for extinction

Greenland and its colonial big brother Denmark are appealing to the European Union to lift the ban on commercial seal hunting.

Greenlanders fear the end of a way of life.

Greenland sealing boat - Photo DW - M. Brabant
The centuries old Greenlandic profession of seal hunting is heading towards extinction, campaigners claim. Photo DW - M. Brabant

Malcolm Brabant reports from Ilulissat.

The centuries old Greenlandic profession of seal hunting is heading towards extinction, campaigners claim.

"To a large extent it's the last call for a lot of the hunters," says Rasmus Holm of Inuit Sila, the Greenlandic Hunters and Fishermen's Association. "If the current crisis continues, they won't have any alternative but claiming social security."

Greenland and Denmark are appealing to the European Union to lift the ban on commercial seal hunting, which was imposed in 2009, after legislators reacted to images of Canadian baby seals being clubbed to death.

The world's biggest island is desperate to find a market for seal fur to help sustain the subsistence economy.


Harpseals.org says: Definition of Subsistence Economy: "A subsistence economy is a non-monetary economy which relies on natural resources to provide for basic needs, through hunting, gathering, and subsistence agriculture." - Wikipedia


Greenlanders insist their methods of dispatching the marine mammals are humane. Most hunters use rifles. And according to their figures, Greenland has more than 12 million seals. The hunters are only "harvesting" 150,000 a year.

Greenland homes - Photo - DW - M Brabant
The number of full-time seal hunters has been falling. Photo DW - M. Brabant

The latest survey says the number of full-time hunters has declined by a third over the past nine years.

"They are being pressurized on a lot of levels: climate change, globalization and modernity," says Holm.

Sustainable hunting

Nowhere is there more substantial proof of climate change than the giant Jakobshavn glacier above the picturesque fishing village of Ilulissat in western Greenland, opposite Canada.


Harpseals.org says: Many seal species depend on sea ice for their survival. As global climate change reduces the extent, duration, and thickness of sea ice, these seal species are threatened with extinction.


The glacier is being eroded underneath by sea temperatures that have risen by one to two degrees Celsius over the past two decades. This icescape is moving at the rate of 40 meters a day (44 yards), or 15 kilometers a year, "calving" icebergs more than 100 meters tall that float into the fjord and out into the North Atlantic.

Climate change experts say the glacier is producing a record number of icebergs, which demonstrates that Greenland is melting at a faster rate than ever.

While this has potentially serious consequences for low-lying land masses around the globe, it has a more immediate impact on Inuits, who traditionally have taken their dog sleds onto the ice to hunt for seals.

Harp seal pup - shot and hooked - Photo - Inuit Sila
Most hunters use rifles to kill seals - Photo - Inuit Sila

The thinner ice now makes hunting far more perilous. Not only does it restrict the ability of the Greenlanders to hunt the seals for their pelts, but it limits their ability to sustain themselves.

It's regarded as a matter of pride for Greenlanders to be able to hunt for the table.

Also, marine mammals are often the only source of vitamin C. Many typical Greenlandic communities are locked down for four months of the year by sea ice, and shipments of food can't get through.


Harpseals.org says: "During the winter, the Inuit of Greenland ate cooked seaweeds (winged kelp, bladder wrack, dulse, and knotted wrack), which, outside of the hunting season, could serve as important sources of vitamin C." - Seaweeds: Edible, Available, and Sustainable, by Ole G. Mouritsen, 2013, p. 16

"The relative importance of traditional Greenlandic food items has diminished during the last decades. Today these account for 25% of the Greenland diet with a dominance of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals...However, through this diet people in Greenland are also exposed to a high intake of heavy metals and organochlorines, due to a contamination of many of these food items." - Vitamins and Minerals in the Traditional Greenland Diet, from the Abstract, National Environmental Research Institute, Ministry of the Environment, Denmark, Report No. 528, 2005.


