stop the seal hunt and Calgary Stampede sign now

We the undersigned will not purchase Canadian timber, meat, oil,
pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco, paper or travel in Canada until
. the clubbing of baby seals stops or any other form of seal killing
. the hunting of Canadian grizzly bears is outlawed everywhere, not
just British Columbia
. the mass slaughter of elk and deer diagnosed with Mad Elk and Mad
Deer Disease stops
. the Calgary Stampede which causes the brutal pulling apart of calves
by cowboys on horses and many other cruelties stops.
We recommend

BBC Wildlife Magazine
June 2001 issue

..The Canadian harp seal cull is inhumane, uneconomic and indefensible,

says Stephen Harris, and similar issues arise whenever a commercial
"harvest" masquerades as "sustainable-use".

The migration of around 5 million harp seals from Greenland to pup and
mate on the pack ice off the Newfoundland coast and gulf of St Lawrence
is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles of the world, rivalled only
by the migration of caribou in the Arctic and wildebeest in East Africa.

Walking among thousands of harp seals, many of which have just given
birth, is a breath-taking experience.

Yet this is also the site of one of the biggest marine mammal hunts in
the world. This year's quota is a staggering 275,000, and most of the
seals to be killed will be the "beaters", pups more than 25 days old
that have moulted out of their white coat and so-called because they
beat the water as they learn to swim. Because they have poorly-developed

swimming powers, they are reluctant to leave the ice, and so they are
easy prey for the sealers,

The only organisation that monitors the hunt each year is the
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and this year I was
invited to join it as an observer. I discovered first of all that the
Canadian government makes it as difficult as possible to watch the hunt.

The pack ice os the only piece of public land in Canada where access is
restricted to permit-holdrs, and even these have to be renewed on a
daily basis, hardly the behaviour of a government with nothing to hide,
Once on the ice, the helicopters are allowed no nearer than 500 feet to
the hunters, and being so far off-shore, flying time is limited. For all

these reasons, the hunt can be monitored only for brief periods.

The reasons the government restricts access to the hunt are obvious.
Even hovering 500 feet above the ice, the cruelty was mind-numbing.
Clubbing is frequently used to kill the seals, and as we hovered above
our first kill, the pup was subjected to a series of nine blows which
rained down on its body. It was unclear whether it wa sdead when it was

hooked and dragged across the ice to the ship.

We then flew on to watch a nearby boat at work. Because the ice was so
thin this year, it was hard to chase and club the seals, and so many
were shot. This may sound more humane but it's not. Again, we were
watching from 500 feet, and so it was hard to see where the first seal
was hit, but it was clearly in a great deal of distress. It fell into
the sea spewing blood, swam around before dragging itself onto another
piece of ice, crawled across this then fell back into the water and
carried on swimming in bloody circles, The sealers clearly didn't give a

damn. They left this pup and moved on to shoot two more, before
returning to the first seal about four minutes later. They didn't check
to make sure it was dead, but simply put a hook in it and dragged it

The complete indifference to the cruelty was the most horrifying aspect
of the hunt, but it appears to be the norm. IFAW has videos of seals
struggling as they were dragged across the ice with hooks, of seals
being skinned when very much alive and of boats with half-dead seals
flapping around on the decks. It is an appalling spectacle and possibly
unsurpassed in the level of cruelty inflicted on a large mammal anywhere

in the world. Yet Roger Simon, the fisheries officer who overseas the
seal hunt in the Gulf of St Lawrence, is adamant that the hunt is humane

and says the blows inflicted by the sealers are "accurate and quite
devastating", such that most seals are "put unconscious

A team of veterinarians, invited by IFAW to watch the hunt this year,
has reached other conclusions, however. The team collected 76 seal heads

and found that 17 percent of the skulls were undamaged and a further 25
percent had only minimum to moderate damage. Often the blows landed on
the facial area, inflicting a great deal of pain but not rendering the
animal unconscious. The horrifying conclusion is that 72 percent of this

sample of seals were probably conscious when they were hooked, dragged
and skinned - and that thousands of pups suffer the same fate each year.

The main argument made to justify the hunt is an economic one, but in
recent years it has been kept going by subsidies, and last year the
price of pelts was so low that only a third of the quota was landed. The

Canadian Sealers' Association is trying to develop new uses for seal
products, such as oil and meat, but the carcasses of the seals we saw
killed were dumped after they had been skinned, and the ice was littered

with their bodies. This is not surprising, sincene for most people the
meat is only edible if it is bleached, deodorised and then artificially

One of the few products that do sell are penises - as aphrodisiac for
the traditional Chinese medicine market. In recent years, up to 30,000
penises have been sold. Rick Smith, director of IFAW Canada, describes
Canada as the "penis-pedlar to the world", hardly an epithet the
Canadian government should be proud of. Perhaps more importantly, recent

DNA analysis have shown that the penises include those from protected
species, such as wolves and wild dogs.

Equally confused is the fundamental rationale behind the hunt. In a
discussion document on the management of Canada's Atlantic coast
fisheries (the seal hunt is classified as fishery) released in February,

"conservation and sustainable use" is said to be the top priority. Yet
this year's quota of 275,000 is above the government's own estimate of
the sustainable harvest. The seals are also hunted when they return to
Greenland, and there is no reliable estimate of the numbers killed.
Fishermen have long argued that there are too many seals and that these
have led to the collapse of the cod fishery, but all the evidence shows
that it collapsed because of overfishing, fuelled by optimistic stock
estimates, which led to overexploitation, and inadequate monitoring.
Exactly the same issues are reappearing with the seal hunt. Worryingly,
the government that failed to prevent the collapse of the cod stock is
also responsible for regulating the seal hunt. Widespread antipahty to
the seals is part of the problem. In 1998, John Efford, until February
the Newfoundland Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, said that he
would like to see all the seals "killed and sold or destroyed or
burned", a sentiment far removed from the concept of sustainable

The controversy surrounding the seal hunt is typical of the issues faced

when harvesting a natural resource, Similar problems were encountered
with the kangaroo harvest in Australia, with illegal killing of
protected species and unacceptable levels of cruelty to adults and
joeys. Monitoring of the whale meat trade in Japan and South Korea has
shown that the meat of critically endangered species has also been sold.

Whether the meat came from recent hunts or stockpiles is unknown. All
the experience shows that, when commercial interests are involved, it is

nearly impossible to manage a wildlife harvest effectively. So why do
many conservation organisations still support the concept of wise-use?
WWF-Canada supports the seal hunt, as long as it is sustainable - which
it is now questioning.

The lessons are depressingly familiar. Despite reassuring euphemisms
such as "harvesting", commercial wildlife hunts generally suffer from
the same problems: lack of monitoring, excessive, unacceptable cruelty,
overexploitation and the look-alike problem - the products of rarer
species being sold under the cover of a legal hunt. How many more
examples do we need before the concept of wise- or sustainable-use is
finally discredited?

Stephen Harris is proferssor of environmental science at the University
of Bristol and chairman of the Mammal Society.
- See also:
- Letters to: the Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, Minister of Fisheries and
Oceans, Wellington St, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0A6.
- Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans:
- The Canadian Sealers Association:

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