Case Study: "HUMANE" SEAL HUNT

Michael Williamson (whe_william@flo.org)
Mon, 21 Apr 1995 14:57:28

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Case Study: "HUMANE" SEAL HUNT
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THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A "HUMANE" SEAL HUNT
 
The slaughter of seals off Canada's East Coast is being
significantly increased, with both the Government of Canada and
the Government of Newfoundland each providing subsidies to entice
more fishermen and sport hunters to go out and shoot seals. This
year the quota for harp seals remains at 186,000 plus sport
hunters will be allowed to take an additional six seals each.
 
Shooting seals is a very difficult task and is quite different
from game hunting. The animals are mostly in the water, they flee
into the water as soon as they are aware of people, in this case
hunters, approaching them, and are shot at as they pop their
heads out of the water to take a quick breath.
 
Farley Mowat, a well known writer and expert on the fishery and
seal issue, claims that up to seven seals may be shot at and
wounded, often escaping only to die a slow and painful death,
before one seal can be harvested.
 
The cruelty of this extensive killing operation, which starts
during the seals' birthing season, has for years been denounced
as `Canada's Shame'.
 
Because of an international outcry, after the world became aware
of how the seal pups were clubbed to death in front of their
protesting mothers, the killing of "whitecoat" harp seals and
"blueback" hooded seal pups for commercial purpose is not allowed
any more. However, the "landsmen", those who kill seals for their
own pleasure and use, can take as many seal pups as they want,
including those who are just born and their protecting mothers.
Tens of thousands continue to be clubbed to death in this
barbaric way, even though the world, including those who should
know such as politicians and government officials, believe that
there has been a total elimination of this cruel way of
slaughtering seal pups.
 
How wonderful that through ecotourism tourists from all over the
world come to the whelping grounds in early spring and can
witness this incredibly beautiful scenery of the ice nurseries in
the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are
generated through this tourism, and the income for the local
economy is far greater than the income from dead seals.
 
For commercial purposes, seals are no longer legally "white
coats" when they have their first grey hair appear. At that point
they are called "ragged-jackets" and they can be hunted
commercially. They are at that point barely 12 days old and may
still be with their mothers. However they now can be shot at and
"harvested". Meanwhile, the recreational hunters may have
"harvested" the mother seals, even though their pups are still
around, because hunters cannot see the difference between male
and female harp seals until they roll them over, and most would
have fled into the water upon spotting the approaching hunters.
 
 
In Canada we have game laws prohibiting hunting of deer and moose
when their newborn young are around. There is no law to prevent
the killing of mother seals with their pups around however, or
killing the pups when the mother seals are strongly defending
them. This is the time when mother and pup are most vulnerable.
 
Seals are mammals, warm blooded like the rest of us. There is
nothing to protect these marine mammals. Under Canadian law,
these mammals are legally considered to be fish!
 
In the United States The Marine Mammal Protection Act was created
in 1972. Its counterpart is long overdue in Canada.
 
Although claims are made by sealers and the government that it is
the intent to utilize the whole animal, seal meat is in fact
scarcely edible by most humans. Even heavily subsidized efforts
to help find new markets for seal meat have met with complete
failure, not only in Canada, but also in the Middle East and
Asia.
 
In studies conducted about contaminants in seal meat, reported
concentrations of mercury exceeded the AL (Canada Health and
Welfare `Action Levels' for food safety) for fish and fish
products in 100% of liver and muscle samples that were available
for comparison.
 
As a result, the meat is mostly sold at near give-away prices, to
feed captive foxes and mink in "fur farms".
 
The pelts are marketable, but not at prices which are economic in
the absence of government subsidies.
 
The most lucrative part of the seal in the market place is the
male sex organ, the penis, being sold to Asians for use in
aphrodesiac potions.
 
This trade in seal penises was brought to public attention by the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) newsservice, a year and a
half ago. Canada's wildlife population, whether they are seals or
black bears, slaughtered for their gall bladders and their paws,
to supply the oriental "traditional medicine" market, as well as
out-of-season deer for the velvet on their antlers, simply cannot
sustain this onslaught over time.
 
In mid-March 1995 it was confirmed by the fish processing plants,
that over 10,000 seal penises were sold in 1994, to the Asian
market, out of a harvest of some 59,000 seals.
 
We have both the moral duty and the environmental responsibility
to ensure that we do not witness and preside over the
extermination of species. This has already happened with so many
forms of wildlife, from passenger pigeons (at one time there were
many many millions of them, to the Atlantic walrus, which once
seemed abundantly plentiful, but have been killed into
extinction.
 
On recent radio shows in Newfoundland there have been many
calls from sealers who vow to wipe out all the seals. The same
has happened in letters to Newfoundland newspapers.
 
With so much anger and hatred against the seals by the sealers,
how can the hunt ever be conducted humanely?
 
The sealers are proud of their 500 year old tradition of killing
seals, however times have changed and more and more people around
the world resent the inhumane treatment of animals.
 
There are several different types of seals in Atlantic Canada:
hooded seals, grey seals, harbour seals and harp seals, of which
there are between 2.6 and 3.4 million.
 
Harp seals travel south from the Arctic to give birth in the Gulf
of St. Lawrence and off Newfoundland on the icefloes, in late
winter. While they are nursing, the mother seals do not eat and
lose more than six and a half pounds per day. They start their
way back to the Arctic in the early spring and feed mainly on
Arctic cod, a small, non-commercial species. They also eat
predators of cod, such as squid. Seals are accused of
contributing to the depletion of the cod stock, but considering
all the available data from stomach content analysis, Atlantic
cod has been found in fewer than two and a half percent of the
harp seals stomachs sampled.
 
With the collapse of the Canadian cod stocks, it would be natural
to expect the seal population to also plummet, if in fact they
were devouring so much cod as is claimed. Seals became a
scapegoat, rather than the overfishing by humans. Since the cod
have disappeared, however, the seal population has remained
stable in number.
 
It seems the seals have been easier to blame than humans who
overfished.
 
The Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey of Oxford University, a
leading theologian addressing the moral and ethical dimension of
human behaviour in relation to animals, recently condemned the
revived seal hunt in Canada.
 
"The idea that animals are here for our use has a long history,"
he states. "The new idea that there are moral limits to what we
do to animals has been a long time coming and its practical
implications will appear radical and uncompromising."
 
Unless there is a clarification of this issue on moral grounds,
and unless our churches, organizations and individuals can be
heard to speak out against the cruelty and wasteful practices, I
fear that the silence will be taken as tacit approval of what is
transpiring.
 
I'll be happy to supply scientific data and further information
on the above.
 
     Corinne Boyer - Toronto, Canada
 
     Please contact me at:
 
     MCI Mailbox: CBoyer/493-2459
     or
     FAX: 416-252-8291
 
Corinne Boyer has been a regular visitor to the whelping grounds
of the Magdalen Islands during the early part of March. She has
made extensive studies on the sealing issue and is writing a book
on the subject.
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