Canadian Seal

I am Canadian and it is astonishing to me that I know so little about the Commercial Seal Hunt, the roots of which run deep in the fabric of Canadian history. The only real childhood memory I have of the Seal Hunt is, funnily enough, a good one. I remember vividly the Christmas gifts of sealskin fashioned into boots, hats, change purses…. the joy that came from opening these treasures wrapped in festive paper and ribbon was palpable. Although the memory of celebrating with my family is still treasured, I now think quite differently about the glorification surrounding the receiving and wearing and using of the skins of slaughtered babies and their parents.

Seal Fur as Fashion

The commercial hunting of seals by migratory fishermen in Newfoundland, Labrador and the Gulf of St- Lawrence began as early as the 1500’s. Large-scale commercial seal hunting became an annual event starting in 1723 and expanded rapidly near the turn of the 18th century. The Inuit, according to archeological research, have been hunting the seal in northern regions of what is now Canada for 4000 years, the ring seal being their main source of food and clothing and tools; whereas it is the harp seals who, in the commercial side of sealing. are now hunted primarily for their fur.  The Inuit hunt year round and are exempt from the established regulations of the Annual Commercial Seal Hunt.

 

The Inuit do not require licenses. They are exempt from any bans (Eu ban, American ban, etc), and their hunt is not regulated.

As set out by the Marine Mammals Regulations, the season for the commercial harvest of harp and hooded seals is November 15 to June 14.

The majority of sealing occurs between late March and mid-May, beginning around the third week in March in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and about the second week in April off Newfoundland and Labrador (the Front).

Normally, sealing areas are closed to hunting on March 15th by the Canadian government to allow time for seal whelping and nursing. The  Newfoundland commercial seal hunt reopens in mid-April, after the pups have been weaned. In its infinite wisdom, The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans agreed, upon request by the fisheries unions, to re-open the 2017 commercial seal slaughter in Newfoundland two weeks early, on March 28th, even though there are mother seals who are likely still nursing their pups.

Lives Lost for the Sake of Fashion

It is interesting to note that the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) refers to the annual commercial slaughter as a harvest, a seemingly innocuous euphemism likening these marine mammals and their families to potatoes and carrots. In my view, it is an affront to an animal species which continues to be mercilessly killed in the commercial hunt for the sake of tradition and profit.

But how profitable is the modern day industry? Despite an annual quota in the neighborhood of 400,000 with anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 seals being killed, the industry’s profitability is rapidly declining; this is largely due to import bans in place by more than 35 countries as well as the declining sales of seal products in the rest of Canada. Ongoing governmental financial support of the commercial seal hunt has not been able to stem the losses, bringing into question whether or not sealing is a viable means of making a living for the hunters, despite their claims to the contrary.

 In 2006 fur made up $16.4 million of the $18 million worth of seal products Canada exported. Preliminary data from the Canadian government shows that sales of all seal products overseas plummeted to less than $1 million last year(in 2016).

Time to End the Commercial Seal Hunt

It saddens me to know that in  2013 and beyond, 90% of the seal flesh was left on the ice as there is almost no market for it. Pelts have been stockpiled without processing for the same reason. How can we justify doing this to them when times and needs have changed so drastically?  This unbelievable waste of life underlines our total lack of respect for the living, our continued penchant for callously viewing other animals as commodities to be exploited, hunted, viciously murdered, their lives squandered for little reason.

Murray McVegan, with whom I have  the pleasure of advocating, has a unique perspective on the Commercial Seal Hunt. He is a native Newfoundlander who understands intimately the history  and the mindset of his fellow citizens. He is also a vegan. Here are his heartfelt words about an industry which he says needs to end now.

Murray McVegan’s Vegan View:

Canada

“When advocating for animals, activists often deal with a high degree of cognitive dissonance from those who have been conditioned from an early age to view animal use as normal, natural and necessary. For good measure throw in a cruel practice that is also considered heroic, a legendary source of pride, and you have cognitive dissonance on steroids! I’m speaking here of the Annual Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt and, more specifically,  the attitude of Newfoundlanders (NLers) toward AR groups and activists in the province I call home.

Newfoundland and Labrador

As you might imagine, there is wide spread majority support for the “hunt” in Newfoundland. The industry players and politicians have done a thorough job of dispensing false information and downright lies to the general population. Typically, NLers will find ways to confirm said misinformation despite credible sources to the contrary.

