Justin Trudeau’s government has come under renewed pressure to ban seal hunting after it emerged that Canada is spending far more on monitoring seal hunts than it receives in the export value of seal products.
Documents obtained under freedom of access laws show that Canada spends around $2.5m a year to monitor seal hunts that occur in the remote north-east. By comparison, the 2014 export figure for seal products was just $500,000.
The documents reveal that government officials at Fisheries and Oceans Canada discussed ways to combat campaigns opposed to the seal hunts. The 2009 files suggest that a new strategy was needed to “educate” people of the benefits of the hunt.
Sealers and animal welfare groups have been locked in fierce disagreement over the economic and ethical merits of the seal hunt for decades. But activists hope there can now be a breakthrough with Canada’s new Liberal government, elected in 2015. Prime minister Trudeau was recently lobbied by actor Pamela Anderson to phase out government subsidies that prop up the struggling sealing industry.
Last year, Canada’s government set a quota of 468,000 harp, hooded, and grey seals to be killed for the year. However, the market for Canadian seal fur isn’t what it once was, hampered by a 2009 European Union ban on the trade due to welfare concerns. Canada appealed the ban to the World Trade Organization, but lost in 2014. The US has also shut down its involvement in the trade of seal products.
While seal numbers have rebounded – harp seals now number 7.3 million, three times the 1970s population – the sealing industry has contracted. It’s estimated that there are fewer than 400 active sealers now, down from nearly 6,000 in 2006.
The Canadian government and the seal-fur industry maintain that the practice is necessary as it generates around $35m a year in knock-on economic benefits. The regional government of Newfoundland and Labrador, where much of the hunting occurs, also states that the hunt “brings balance to the marine ecosystem” because of the large number of fish eaten by seals.
Hunts are regulated to ensure that seals are killed quickly using a high-powered rifle, a club, or a hunting tool called a hakapik, which is a wooden staff with a hook at the end. But conservationists claim the regulations are inadequate and the sealing industry should be phased out.
“The hunt happens in an area larger than France in a very harsh, remote location,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Humane Society International-Canada, which obtained the government documents. “It’s very expensive to monitor this hunt, and it’s impossible to ensure a humane death in conditions like these. The regulations even allow people to hook conscious animals onboard with a metal spike, which no one would consider humane.
“The industry makes no economic sense. We know the seal hunt would have ended years ago if it was left to the market. We know our campaign is winning and we are now at a crossroads. We need to all move forward together beyond commercial sealing.”
The Humane Society has proposed a buy-out of existing sealing licenses, with financial help for fishermen to transition to other areas. But the Canadian government has given no indication it would support such a plan.
A spokeswoman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada said sealing is “important economic and cultural activity in communities in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and the Arctic.
“Canadian harvesting practices are among the best in the world. They are guided by rigorous animal welfare principles that are internationally recognized by virtually all independent observers. We monitor the seal harvest closely and are committed to enforcing the regulations.”
The spokeswoman said the EU ban had “negatively impacted” exports, but that the government was committed to opening up new markets for seal fur.
By Taylor K. Vecsey
Marine biologists are still trying to determine what caused a harp seal found beached in Montauk to die, though they are cautioning against the public touching stranded seals, which is what happened to this particular one on Saturday.
The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation said the seal died as it was being transported to its hospital facility. The foundation had received several calls on its 24-hour hotline about the seal, along the ocean, about a quarter-mile east of the Sloppy Tuna. When the team arrived around 11:30 a.m., it found that the male yearling harp seal was being "harassed by the public, with people taking the seal out of the water, petting it, and wrapping it up, all of which cause great stress to marine animals," the foundation wrote on its Facebook page over the weekend.
While a necropsy still hadn't been performed yet, initial blood work showed the seal suffered from dehydration and low blood glucose levels, Rachel Bosworth, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said on Monday. But the harassment caused additional stress, she said. "Harassment does have adverse effects on the animals that may already be in a compromised state of health," she said. Feeding or harassing marine mammals is illegal and harmful, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. More information is available by clicking here.
The foundation's hotline is 631-369-9829.
P.E.I. coast will see fewer harp seals this season
A young harp seal (front) and its mother make their way along the ice off the coast of Cape Breton. The small amount of ice off the P.E.I. coast will mean fewer harp seals will be seen this season. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
Feb 29, 2016
Harp seals will not be as plentiful off the coast of Prince Edward Island, say officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
DFO research scientist Mark Hammill said the small amount of ice is the reason the harp seals, now in the pupping season, may have relocated to the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
"So we probably expect fewer pups would be born in the Gulf, that is there are fewer harp seal pups that would be born in the Gulf. Of those that are born, probably mortality would be high because the ice is very poor. It's very unstable. It's not very thick," said Hammill.
"So if there is any wind activity, the animals will be thrown into the water, the pads will break up and so there wouldn't be very much for them to haul out on."
Hammill said this year's ice conditions are similar to 2010.
The research scientist said any seals that are seen along the shore this year will likely be grey seals. Those seals pup in January and February.
Hammill adds anyone who does encounter a seal should leave it alone. Under the Marine Mammals Regulations it is illegal to disturb seals.
