03/23/2017 11:07 EDT | Updated 03/23/2017 11:08 EDT

Sealers Want To Start Annual Hunt During Pup Season. Enough Is Enough

As if the poor harp seals didn't have it bad enough. Earlier this year poor ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence led scientists to predict that many pups were likely to drown or become crushed to death in the ice. Now, sealers in Newfoundland want to open the annual slaughter two weeks early, removing one of the few protections remaining for this iconic Canadian species.

seal pup hunt

(Photo: Kevin Prannecke via Getty Images)

Harp seal pups are born on the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Late February, and on the Front off Newfoundland in early March. This timing is variable, however, and may be affected by changing ice conditions, with pupping being delayed or extended in years of poor ice conditions.

Harp seal pups are highly dependent on their mothers for the first two weeks of life. In order to allow harp seal mothers to give birth and nurse their pups, Fisheries and Oceans Canada closes the Commercial and Personal Use seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador for a short period, usually a few weeks. This closure also reduces the risk that whitecoat seal pups will be killed.

But now, fisheries unions in Newfoundland and Labrador are demanding an early opening of the hunt, supposedly so that fishermen may kill adult seals.

We cannot allow the few protections still offered to wildlife to be whittled away.

But this argument seems suspicious, since 95 per cent of the harp seals killed in recent years have been pups under three months of age (colloquially known as "beaters") which are targeted primarily for their skins. Other than limited local demand, there are few markets for seal meat, and according to landed catch statistics some 92 per cent of the meat from the annual hunt is being wasted.

The most valuable part of an adult harp seal in recent years has been its penis, raising renewed concerns about increased involvement in the bogus seal-penis sex potion trade.

It is virtually impossible to identify an adult female from an adult male harp seal at a distance. Although the Marine Mammal Regulations prohibit killing adult seals in whelping patches, it is difficult to see how this will be enforced. DFO themselves state that the annual closure is intended "to allow time for seal whelping and nursing." Opening the annual slaughter before pups are weaned raises the possibility that nursing females will be killed, leaving their pups to starve to death.

In addition, it increases the likelihood that adult seals will be shot at in the water at a time when their blubber reserves are low, and chances of sinking are high. The 2005 report of the Independent Veterinarians Working Group on the Canadian Harp Seal Hunt recommended that seals should not be shot in the water due to the high probability of being "struck and lost" or wounded, causing unnecessary suffering.

For their part, Fisheries and Oceans has said they have not decided whether to bent to the sealers' demands. It's time to say enough is enough. We cannot allow the few protections still offered to wildlife to be whittled away at the demands of those industries who wish to exploit it and kill for profit.

Please take action and let Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc know that allowing the commercial seal slaughter to proceed while helpless pups are still nursing from their mothers is absolutely unacceptable. Harp seals are already facing threats from climate change and commercial exploitation; we should not be removing one of the few remaining protections left for this species.

The commercial slaughter of seals on Canada's east coast is an industry that should be ended, not expanded.

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