  •  
    • FACTS #1:
      Nearly all the seals slaughtered are babies between 3 weeks and 3 months old: they only become sexually mature between the ages of 6 and 8 years and their average natural lifespan is 35 years.
      It is legal (since 1987)  to slaughter baby seals once they have shed their white coats at just 12-14 days old.
      The most valued fur is that of the 3 week to 3 month old babies.
      THE DENIAL:
      Since we don’t kill “whitecoats”, we are no longer killing baby seals.

 

    • FACTS #2:
      90% of the meat is left on the ice after the seals are skinned for their fur.
      There is very little market for the meat, as most people find it unpalatable.
      THE DENIAL:
      The entire animal is used from nose to tail and nothing ever goes to waste.

 

    • FACTS #3:
      The animals are shot from open boats in often unstable conditions.
      Many are just wounded and slip from the ice into the water in an effort to escape.
      Those who are not killed instantly die a slow painful death, or wait in agony to be finally dispatched by a blow to the skull with a club or hakapik.
      THE DENIAL:
      The hunt is humane.
      Descriptions of  horrific methods of slaughter are false.

 

    • FACTS #4:
      Tales of heroic deeds and sad tragedies such as those recounted in Cassie Brown’s beloved book Death on the Ice, surround the historic seal hunt and fuel the self protective, Newfoundland rhetoric.
      Tradition, culture and history are not reasonable justifications for the ongoing cruel slaughter of seals in an industry which is no longer profitable, sustainable and useful.
      THE DENIAL:
      Tradition, culture and history validate the modern day hunt.

     

     MURRAY’S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AS AN AR ACTIVIST AND CITIZEN OF NEWFOUNDLAND:

      • We are routinely threatened, insulted, verbally abused and laughed at when advocating for an end to the seal hunt.
      • We are labelled “NOT REAL NEWFOUNDLANDERS“.
      • Some of us have had to change our Facebook names and limit our privacy settings to protect our identity, even though this is difficult in a province of only 500,000 people, where the degree of separation is very small.
      • I am often embarrassed and saddened that a people who are normally renowned to be friendly and kind, could so blindly and vehemently defend a brutal practice that has long since passed its time.

       

      We need a strong, unified and proud Newfoundland and Canadian voice to finally bring to an end to this horrible massacre of innocent marine mammals. It is time.”

      Annie’s Vegan View

      I echo Murray’s heart when I say that we stand united with and for all other species of animals trapped in and exploited by our various death for profit industries.

      It is time.

      Veganism, for all the reasons.

      May all beings be happy and free.

      Anne

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8 thoughts on “The Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt: A Newfoundlander’s Vegan View

  • May 24, 2017 at 11:00 am
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    Thank you Anne. It’s barbaric what we do to these lovely creatures. My heart aches for them and all of the feathered, furry, and scaled beings that we exploit for GREED not NEED.

    Reply
    • May 25, 2017 at 5:54 am
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      Hi Tannia,
      Greed, not need – me too! What once was is not a good enough reason to continue to exploit all other species of animals currently trapped in our death for profit industries. I am glad that my article resonated with you.
      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply
  • May 25, 2017 at 6:26 pm
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    Times are changing and we must too. Thanks for this informative article Anne.

    Reply
  • May 27, 2017 at 6:10 am
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    Hi Murray,
    Thank you for your insight and unique perspective as a Newfoundlander and vegan and AR advocate. Your collaboration was key in getting this article published. Let this be the last year for the Commercial Seal Hunt.
    Take care,
    Anne

    Reply
  • June 2, 2017 at 9:16 am
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    Hi Anne,
    I learned a lot from this article. Thank you for the research you put into writing it. “Cognitive Dissonance on steroids!” I like it. When it comes to tradition this happens a lot.

    I also hate the term “harvesting seals”. These aren’t vegetables but living, breathing sentient beings who deserve to be left in peace with their families.

    This is a barbaric practice that needs to end now!

    Thank God for people like you and Murray who put the truth out there.

    Rachel

    Reply
  • June 4, 2017 at 11:53 am
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    Hi Rachel,
    I am happy that my article was helpful. I was woefully ignorant of the facts around the Commercial Seal Hunt until I had some help from Murray and started doing some research on my own.
    Let’s hope it follows the way of the Ringling Circus and becomes a travesty of the past.
    Take care.
    Anne

    Reply
  • June 17, 2017 at 2:26 pm
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    I am so impressed with your writing. I am embarrassed to say I just discovered your site and your articles. Thank you for giving me great ideas for how to express myself around non-animal rights friends and family.

    Reply
    • June 18, 2017 at 8:06 am
      Permalink

      Hi Melissa,
      Welcome to my website and thank you for your kind comments.I am so glad that my articles resonate with you. I look forward to interacting with you and sharing our ideas back and forth.
      Take care.
      Anne

      Reply

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