Pamela Anderson, actress and animals rights defender, displays photos during a news conference at the French National Assembly to protest the force-feeding of geese used in the production of foie gras, in Paris, France, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP / Francois Mori)
The Canadian Press
February 29, 2016
OTTAWA -- Pamela Anderson is hoping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will hear her out on behalf of seals.
In a letter to Trudeau, the Canadian-born actress asks him to meet her to discuss phasing out or ending federal subsidies for the East Coast commercial seal hunt.
Anderson writes in the letter obtained by The Canadian Press that Ottawa has poured millions of taxpayers' dollars into propping up the fading industry.
The honorary director of the PETA animal-rights group says the money could be better spent promoting businesses with a brighter future that would help the world see Canada as a sophisticated, enlightened country.
The former star of the TV series "Baywatch" is among several prominent figures including U.S. President Barack Obama and music legend Paul McCartney who have spoken out against the hunt.
Anderson notes that major markets such as the European Union, the United States and Russia have all banned seal-fur products over animal-welfare concerns.
With limited market options, the commercial hunt in Canada has shrunk in recent years. Hunters landed 38,000 harp seals last year, compared with 55,000 in 2014 and 91,000 in 2013.
The former Conservative government steadfastly defended the commercial hunt as beneficial for local economies, humane and well regulated. In recent years, the federal government has invested in programs to promote seal meat in domestic and foreign markets.
Critics have long insisted it's a cruel, unnecessary slaughter.
Anderson wrote in her letter to Trudeau on Monday that she admires his progressive views on LGBT rights, his compassionate stance on the Syrian refugee crisis and his decision to name a gender-balanced cabinet.
"There's another issue that has sullied Canada at home and abroad for years, which I hope you'll address: wasteful government bailouts of the nearly extinct East Coast commercial seal trade," she wrote.
"I urge you to usher in a new era of fiscal responsibility and kindness by ending federal subsidies of the commercial seal slaughter...
"I hope to hear that you will be available in the coming weeks to discuss this important issue in a more official setting."
By Mark Prado
Marin Independent Journal
Feb. 29, 2016
A Pacific harbor seal pup is photographed at the Marine Mammal Center just a few days after birth. (Ingrid Overgard - Marine Mammal Center)
Adorable harbor seal pups are starting to dot Marin’s beaches and wildlife officials are urging people to leave them alone.
The Point Reyes National Seashore and the Marine Mammal Center say harbor seal pups, born in late winter and early spring, could suffer permanent harm if they are moved or if their mothers are scared off.
“If you see mothers and pups, the first thing to do is remove yourself from the area,” said Dave Zahniser, rescue and rehabilitation manager at the mammal center. “If people get close, they can flush the mothers into the water.”
Visitors should never pick up a seal pup that may look abandoned as most often it is waiting for its mother to return.
“It can begin a cycle that leads to abandonment: people scare off the mother, then see a pup by itself and they want to help, someone tries to move the animal or pick it up and it becomes less likely the mother will return,” Zahniser said.
To ensure that harbor seals are not disturbed, visitors are asked to stay at least 100 yards away from resting seals. Pups are about 2 feet long and weigh about 24 pounds. Females generally give birth on sandy beaches or rocky reefs to a single pup, which nurses for three to four weeks.
If people see a marine mammal in distress they should call the mammal center at 415-289-SEAL and it will send a trained responder to assess the situation and perform a rescue if needed. Seven harbor seals are already being treated at the center.
Beginning Tuesday through June 30, the annual closure of Drakes Estero to the westernmost point of Limantour Spit will be implemented to protect the harbor seals.
“All recreational water access in Drakes Estero is closed during this season,” said John Dell’Osso, chief of interpretation at Point Reyes National Seashore.
The closure applies to kayak and canoe usage, surfers, wind surfers, abalone divers and other water sports participants around harbor seal colonies in the area.
Point Reyes National Seashore has the largest mainland breeding colony of harbor seals in California. Resting and pupping harbor seals come onshore in various parts of the park, particularly in Tomales Bay, Tomales Point, Double Point, Drakes Estero and Bolinas Lagoon. Seals are federally protected animals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and it is illegal to disturb them while resting.
Last year, more than 3,700 harbor seals were counted, 1,050 of which were pups. The number of seals breeding at Point Reyes represents around 20 percent of the California mainland population estimate.
Feb. 12, 2016
By Aly Thomson
SEAL IN TUB Darren Calabrese,The Canadian Press Hope for Wildlife's Lynn Roger, left, and Hope Swinimer bottle feed an injured grey seal pup, originally named Sammy, but now named Valentine, at the facility in Seaforth, N.S., on Friday.
SEAFORTH, N.S. — A grey seal pup that was hit by a vehicle on a Nova Scotia road is being treated for serious injuries at a wildlife centre.
The seal, tentatively named Sammy, whimpered as he was carefully placed in a white tub surrounded by fleece blankets. It arrived at Hope for Wildlife in Seaforth early Thursday afternoon after spending the night in a nearby emergency clinic.
Hope Swinimer, operator of the facility just outside Halifax, said the marine mammal was found on a road in Pictou County by an RCMP officer late Wednesday.
Swinimer said the 20-day-old furry grey seal pup with dark spots and a long nose has an injured pelvis and is underweight.
