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Canada’s annual seal hunt again stirred up protests from animal rights groups around the world, who pointed out that worsening ice conditions had contributed to the early demise of many seal pups and makes a sustainable "harvest" untenable. They called on the Canadian government to end the hunts, seek viable economic alternatives for the sealers impacted, and protect the surviving seal population.
Mother seals give birth to their young on ice floes. With weak ice increasing over the last few years, the pups drown before they are mature enough to fend for themselves. Last year, seal hunters killed approximately 30,000 pups. At the same time, according to the Canadian DFO, eighty percent of the pups born in 2011 were thought to have died due to the poor ice conditions.
"With the mortality from poor ice and the hunt in Canada, nearly all pups last year may have perished," pointed out Sheryl Fink, Director of the Seal Program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (www.ifaw.org). "Canada is not protecting the few pups who may survive the bad ice."
At the same time, the market for seal pelts and derivatives such as seal oil has fallen to record lows after the closing of markets for seal products in the European Union and Russia, where ninety percent of the pelts used to go before late last year.
"Global markets for seal products have closed for good, so the Newfoundland government is financing this senseless slaughter," said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada. "In doing so, the government has turned the sealing industry into a glorified welfare program."
HSIl/Canada continues to collect evidence of the cruelty of Canada’s commercial seal hunt, providing witnesses to the slaughter of pups and following the sealing vessels who participate.
“Despite millions of dollars in government financing provided to the sealing industry this year, most sealers are not participating in the slaughter," Aldworth noted. "In recent days, only a few dozen sealing vessels have hailed out, down from more than one thousand in the past. As of April 15, about 25,000 seals have been killed out of a quota of 400,000."
However, she added, "it was devastating to witness the suffering of the very young pups, who were killed just so their skins could be stockpiled. Just as notable was the impact of climate change on these ice dependent harp seals. Instead of solid pack ice, we found tiny, melting ice floes and only a few thousand pups in regions where there should be hundreds of thousands."
Aldworth hopes that the Canadian government will "end the slaughter by affording immediate compensation to sealers in exchange for their sealing licenses and investing in economic alternatives."
The Canadian Department of Oceans and Fisheries (DFO) has set this year’s total allowable catch at 400,000 pups.
Photo of seal on ice courtesy of IFAW
To learn more about how to help protect animals, visit The Animal Rescue Site's Take Action Center.