In today's global economy, enlightened trade decisions made in one part of the world can save animals thousands of miles away.
Such is the case with Taiwan, which has just prohibited trade in marine mammals and their products. The move is a significant gain in the effort to protect marine mammals from cruelty and human-caused threats globally, and in the campaign to end commercial sealing.
Canada's seal slaughter is the largest kill of marine mammals on Earth. Each year, up to hundreds of thousands of baby seals are clubbed and shot to death for their fur and oil. Because many Canadians oppose the commercial seal hunt, there is very little domestic market for seal products, and they are generally exported for sale in foreign countries. There, unwitting consumers, with little knowledge of how seal products are derived, create the financial incentive for Canada's fishermen to kill seals.
It is the nature of this cruelty that motivates Humane Society International to travel to the remote ice floes off Canada's east coast each year to document the seal slaughter. Our cameras record what citizens in other countries -- and even in Canada -- rarely see: the unbearable suffering of the defenceless seal pups who are the targets of this massive slaughter.
The horrific images we film each year have sparked a global movement to stop the seal slaughter, compelling governments to close their borders to seal products.
In 2009, the 27-nation European Union joined the United States and Mexico in prohibiting trade in products of commercial seal hunts. Prices for seal fur in Canada crashed, and many questioned whether the industry could continue. Then, two years later, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan banned imports of harp seal fur, removing one of the largest remaining markets for the Canadian sealing industry.
In the past four years alone, more than one-million seals have been spared a horrible fate because of the responsible and compassionate actions of governments in prohibiting seal product trade.
With industry executives confirming late last year that hundreds of thousands of seal furs are now in stockpiles, many believed the Canadian government would do as the majority of Canadians want, and end the seal hunt for good. Instead, our government vowed to develop alternate markets in Asia. Last year, government subsidies were provided so sealers could slaughter even more seals to meet "future demand."
Taiwan's decision is so important because it sends a clear signal to the Canadian sealing industry and government that Asia will not become a dumping ground for these products of cruelty that the rest of the world has rejected. The Taiwanese ban sets a powerful example that we hope many nations in Asia will follow.
Ultimately, the end of commercial sealing is inevitable, but there is a solution at hand right now that can benefit seals and the sealers alike. Humane Society International is hoping to work in cooperation with sealers to lobby the federal government for a fair and generous buyout of the sealing industry. This simple plan would involve the government ending the seal hunt, providing immediate compensation to sealers, and investing in economic alternatives. Polling shows that half of Newfoundland sealers are already open to such an idea. One industry that could be developed is marine eco-tourism.
The amazing migration of harp seals to Canada's east coast is one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles in the world. In the 21st century, we should do everything in our power to protect these magnificent animals, not subject them to a relentless slaughter that brings Canada growing condemnation from around the globe.
For the seals and the sealers, it is high time Canada listened to countries like Taiwan and relegated commercial sealing to the history books where it belongs.
WARNING: SLIDESHOW CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES