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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
“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.
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.
Since we don’t kill “whitecoats”, we are no longer killing baby seals.
- FACTS #1:
- 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 entire animal is used from nose to tail and nothing ever goes to waste.
- FACTS #2:
- 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 hunt is humane.
Descriptions of horrific methods of slaughter are false.
- FACTS #3:
- 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.
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 ViewI 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
- FACTS #4: