PROTESTS against the world’s largest commercial slaughter of wild marine animals will take place this weekend in the UK, Canada and the US.

A huge demonstration is planned for London’s Trafalgar Square as part of the International Day of Action for the Seals on Sunday. It aims to put pressure on the Canadian government before their annual sanctioned massacre of hundreds of thousands of baby harp seals.

In a few weeks, the seas around Newfoundland will be red with blood as the pups are bludgeoned to death or shot by hunters. Still-conscious seals are dragged across the ice floes with boat hooks and many are skinned alive.

The dead and dying seals are then tossed into heaps and left to rot as there is no longer any market for their meat.

A witness in a recent report for the Christian Science Monitor said “the few terrified survivors” were left to “crawl through the carnage” while “sealers’ laughter echoed across the ice floes”.

Another wrote: “A seal appears to gasp for air, blood running from its nose as it lies on an ice floe. Not far away, a sealer sharpens his knife blade. The seal seems to be thrashing as its fur is sliced from its torso.”


HARP seal pups are remarkable for their fluffy white fur and big, black eyes but their cuteness is no protection from the hunters once they are 12 days old. At that point their fur begins to change and it is legal to club them to death.

A total of 95 per cent of harp seals killed in the annual slaughter are between one and four months old. The average life span of a seal is 35 years.

Of the remaining five per cent of older seals, mostly killed in open water, one seal is believed to be struck and lost for every animal landed.

Findings in a 2007 survey showed only 15 per cent of seals observed in video footage were killed in a manner conforming to Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations.

Vets have found that many seals are skinned alive

In the first phase of the hunt, sealers typically approach the seals on the ice and then club them with “hakapiks” (long sticks with a hooked blade at one end). After clubbing the seals, they are supposed to check whether the seal pup is dead before skinning the seal.

An analysis by a panel of vets funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2001 showed that about 40 per cent of the seals are skinned while alive and conscious.

Vets say the seal hunt is inherently inhumane. In 2007, an international panel of veterinary and zoology experts studied the hunt.

Their report detailed a widespread disregard for regulations by Canadian sealers; a failure to monitor the seal hunt by Canadian authorities; high wounding rates in seals that were shot or clubbed; wounded seals left to suffer for protracted periods of time, and sealers failing to ensure animals were deadin 66 per cent of cases.

The report concluded that both clubbing and shooting of seals should be considered unacceptable.


SEALING has taken place in Canada for hundreds, if not thousands, of years but in the past the indigenous people killed just what they needed and used the entire seal for food, clothing, heating and lighting.

The numbers slaughtered quickly rose when it was realised that money could be made from both the pelts and the oil. Sealing became a major industry, finally threatening to wipe out the species as harp seal populations dropped to a perilously low level in the 1960s when annual kills averaged around 300,000.

Conservationists demanded reduced rates of killing and in 1971 a quota system was brought in. But critics claim the government’s science is faulty and the population is still under threat, with climate change also having a dramatic effect on the seals’ habitat.

Despite this, annual quotas remain high (between 100,000 and 300,000 per year) although the hunters do not always kill the allotted number as the pelts are worth far less than before, partly because of a European Union ban on pelt imports.

Critics point out that their income from the slaughter is now a tiny fraction of the amount generated by the Newfoundland fishing industry and less than one per cent of the economy of Newfoundland, where seal slaughter takes place.

Canada has spent millions of pounds fighting the EU ban and millions more on pro-sealing campaigns, coastguard monitoring of the slaughter and the monitoring of activists’ online activity.

In 2009, the Canadian government estimated that enforcement of the Marine Mammal Regulations cost between $1.8 million and $3.6m – for an industry that brought in less than $1.5m that year.

A 2010 study by the University of Guelph in Ontario found that ending the commercial slaughter would actually save Canada millions of dollars and celebrities like Paul McCartney have claimed that promoting the area as an ecotourism site would be far more lucrative than the annual “harvest”.


SO with all the protests and difficulties, why does the Canadian government continue to allow it?

Some fishing industry lobby groups claim that seals must be culled to protect fish stocks – but many scientists say the cause of the depletion of fish stocks off Canada’s east coast is simply a result of human overfishing. Approximately three per cent of a harp seal’s diet is commercially fished cod but they also eat many significant predators of cod, such as squid. Some scientists believe that culling harp seals could further inhibit recovery of commercially valuable fish stocks in the northwest Atlantic.

In any case, protestors claim the government could easily shut down the seal hunt and replace it with economic alternatives.

One solution, supported by both animal protection groups and sealers, is a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry. This would involve the government “buying back” sealing licences from fishermen, compensating them for lost revenue after ending the slaughter. Such a plan would be coupled with an investment in developing economic alternatives for the communities affected.

Fishing industry buyouts are nothing new to the Canadian government – over $4 billion has been spent on Canada’s east coast on buyouts and alternative economic development plans in recent years.

Ironically, in the Magdalen Islands – one of Canada’s sealing areas – seal watching now brings in more money to local communities than seal hunting does.