"The first thing we'll do is get him rehydrated," said Swinimer, just after gently spilling Sammy into a large tub from his black carrying crate.
SEAL CLOSEUP Darren Calabrese,The Canadian Press An injured grey seal pup, originally named Sammy, but now named Valentine, rests at Hope for Wildlife in Seaforth, N.S., on Friday. Valentine made it through her first night after the facility's operator Hope Swinimer says the marine mammal was found on a road in Pictou County by an RCMP officer late Wednesday evening.
"The worst thing you can do is feed an animal as soon as he arrives because food can actually overwhelm them and cause death. So we'll start with some clear hydration electrolytes and get him hydrated every couple of hours."
Sammy waved his head back and forth and moaned as the wildlife workers carefully held him down to give him fluids. The seal, with large black eyes and black whiskers, was to be hosed down and gently cleaned later Thursday.
Swinimer said if he survives, he'll stay at Hope for Wildlife until he's fully rehabilitated — roughly four to five months.
"He'll be here until he gets to be about 40 kilograms," said Swinimer of the seal, who's currently about 12 kilograms.
"He has to be swimming well. He's got to be able to find fish and eat them totally on his own. We have big pools outside, so once he's through the critical stage, we'll get him moved out to a bigger unit where he can swim."
The Canadian Press
Feb 12, 2016
Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation has discontinued its marine mammal rehabilitation program for 2016 due to the loss of a federal grant.
The program, which cares for stranded or injured harbor seal pups, has been a part of Wolf Hollow for the last 30 years.
“It’s hard to think that we’ll have to turn them away this year,” said Wolf Hollow Executive Director Julie Duke. “That’s the hardest thing, especially for the staff that’s been caring for them for so long. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of pups that need care this year.”
The John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program from National Oceanic Atmospheric Association is meant specifically for marine mammal rehab and stranding networks, and comes with “stringent regulations and standards” that are “time consuming and costly,” according to a press release from Wolf Hollow. The grant funds vary from year to year, and is a national grant funding source.
“There’s a lot of competition, and everybody is doing really great work, all the stranded networks need funds,” Duke said.
The marine mammal rehabilitation program cared for an average of 22 seal pups annually, at a cost of $3,000 per pup. After being contacted by stranded networks, Wolf Hollow re-hydrates the pups and attends to any wounds or infections the pups have, and feeds them every four hours when they first receive them.
Initially they live in a tub, and then as they regain their strength they are moved into a small pool, then a deeper pool, and fed fish when their digestive system is working. When the pups reach their target weight, they are released with identification tags attached to them, designed to fall off after a period of time.
Duke said that every other aspect of Wolf Hollow will remain the same, as they continue to care for injured or abandoned animals that they receive. The center is currently looking at other ways to gain funding in order to resume the marine mammal rehabilitation program in 2017.
“We are aware that a growing number of harbor seal pups are orphaned, injured or displaced each year due to the increase of human visitation to the San Juan Islands and neighboring counties,” the Wolf Hollow press release said. The program receives stranded pups from all over, this summer receiving some from Whatcom County in addition to Lopez and Orcas.
The season with the highest number of stranded seal pups is during the summer, late June through July, during harbor seal breeding season. For islanders who find harbor seal pups stranded locally, call the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network at (800) 562-8832 or email them at email@example.com.
Feb. 12, 2016
Somers Point, NJ
About 200 people enjoyed an evening out Feb. 5 at the Sandi Point Coastal Bistro in Somers Point to raise money for the Brigantine Marine Mammal Stranding Center.
They sampled more than 50 varieties of wine and beer provided by Circle Liquors of Somers Point.
The event raised more than $6,000.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the state’s only facility dedicated to the rescue of sick and injured marine mammals and sea turtles,
relies heavily on donations to operate and is preparing for the busy seal season.
On Sunday, the center began caring for its first patient of 2016.
A female harp seal from Sandy Hook was brought to the center after it was found eating sand on the beach. It is now getting the food and medical care it needs before it can be released back to the sea.
The MMSC offers an Adopt a Seal program. For $25, a donor receives an adoption certificate, photo, and story of the seal helped by the donation. The money helps pay for food and medication.
For program information see www.mmsc.org/ways-to-donate/adopt-a-seal.
February 11, 2016
SBBN seals at St Abbs
Monitoring by National Trust for Scotland experts shows the number of grey seal pups born at St Abbs increased by at least 10 per cent last year.
The conservation charity has kept an eye on its seal pups each November for a number of years, but only started detailed monitoring of the numbers of the grey seal pups in 2014 when local staff started to notice that they were seemingly spreading along the coast.
Visual counts backed up by detailed photography showed that on the main pupping beach, the number of grey seal pups had increased from 556 in 2014 to 631 pups in 2015. Total numbers of pups in this area of coast reached 927 pups in 2015. The monitoring work will continue over the next few years to see if this growing trend in seal pup numbers is short or long-term.
Liza Cole, property manager at St Abb’s Head, said: “Scotland and the UK hold over 40 per cent of the world population of this species.
“It is good to see so many pups on our beaches, as the grey seal is actually one of the world’s rarest. Grey seals are such a regular sight along our coasts, it is actually quite hard to appreciate this fact at times.”
“However, it is not clear what our counts mean for the grey seal population as a whole at this time as many seal pups won’t last their first year.”
Lindsay Mackinlay, nature conservation adviser added: “The figures for seal pups are interesting and encouraging, and something we will keep an eye on in the foreseeable future. At this time, it appears that other grey seal colonies along the east coast of the UK have witnessed large numbers of seal pups being born in 2015, although we do not know for how long this trend will continue. I believe the Farne Islands colony saw similar increases but the seal pup counts at Blakeney Point in Norfolk remained stable in 2015 after several years of massive growth.”
The pups will stay with their mothers for about a month until they learn to fish for themselves.
Sea lion hangs out in La Jolla restaurant. (The Marine Room)
Feb. 10, 2016
Fox5 Digital Team and Jason Sloss
SAN DIEGO – The adorable, yet extremely malnourished sea lion pup found sleeping in a restaurant booth in La Jolla is still in SeaWorld San Diego's care Wednesday.
Veterinarians and animal care specialists at the park said they are cautiously optimistic about her recovery and listed her in "stable and guarded condition''. The young pup was extremely malnourished, dehydrated and suffering from an eye injury when found Thursday.
Video of her rescue at the iconic Marine Room restaurant, which is famous for waves slapping at the dining room's main window, went viral on social media.
The pup named "Marina'' is being cared for at the park's Animal Rescue Center, along with dozens of other rescued sea lions and seals. She has gained four pounds and now weighs 24 pounds.
Marina's weight was about half of what it should have been when she was discovered, park officials said.
Sea lion hangs out in La Jolla restaurant. (The Marine Room)
Animal care staff said she is improving gradually. Veterinary tests found some inflammation, but nothing too worrisome and no other signs of infection or illness, according to SeaWorld.
An approximately one year-old elephant seal is also resting at SeaWorld after a rescue at Windansea Beach in La Jolla where she was found with a severe bite wound.
“Looks like a shark bite -- starts from the belly button all the way down, where her flippers are," said Jennifer Zarate, an animal care specialist at SeaWorld.
So far this year, SeaWorld San Diego has rescued 60 marine mammals -- 53 sea lions, six harbor seals and one Guadalupe fur seal. Last year, 1,057 marine mammals, including 990 California sea lions, were taken in by the park.
The young seal resting on the dock in January. Photo: Bill Anderson
February 9, 2016
Many have been delighted by the appearance of a young seal that has taken to hauling out on the boat dock next to the Edmonds Fishing Pier since mid-December. But on Monday, a man was seen yelling at the seal, and he also threw rocks at it, said Susan Morrow, founder of the Edmonds Seal Sitters program.
“This is harmful and disruptive, and it is also against the law,” said Morrow, who notes that seals are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. “People who harass or interfere with marine mammals are subject to prosecution.”
Edmonds police will be investigating the incident, Morrow said.
“Seals need to come ashore daily to rest and regulate their body temperature, and this seal has found a spot where it feels secure,” she noted. “We can quietly watch the seal close up, but it is protected behind the marina fence and pier rail.”
According to Morrow, Edmonds Seal Sitters has been checking on this harbor seal regularly, but volunteers may not always be on site when the seal is resting on the boat dock. “If you see someone harassing this seal call 911,” Morrow said. “Edmonds police can best deal with someone behaving badly. Then call Edmonds Seal Sitters at 425-327-3336 for follow-up.”
By Doug Fraser
Feb. 7, 2016
Drones protecting us from the flu? Sounds like sci-fi, but the same hexacopter being used by seal researchers to help with population estimates is also being considered for a study looking at flu transmission in gray seals.
“There have been (seal) die-offs attributed to influenza and most have occurred in New England. We are the hotbed,” said Wendy Puryear, the lab manager and research scientist at MIT’s Runstadler Laboratory of veterinary genetics and immunology.
Those flu deaths included over 100 harbor seal pups that died in 2011 in Maine from a strain of the flu virus known to exist in waterfowl that mutated and infected the seals.
“A virus that passes over from a wild bird to a domestic bird, then may pass into humans,” Puryear said. “What we don’t know is whether it is also circulating in marine mammals.”
Seals and shorebirds share the same habitat, she explained. Gulls scavenge from dead pups and placenta, birds defecate in the sand and seals pass over it. That could result in a flu virus that has adapted to gray seals.
“It could potentially make it easier to adapt to humans,” Puryear said, although it would likely require close contact, unless there was another vector like a dog.
Adult seals are much harder to capture, tag and obtain blood, mouth and fecal fluid samples. Last month, Puryear and MIT researchers spent time on Muskeget and Monomoy as part of a long-term study on the influenza virus in gray seals. This was their third year on Muskeget and first on Monomoy to study weaned pups that are easier to capture and handle than adults.
“It turns out they are getting infected, but they are not as susceptible (to die-off),” Puryear said. Since the gray seals don’t seem to be getting sick, she thinks the risk of transmission to humans remains low.
Still, researchers would like to know how the virus is infecting the seals and how they transmit it to one another.
Fifty percent of the pups sampled on Monomoy had antibodies to the flu virus, meaning they had been exposed. By marking captured animals, drones could be used to follow the movements of infected animals and study their social habits, how they contact other seals.
“The main animal they interact with is the mom,” Puryear said. “How frequently do they interact, and how long, with other pups?”
Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter:@dougfrasercct.
Feb 03, 2016
By Caitlin Conrad
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. —The harbor seals of Pacific Grove are getting off to a rough start this pupping season. The seals are having babies very early and none have survived so far on Hopkins Marine Station Beach. Photo: Kim M. Akeman 2016
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. —The harbor seals of Pacific Grove are getting off to a rough start this pupping season. The seals are having babies very early and none have survived so far on Hopkins Marine Station Beach.
Observers with Bay Net are reporting four live births this winter but none survived.
"The pups didn't live long, they were all premature, they lived from a minute, to a few minutes," said Thom Akeman with Bay Net.
Akeman said the moms are not ready to give birth this early and don't seem to have enough weight on to nurse the pups.
The first observed birth was last Monday, Jan. 25, which is quite early when compared to the first recorded birth of 2015, which was on Feb. 20.
Akeman said the animals are suffering from warm ocean temperatures that are driving their food sources too far away.
"Harbor seals are local animals, so they don't migrate up with the food supply like sea lions might, so they just stay here, if there is not enough they don't make it," Akeman said.
Bay Net volunteers are hoping next month pupping season will really start to happen and the seals will have some healthy pups.
Feb. 1, 2016
By Jody Harrison, Reporter
GREY seal pups that have been infected with forms of the Salmonella bacteria have been found by researchers in Scotland.
Salmonella has been found in seal pups similar to this one
Tests on mammals found in Scottish waters or swept ashore discovered that around one in five carried the disease.
Scientists say that the presence of the bacteria raises questions about possible pollution of the marine environment, possible through run-off from farms or sewage being discharged into the water.
Analysis of the different strains found in the pups shows close similarities with those carried by land animals including cattle, and also people.
The study, was led by researchers from the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh in collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Others involved in the wide-ranging study included the University of St Andrews, SAC Consulting Veterinary Services, The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
The team investigated the prevalence and origin of Salmonella in free-ranging and stranded grey seal pups, comparing Salmonella isolated from the grey seals with strains from human cases, livestock, wild mammals and birds.
Dr Johanna Baily of Moredun Research Institute, said: “Finding these Salmonella isolates in large marine mammals along our coastlines raises concerns of land-sea transfer of both human and livestock pathogens.
"We need to know more about how these bacteria have spread to the marine environment and what threat they represent for our native marine mammals”
The team found three types of Salmonella were found, one usually found in cattle, one that is similar to a type found in garden birds, and one which is also found in humans.
Pups that had been swum in the sea were found to be almost four times more likely to carry Salmonella compared to those which had not been in the water.
Dr Ailsa Hall, Director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit, added: “This study gives us an important insight into the factors affecting the survival of grey seal pups and the role that bacterial infection may play.
"Understanding the causes of morbidity and mortality in this species is key to improving our ability to interpret changes in the abundance and distribution of grey seals in the UK”
Dr Geoff Foster of SAC Consulting Veterinary Services, said: “This work expands on current knowledge of the ecology of an important group of pathogenic bacteria for man and animals.
"Our ongoing work with animal livestock, wild mammals and birds, alongside interactions with human health bodies, continues to explore such relationships, which are of significance for animal and public health”.
Nunavut's seal industry got a boost this week, as the federal government announced the first $150,000 instalment of the Certification and Market Access Program for Seals in Nunavut. Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Jan 30, 2016
By Elyse Skura
Nunavut's seal industry is getting a $150,000 boost from the federal government, as it works to better promote the ailing industry and take full advantage of Nunavut's exemption to the European Union's ban on seal products.
The funding is the first installment from the five-year $5.7-million Certification and Market Access Program for Seals.
"I think it's a big step between Canada and Nunavut to be able to find different ways for marketing our seal products," said Hunter Tootoo, Nunavut's MP and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
"It's all about opening new markets for our indigenous seal products."
Tootoo, Premier Peter Taptuna and Nunavut's environment minister Johnny Mike, made the announcement in Ottawa, surrounded by Inuit artists touting their wares at the Northern Lights Conference.
PM checks out Nunavut products
Min Tootoo, Premier Taptuna watch Nunavut seamstress display sealskin coat
The event itself, which even earned an appearance by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, can be seen as both a promotional opportunity for the industry and an opportunity for artisans to strategize on future projects.
"At these types of events, like the Northern Lights event and the Nunavut Trade Show... we explore different opportunities," said Rowena House, executive director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (NACA).
For example, the organization is working with a business in Scotland to develop a market for sealskin sporrans.
"That's the little purse that they use with their official piping uniform," she said.
That's one of a number of programs the Government of Nunavut says it will lead in collaboration with NACA.
"We'll try and do more on engaging Inuit seamstresses," said Mike, adding that some funds will be used for a training program at Iqaluit's Tukisigiarvik Society.
Untapped European market
Justin Trudeau buys seal skin - NACA
Trudeau's decision to attend the conference — where he picked up a seal skin vest — "absolutely" shows the government's commitment to the industry, said Tootoo.
"The federal government, all along, has been supporting the fisheries and sealing division in our department to deliver some specific programs in our sealing programs," said Mike.
While the $150,000 is only a fraction of the multi-million dollar program, he's not concerned about the huge expense of developing a promotional strategy and developing a brand-new certification process.
"We're going to have to utilize the new funding in the best way possible, so we can open up more markets for the seal industry in Nunavut," Mike said.
"It's been kind of long coming."
UBC research shows young chinook and coho salmon make up two to five per cent of the diets of harbour seals in the Strait of Georgia. Photo: Linda Kenny
Jan. 28, 2016
By On The Island
Harbour seals off B.C.'s South Coast may consume up to 60 per cent of the Strait of Georgia's young chinook and coho salmon every year, according to UBC research.
Growing concerns about B.C.'s salmon numbers has focused on orca populations and rising water temperatures in the past, but this study suggests the dramatic increase in the harbour seal population in recent decades may play a role as well.
Still, the connection between low salmon stocks and a large harbour seal population is not clear enough to warrant a seal cull, scientists warn.
"We don't think [our results] would be grounds for a cull right now. There are just too many unknowns," said Ben Nelson, a PhD candidate at UBC's Marine Mammal Research Unit.
"We still really don't know if some other predator species might step up to fill that void."
Salmon are an important food source for many B.C. predators, including orcas and bears.
Juvenile chinook salmon make their way from the rivers where they hatched to the open ocean before returning inland as adults. Photo: Parr, University of Oregon
But understanding the specific connection between salmon and seal populations will require some complicated math.
"The next step is to use some mathematical models to combine information on the seal population and the salmon population historically... to figure out, could those changes in harbour seals explain the changes in salmon mortality over the years," said Nelson.
Nelson collected seal feces in the Strait of Georgia for several years and, using DNA analysis, determined that juvenile chinook and coho salmon make up two to five per cent of a harbour seal's diet.
That may not seem like a big deal, but Nelson points out juvenile salmon are small, and it would take many of them to make up even a small portion of a seal's dinner.
The harbour seal population in the Strait of Georgia has exploded from about 5,000 in the 1970s to about 40,000 today, according to Nelson.
The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is being overcrowded with orphans. Photo: Cornish Seal Sanctuary
Jan 28, 2016
A seal sanctuary in Cornwall is becoming overcrowded with orphaned seals due to recent bad weather.
The Cornish Seal Sanctuary says there is a crisis in Cornwall's seal rescue network due to winter storms.
The seal sanctuary has already rescued about 50 seals this winter. Photo: Cornish Seal Sanctuary
The sanctuary may not be able to cope after fresh storm warnings forced them to postpone the release of six grey seal pups to free up space.
The RSPCA facility in West Hatch was recently declared full, as was a smaller holding centre operated by British Divers Marine Life Rescue at St Austell.
A desperate plan to fly some seals to a Sea Life centre in Hunstanton, Norfolk, was only narrowly averted when the Sanctuary managed to free up two hospital cubicles by moving two seals out to the Nursery pool.
The seal sanctuary says it may not be able to cope with another influx of seals. Photo: Cornish Seal Sanctuary
Tamara Cooper, the head of animal care at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary said:
"If there is another influx of casualties before we are able to free some of our earlier patients back into the wild, we could be seriously overburdened."
“We generally rescue between 45 and 60 pups over the course of the whole winter. We have rescued 50 already this winter and they could be coming in right through to the end of March."
Baby seal in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP
Jan. 26, 2016
A warm winter has melted plans for tourists who were hoping to get a chance to see Magdalen Island baby seals up close this year. The ice isn't solid or safe enough for observation tours.
The observation season runs from February 24 to March 11 when baby harp seals are visible on ice floes. With no cold snap in the forecast, tour organizers have decided to cancel.
Hôtels Accents, the sole company which organizes the tours, takes visitors, many of whom come from China and Japan, by helicopter to ice floes.
Ariane Bérubé, who is in charge of sales with the company, said clients were contacted by phone. And the company offered to help them rearrange their travel plans.
More than 60 per cent of reservations have been renewed for next year and about a dozen clients have decided to come anyway.
Bérubé said El Niño is having an impact around the world, and people expected the season to be cancelled.
Emaciated norther fur seal found in business park Photo: Hayward Police Department
Jan. 20, 2016
By Mario Sevilla,
HAYWARD (KRON) — A curious baby seal somehow managed to waddle out of the San Francisco Bay, cross a congested East Bay highway, and hide in some bushes in Hayward.
According to police, the northern fur seal pup was discovered at about 6 a.m. Wednesday in the shrubs at a business park located at 650 Sandoval Way.
Pipester receives a meal of fish mash via a tube inserted into his stomach. Photo: The Marine Mammal Center
“This morning a little before 6 AM, someone called from Sandoval Way to report a baby seal flopping around in the bushes at a business,” police said. “We were thinking it was probably a possum or weird cat but the caller insisted it was a seal. Well lo and behold it was a seal!”
Hayward police posted an image of the small creature on the department’s Facebook page.
The pup was found dehydrated and malnourished, police said.
Marine Mammal Center spokeswoman Laura Sherr told KRON that the center was called to the scene and realized that the animal was recently rescued.
Pipester settles back into a pen at The Marine Mammal Center with other northern fur seal pups in rehabilitation. Photo: The Marine Mammal Center
“Once rescued, our team discovered that this animal already had an ID tag, and were able to identify him as a male northern fur seal pup called ‘Pipester’ who had previously been in the Center’s care for malnutrition,” Sherr said.
“He was originally rescued on November 7, 2015, at Moss Landing Harbor by volunteers with the Center’s Monterey Bay Operations,” according to Sherr. Pipester spent a few weeks at the Center recovering before being released late in December of 2015.
Sherr hopes to nourish and send back Pipster back into the wild as soon as possible.
Seals taking a break on top of a flat iceberg. Photo: Jamie Womble/National Park Service
Jan 19, 2016
By Christina Langone
Though populations of harbor seals – the captivating species seen in almost every zoo – are stable in other areas of the world, they are seeing declines in southeastern Alaska. These particular seals use icebergs calved from nearby glaciers as a place to rest and breed, but changes in ice availability are affecting these behaviors, crucial to their survival and reproduction.
Two separate studies, one by the National Park Service (NPS) and one by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), have independently found that seals may be changing their distribution and behavior to match the shifting locations of ice, as glaciers retreat.
Harbor seal wearing GPS tracking device used in NPS research. Photo: National Park Service
Jamie Womble, leading the NPS research in Glacier Bay, is providing a new way of relating glacier ice extent and harbor seal territory, both in location and seasonality. Womble and her team aim to find the exact distribution and movements of these Alaskan harbor seals. Aerial tracking– flying above the ice and counting the seals–is a method that works effectively in the region. They also glue GPS transmitters to the seals, and track their movements on land-based monitors. These transmitters come off safely during the next summer’s molt, so they present only minimal risk to the animals.
Womble and her team found that “[d]espite extensive migration and movements of seals away from Glacier Bay during the post-breeding season, there was a high degree of inter-annual site fidelity (return rate) of seals to Glacier Bay the following pupping/breeding season.”
Aerial image of harbor seals. Photo: National Park Service
In addition to studying the distances which the seals traveled, Womble and her group also examined the patterns of seal movement in relation to the glacial ice. The team studied the ice distribution within John Hopkins Inlet, which they coordinated with aerial tracking data to examine the relationship between the ice extent and the harbor seals.
John Hopkins Inlet, the main area of research for Womble, is home to Johns Hopkins Glacier and Gilman Glacier which are among the few advancing glaciers in this region. Seals were found to congregate in areas with the highest percentage of ice.
“Tidewater glacier fjords in Alaska host some of the largest seasonal aggregations of harbor seals in Alaska,” Womble told GlacierHub in an interview. Many of these tidewater glaciers – glaciers that run into the sea and calve frequent icebergs – are thinning, and a few have begun retreating.
John Hopkins glacier, one of the few advancing glaciers in southeastern Alaska. Photo: Peter Makeyev/Flikr
In particular, rapid retreat on the east side of Glacier Bay is leading to decreased seal pupping. During this critical season when the pups are newborn, mother seals and the weaning baby seals use flat icebergs to rest. “By 2008, no seals were pupping in Muir Inlet, and fewer than 200 seals were counted in McBride Inlet near the terminus of the McBride Glacier, the only remaining tidewater glacier in the East Arm of Glacier Bay,“ the NPS team stated in a recent report.
In a report, ADFG emphasizes the importance of studying “…why, how, and when harbor seals use glacial habitat, and whether the rapid thinning and retreat of Alaskan glaciers associated with climate change could negatively affect harbor seals…” Their research documented similar instances of glacier thinning and retreat and they are also monitoring seal movement, as well as other topics, including seal diet, seal weight and bodily composition and disturbances by tour vessels. Though ADFG began their work in Glacier Bay, the same site as the other team, they moved their research to Tracy Arm Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area – more than 200 miles to the southeast.
Harbor seals, said to be awkward on land, use icebergs as a place of safety from predators. Photo: Jamie Womble/National Park Service
The ADFG team has attached transmitters such as SPOT to track the seals. These beam data on location, heart rate and other biological indicators up to satellites. To gather data, the researchers depend on the seals surfacing to breathe or rest, since the satellites cannot receive signals that are released underwater. The tracking for both research projects was most important during winter months, since researchers were interested in monitoring movement and feeding after the summer breeding season.
ADFG also saw regular return rates for the sea populations which they studied. They hypothesized that they may travel to find food in the winter, but still return to Glacier Bay in the summer for the safety that icebergs provide from land-based predators. Icebergs are also important sites for the animals to haul out, since many beaches are entirely covered during high tides.
The ongoing research conducted both by Womble’s group and by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show how recent changes in glaciers have already had large effects on the seal life cycle, specifically pupping. Continued monitoring of seal reproduction and movement in the context of glacier retreat will allow for predictions of the future of this important species in a critical section of its range.
Jan. 6, 2016
by Azure Gilman
SAUSALITO, Calif. _ They are brought in with all sorts of problems: lockjaw, poisoning, cancer and even bullet wounds from fishermen. But most of the record number of seals and sea lions washing up on California's shores and being brought to a regional rescue center are starving.
Unprecedented warm waters off the Pacific coast over the past two years have led fish that marine mammals feed on to move to colder waters — making it difficult for seals and sea lions to nourish themselves, let alone feed their pups. With the current El Niño weather event expected to continue bringing warm water over the rest of the winter, this slow-motion catastrophe is likely to continue.
The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, just outside San Francisco, rescues 600 to 800 seals and sea lions a year on average from the 600 miles of California coastline it covers, from north of San Francisco to just above Santa Barbara County in the south.
But in 2015, the center was brought a record 1,799 animals — including California sea lions, Guadalupe fur seals and northern fur seals. The 106 northern fur seals it rescued more than tripled its previous record.
And the Marine Mammal Center sees only a fraction of strandings statewide. The California Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a network of independent groups overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, keeps track of stranding events for both live and dead animals, including seals and sea lions, across California. In 2015, they counted more than 4,200 California sea lions, 90 Guadalupe fur seals, and 70 northern fur seals.
The center's staff began to realize something was different early in the year. Their network of volunteers and workers began bringing in distressed sea lion pups last January rather than, as usual, in summer. And the pups brought in for rescue were unlike anything the veterinarians had ever seen.
Volunteers using wooden sheilds to corrall an evasive animalAzure Gilman / Al Jazeera America
“They were basically just skin and bones,” said Dr. Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the center. “Their liver, their pancreas, their intestines were basically shut down. And they were eating themselves from the inside to stay alive by the time we saw them.”
Some of the pups that had swum from the coast just north of Los Angeles up to northern California were 6 or 7 months old — but so small that they were still at their usual birth weight.
As sea lions continued to wash up in February and March, it started to sink in “that this is going to be a big year,” said Dr. Cara Field, a veterinarian at the nonprofit center.
In March, the center began to receive elephant seals that had washed up, followed by harbor seals, Guadalupe fur seals, and northern fur seals. Late December is usually a quiet time for the rescue center, but not this past December, when 91 animals were brought in.
A bucket of herring, the fish that the Marine Mammal Center uses to feed their pinnipeds. Azure Gilman / Al Jazeera America
It was the worst year in the center’s 40-year history, staff said.
One foggy afternoon in late December, three animals were brought in a white pickup truck to the center, located at an old Cold War missile silo site with a beautiful ocean view.
Each of the sea mammals had been named by the volunteers and staff who brought them. Gary Christmas, a California sea lion, peered with large almond-shaped eyes through the top bars of his crate, his body arched and nose in the air.
Jack Furst, a tiny northern fur seal pup, stayed still and silent.
Garnet, a small sea lion, had a plastic bag wrapped around his head, his small body lying in a curve at the bottom of the crate. He was dead.
Sea lions give birth in summer on the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The pups then nurse from their mothers for nearly a year. Normally, sea lion mothers go out to hunt for fish for two to four days, eat, come back and nurse their pups, and go back out for more food. In 2015, however, scientists found that mothers were gone for much longer time periods and nursing for much shorter ones.
“Eventually the pups were like, ‘I need more,’” Johnson said. “They’re taking the big plunge into the big ocean because they’re starving to death.”
Only half the usual number of sea lion pups were born off the California coast in 2015, Johnson said. And the sea lion and northern fur seal pups born on the Channel Islands in 2015 had among the lowest weights recorded in more than 40 years, according to a recent NOAA press release. It is exactly those underweight pups who throw themselves into the ocean seeking food and later wash up on beaches, rescuers said.
Animals rescued from the beaches of northern California — or the occasional one that wanders onto the streets of San Francisco — often end up in the Marine Mammal Center’s outdoor pens, which are equipped with pools and warming mats. Veterinarians and a small army of volunteers feed the animals herring caught in Alaska. If the animals can’t eat, they are tube-fed a smoothie made of herring, salmon oil and sometimes milk powder. There is a strict no-talking rule among staff and volunteers — so that the animals don’t become too accustomed to humans and thus have better chances of survival when returned to the ocean.
Though 2015 was a record year, the warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean and the resulting deleterious effects on seals and sea lions began before the onset of the current El Niño effect.
An area of warm ocean water many scientists call “the blob” began forming off the U.S. West Coast in 2013. A second area of warm water — unofficially referred to in some circles as “El Blobo” — has formed off Mexico, said Toby Garfield, director of the environmental research division at NOAA.
“In these two patches of warm water we were getting surface temperatures that were up to three to four degrees centigrade warmer than normal,” Garfield said. “A lot of the forage fish that the sea lions and fur seals were going after migrated outside of their regular areas.”
The warm water also likely contributed to the largest toxic algae bloom ever recorded. Pseudo-nitzschia, a type of algae that produces domoic acid, was both more plentiful and produced domoic acid with a higher toxicity, according to Garfield. When this algae makes its way up the food chain, domoic acid can cause seizures and other brain problems, mostly in sea lions. Sea lions with domoic acid poisoning have only about a 30 percent survival rate at the Marine Mammal Center.
The cyclical El Niño weather pattern, characterized in part by warm ocean water, began in fall 2015 and is expected to last well into 2016. It is unclear exactly how this will affect pinnipeds on the West Coast, but veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center are bracing for the worst.
“If it continues, if this is the new normal, the sea lion population and the fur seal population in California are going to have severe drops in their overall population,” Johnson said. With fewer fish to hunt in their usual waters, he said, “they’re going to have to adapt.”
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