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13 Days Of Peace Before The Hunt For Seals

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Commercial sealing has received a lot of buzz this year, but little of it includes the perspectives of groups who work to stop it. The romanticizing of commercial sealing continues virtually unfettered. Canadian parliamentarians trip over each other to defend Newfoundland commercial sealers. Vancouver-based chefs sell Atlantic Canadian seal meat, eagerly parroting industry propaganda.

But behind the spin lines, and deplorable aboriginal cultural appropriation aimed at marketing an activity that entails an industrial-scale slaughter taking place in Atlantic Canada, lies an irrefutable truth that will ultimately be the undoing of the commercial sealing industry: For this bloody industry, cash always trumps common decency.

seals
(Photo: Michael Bernard, HSI/Canada)

Today, the commercial sealing industry and Canadian government self-righteously tell the world that newborn seals are protected in Canada, as if the move was voluntary. But it wasn't. Millions of people campaigned for a prohibition on trade in newborn harp seals (whitecoats) and hooded seal pups (bluebacks) and in 1987 they won. The public record is clear: the Canadian government and commercial sealing industry fought every step of the way to prevent the world from protecting newborn seals, until they had no choice but to concede.

A decade later, 101 sealers -- including the president and two directors of the Canadian Sealers Association -- were charged with illegally selling 2,200 whitecoats and 22,800 bluebacks. Two years after that, Canadian government documents revealed how commercial sealers deliberately slaughtered hundreds of pregnant and nursing hooded seals that year, cutting the living fetuses out of the dying mothers and throwing them into the ocean to drown. Ten years later, sealers were still arguing in court that it was their right to kill bluebacks. Veterinary recommendations to prohibit cruel hunting methods, such as shooting at seals in the water, have been rejected consistently because they would restrict the viability of the industry.

This year has served as a stark reminder of that lack of moral compass.

Because of the hard work of animal protection groups, seals have a short reprieve from slaughter in Canada: the hunt is closed for just three weeks while seals birth and nurse their pups. But even that temporary respite -- in a full year when seals can be targeted by commercial hunters -- is too much for commercial sealers.

Three days after the March 15th temporary closure, a major seal processor was already pressuring the federal government to reopen the killing. And, without missing a beat, the Trudeau administration agreed to reopen the slaughter on March 28th to April 7th.

Sealing boats crashing through the ice, gunfire and the cries of dying seals will shatter the peace of the nursery.

Thirteen days: that is all the time the Canadian government afforded seals to give birth to and nurse their pups. Thirteen days of peace that is now to be followed by gunshots and blows from clubs.

The sealers claim they will target adult seals in this section of the hunt. But for mother seals and their very young pups, it spells disaster. Sealing boats crashing through the ice, gunfire and the cries of dying seals will shatter the peace of the nursery. Mother seals are also away from their pups sporadically so, whether they intend to or not, sealers could easily kill nursing mothers, leaving pups to starve.

Just days from now, the hunt for the babies -- just a few weeks old by that point -- will begin.

I've observed the commercial seal hunt for 18 years. In that time, I've consistently documented baby seals suffering cruelty most adults cannot stand to watch on video. Three-week-old pups shot in the face, back or neck, left crawling through their own blood, crying in agony. Conscious seals impaled on gaffs, hoisted onto bloody decks and beaten to death. Babies too young for slaughter left to crawl through bloody remains.

For my efforts, I've had sealers physically attack me on the ice. I've been surrounded by mobs. I've been called every name in the book for trying to stop what any responsible nation would have outlawed 100 years ago. All because sealers know our campaign is working.

But today, I'm left with the knowledge that there is no greater enemy to commercial sealing than the industry itself. The kind of unethical cash grab we are witnessing this week exposes -- better than anything I could ever say -- exactly what this industry is about...and what is at stake.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog stated that the hunt for Harp seals re-opened on March 28, 2017, but did not mention that it was a limited hunt of adult Harp seals that would end on April 7th, 2017. The headline has been updated to reflect this change.

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