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The mass murder of seals in Canada, which has the support of powers that be, must come to an end. The world must come together to exert economic pressure

As I write, what the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) describes as “the largest slaughter of marine mammals on the planet”, continues in Canada. It occurs in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, and usually in spring, the breeding season for seals when pups are born and are nursed by their mothers.

The scale of the carnage can well be imagined from the fact that, as pointed out by the HSUS, “More than one million seals have been slaughtered in the past five years alone.” The actual number is likely to be higher as many of the seals, wounded after being shot from moving boats, are left to die slowly and painfully. This happens principally because the main seal-skin processing firm in Canada deducts $2 for every bullet hole found. Hence, seal-killers are reluctant to shoot more than once, leaving the wounded in agony.

The main victims are Harp seals though hooded seals are also targeted. The HSUS further points out that 97 per cent of the Harp seals are pups below three months of age. This is because their fur is softer and more in demand. As can be imagined, the mass murder is primarily for fur, which is used for coats and other fashion garments. Seal oil and body parts are also sold in Asia, the latter as aphrodisiac.

The mass slaughter is perpetrated in the cruellest manner possible. Besides guns, the weapons used are wooden clubs, hakapiks (large clubs looking like ice axes), and harpoons. In an article in the Observer dated April 18, 2017, Michael Sainato quotes Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, as saying, “For 18 years, I’ve observed the Atlantic Canadian seal slaughter at close range and witnessed a level of suffering most adult people can’t bear to watch on video. Almost all of the seals killed are pups just a few weeks old, and they are treated brutally,” She adds, “Baby seals are routinely shot and wounded and left crawling through their own blood over the ice, crying out in agony. Many conscious, wounded baby seals are impaled on metal hooks and dragged onto the bloody decks of the boats where they are clubbed to death. Wounded seal pups also escape into water where they die slowly and painfully.”

It is not that the Canadian Government is unaware of the stomach-turning savagery involved in the mass killing. Organisations like the HSUS, Humane Society International, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, In Defense of Animals and many others devoted to animal protection, rights and care have been for years strongly protesting against the utterly savage exercise. Public opinion the world over is increasingly assertive against it. Jane Dalton wrote in The Independent of Britain dated March 27, 2019, that in 2009, the demand for seal fur plummeted after the European Union banned imports, following uproar over clubbing. According to Jani Actman in an article published in the National Geographic on April 5, 2017, campaigns against the killingsNational Geographic  have led to more than 35 countries, including Russia and the European Union, to ban seal imports while allowing imports of products from Canadian Inuit, the country’s original population, who have their separate hunt, different from the massacres for commerce.

All this and the protests have hurt the seal products industry. In his piece, Actman cites Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans as stating that sales had declined from $34 million in 2006 to only $1.6 million in 2016 (his articles, published in 2017, speaks of “last year”). Canada’s Government, however, continues to support the annual massacre, as does Norway’s, which provides significant financial support to a company which buys up close to 80 per cent of the seal skins produced, tans and re-exports them. Both Governments challenged the European Union’s ban but the WTO upheld it in 2013 on the ground that it was in keeping with canons of public morality.

Notwithstanding the uproar, the Canadian Government not only sanctions the massacre every year but subsidises it. The HSUS cites reports from the Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment, as stating that more than $20 million in subsidies were provided to the sealing industry between 1995 and 2001. These were for a variety of purposes, including the funding of salaries for seal processing plant workers, market research and development trips and capital acquisitions for processing plants. In 2004, the Canadian Government provided more than $400,000 to companies for the development of seal products. Not only that, as Jani Actman points out in his piece published in the National Geographic on April 5, 2017, that “Documents released under freedom of access laws in Canada revealed that the Canadian Government was spending five times the amount of money — $2.5 million — to monitor seal hunts than the income generated by the hunts themselves — $500,000.”

Two arguments are generally advanced to defend the massacres. The first is that the seals consume so much cod that there is a decline in their numbers, which is inimical to Canada’s fishing industry. This is patently untrue. Cods account only for  a very small part of seals’ diet. Harp seals, the HSUS points out, consume only three per cent of cod fished commercially. Not just that, Harp seals eat up many predators of cod like squids. If stocks of the cod have fallen, the cause is over-fishing.

The other argument is that the slaughter represents a “cultural tradition” and generates economic activity. Both hold little water. As to the first, a cultural activity that involves massacres, it hardly deserves to be nursed. As to the second, as the HSUS points out, an average fisherman on Canada’s east coast, who hunts seals as an off-season activity, derives only one-twentieth of his income from it. The rest comes from commercial fishing. Even in Newfoundland, where most sealers live, income from the hunt accounts for less than one per cent of the province’s economy and less than two per cent of the landed value of the fishery.

The harsh fact is that the annual slaughter continues because those in power in Canada support it. It can only end if sufficient external pressure is applied. Animal lovers the world over must urge their Governments to join the process and hold all economic and cultural ties with Canada in abeyance till the horrible slaughter ends.

(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)