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Saturday 16 April 2011

The Seal Hunt

I have been lucky enough to have been in various positions that have allowed me to express my opinions through various written means. About 6 years ago I worked with an environmental not-for-profit, The Protected Areas Association,or PAA, and I was a regular contributor to the seasonal newsletter. With the annual seal hunt in the news again recently it reminded me that I had written an article regarding the hunt back in 2006 for the PAA newsletter. A quick search led me to the Spring and Summer edition of Fresh Tracks that you can find here in PDF.

A quick read through the article and I was reassured that I still agree with my position in 2006. So, to reiterate my original points I am posting the original text of that article, simply titled The Seal Hunt.

As the summer months draw closer there are a few certainties residents of this province are familiar with. The summer won’t be a warm or as long as we’d like, tourists and cruise ships will come, and maybe, just maybe we won’t have to hear about the seal hunt for at least seven or eight months, if we’re lucky. Complaining about seal hunt protestors is starting to be a regular tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The call-in shows are blocked, Letters to the editor are written in anger and journalists across the province and the country prepare for the battle. The problem with battles is that lines get drawn and assumptions get made. Being an environmental organization is never easy but It gets even more difficult during the seal hunt. During the hunt one of the first questions people often ask is if we're affiliated with any of the animal rights groups and even though we're not, we often get tarred and feathered right along with them.

Any accusation of unsustainable harvesting of any species is a concern to the Protected Areas Association. DFO has set this year's commercial hunt limit at 325,000 animals, or about 6% of the estimated 5.82 million animals. Animal welfare groups contend that the herd is much smaller and that the harvest level is far too high. The dilemma is who to believe? No group besides DFO has published a science-based population assessment to challenge the estimate of 5.82 million animals. No assessment has been carried out on the long-term sustainability of current harvest levels.

If one assumes that the harvest level is in fact sustainable then why and how is it different from any other animal hunt in the world? This hunt is perhaps the most watched and documented on the planet, yet accusations for and against the hunt abound. Animal welfare groups claim that the hunt is inhumane and continue to use images of whitecoat seals. It has been nearly 20 years however since Canada banned the hunt of whitecoats. As for the idea of a humane kill there have been studies that state that a sharp blow to the head or a bullet to the brain are both methods to inflict instant death with a minimal amount of suffering. A special report in the September 2002 edition of the Canadian Veterinary Journal titled Animal Welfare and the harp seal hunt in Atlantic Canada concludes that, “… the large majority of seals taken during this hunt are killed in an acceptably humane manner.”

If that were the end of the accusations very few Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would be upset. But perhaps the most disturbing dimension of the seal hunt controversy is the celebrity-sponsored international smear campaigning against sealing, sealers, and the province as a whole. Not surprisingly, celebrity protest appears to have only further entrenched public support of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for the hunt.

With the price of harp seal pelts reaching $105 each this year this is not an issue that will soon go away. Some hunters will always have less respect for life but the continuing challenge is to monitor and assess the activities in the seal hunt to ensure that animals do not suffer and that harvest levels are sustainable over the long term. People will read the articles, watch the videos and listen to the commentary and decide for themselves what side of the argument they fall on. Of course this is an issue that spurs an emotional response both for and against the hunt and as long as emotion clouds the facts, this new tradition of Newfoundland and Labrador life will be kept alive and well.

Points of clarification
1. The current Harp Seal population is estimated at 9 million according to DFO numbers as seen here. That's an increase of over 3 million in 5 years. Hardly an endangered species.

2. The total allowable catch for the 2011 Harp seal is 400,000, as seen here.

3. The current price for seal pelts is approximately $21 per pelt as seen here.

4. The report "Animal Welfare and the harp seal hunt in Atlantic Canada" can be found here in PDF.

5. This article represents my opinions on the seal hunt and I am no longer employed by the Protected Areas Association, and I am not aware of, nor claim to represent, their views on the seal hunt.

Based on the information that I have found from unbiased sources, the seal hunt in Canada is undertaken on a very healthy population of animals, using reasonably humane techniques and as long as those two criteria are met, I will continue to support it. Not because I'm a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, but because I prefer to make those decisions for myself, based on science, and not be convinced by fear mongering propaganda.


  1. Please post my info so people can learn the truth of who's ganing from the seal hunt ban.
    Go to:

  2. there is no such thing as "reasonably" humane. If sealers can't adhere to the MMR regulations for landing a seal then there is no way the seal hunt should occur. It appears that the environment that the hunt takess place in removes the ability for sealers to be humane and personally I don't think most sealers even care. With that said I would hope the the commercial east coast seal slaughter can end as soon as possible and leave any hunting to the Inuit

  3. In an abattoir 96% of animals are rendered irreversibly unconscious by the first use of the stun gun. On the ice 99% of animals are stunned either first shot or first blow of the hakapik. Domesticated animals suffer the stress of being taken to the slaughter house, many seals are killed before they are aware that a man is near. If the slaughter of domesticated animals is considered humane, then the seal hunt must be reasonably humane. The problem is that killing an animal can never be pretty. Abattoirs are places that the public are excluded from, and film makers do not wish to film there, so the only killing most people see is a seal on the ice.

    If any one knows of any cruelty in the seal hunt, they are encouraged to report it to the Department of Fisheries. Court records show that they will bring prosecutions on evidence brought to them by the public. Court records also show that film evidence provided by animal rights groups is likely to have been edited and therefore unusable. The Department of Fisheries asked IFAW to hand over their unedited video of this years hunt. IFAW said they would, the Department of Fisheries say they have not received it.

    The hunt is observed by professional independent on board Observers, Fishery Officers, RCMP Police Officers, Quebec Police Officers and Coast Guards. It is also Observed by amateur observers who often display an ignorance of biology, things like reflex actions after death. I would except the evidence of the professionals, men of high integrity, without a stain on their name. Unless you know otherwise, why not do the same?