"Your only source of food is what you can catch and hunt yourself," says Kai Andersen, Greenland's deputy foreign minister. "This is a resource that we have used for thousands of years to make our livelihoods from, and we're not allowed to export it."

The EU ban bewilders Martin Lidegaard, foreign minister of Denmark, of which Greenland is a territory.

"The seals up here have lived a very good life," he told DW. "They are hunted in a very sustainable way. The meat is eaten by the Greenlanders and the fur is then sold. That's as sustainable as it gets. If we don't get exports to the EU up running again, then there will be no business for the hunters in Greenland. I don't get it. I don't see any fur being more sustainable than that which comes from seals."

Disapproval of seal fur

Late last month, the Greenlanders had a chance to press their case with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was in Ilulissat on a fact-finding mission in advance of chairing a UN climate change conference in Paris this summer.

Fabius leant a sympathetic ear but was doubtful whether he could influence any change in Brussels.

Harp seal pup cut open - Photo - Inuit Sila
Traditionally Inuit use every bit of the seals they catch and leave nothing to go to waste. Photo - Inuit Sila

"Public opinion in our countries disapproves of seal fur," said Fabius. "We must try to find a solution, if it exists, to help these people to live. But it's not easy, not easy at all."

Hans Stielstra, a key European negotiator and head of International Environmental Issues at the European Commission, insists that traditional Greenlanders are able to export their skins to the EU under a special exemption.

But he acknowledges that the ban has been damaging.

"Their [Greenlanders'] problem is that the general ban has destroyed the market in the EU. It's not so much that we are limiting the possibilities for the Inuit in Greenland to export seal products to the EU - because they can - but the overall ban will remain in place unless the [European] Council and the parliament decide otherwise."

Unless the seal issue is resolved in the Inuits favor, a traditional way of life may die out. It will also exacerbate Greenland's short-term economic problems.

The country is sitting on a potential fortune of minerals, including iron ore, uranium and rare earths used in electronics. Climate change should make extraction and transportation easier. But exploiting these resources has stalled. Greenland's hopes of self sufficiency are on ice along with dreams of independence from Denmark.



EDITORIAL: Are our culinary choices really ‘savage’?

February 10, 2015

It’s not the first time we’ve been called barbarians. It’s also not the first celebrity to jump on the escalator-to-the-top bandwagon against the seal hunt.

Don Cherry took to the airwaves of the national broadcaster over the weekend to blab poetic about the seal hunt — or, more specifically, the eating of seal meat on Coach’s Corner. He was playing back-and-forth with Ron MacLean, who was in Newfoundland filming a promotional hockey segment when the topic of MacLean’s lunch — a seal burger — entered the conversation.

Cherry’s barb at MacLean over his grub that day included asking the sideman if he was a “savage” or “barbarian” for eating the “little baby seal.” 

It’s no surprise to anyone that “baby” has been used as a default identifier for “seal” when someone’s trying to make an emotional point when the truth is just not hitting enough hearts.

And it’s fine to be against the seal hunt for whatever reason, provided it’s not one steeped in fiction.

However, placing the “savages” moniker on someone’s dietary choice is a little much, even for Cherry.

Seal meat is eaten regularly in this fair country, albeit most of it in the northern region. Because of this, Cherry’s comments are being taken especially seriously the closer you get to the Arctic Circle.

The choice to eat seal meat is surely no more barbaric than eating live octopuses in Korea as the seal population is far healthier than their eight-legged friends below the surface in most regions.

And who’s more barbaric, the Icelandic for eating puffin heart and rotting shark carcass or those who fancy a little seal flipper pie?

What about fried spider in Cambodia? Or insect larvae in Australia or Mexico?

There’s a long list of interesting cuisine from throughout the world, but seal isn’t on it.

If Newfoundlanders were serving up pet dog as a burger, it may have justified the comment. But this?

Cherry’s way off the mark on this one, even more so than usual. Sticking to the material he finds in hockey is a safer bet, especially when it’s loosely based on something that’s factual.


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