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Bloodprints On Ice
Dead seals and men clubbing seals.

By Brenda Shoss, 11/4/04

Bloodprints On Ice
A white furry face with black moon eyes presses against her frantic mother. The pup hesitates before lifting her head to meet the blow of a club. Two more hits smash the fragile skull. The hunter forces a hook into the baby seal’s head to haul her across the ice floes to a waiting boat.

A nearby sealer overshoots, fracturing another pup’s ribs. Warm red strands bisect the ice as the man kicks the shrieking seal on to his back. A terrified mother watches the sealer skin her pup from groin to throat.

These brutal portraits will emerge nearly 1 million times over a three-year span. Fisherman off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador will use clubs to kill whitecoat pups and high-powered rifles to gun down adults. With an annual 350,000 kills, Canada conducts the world’s largest massacre of marine wildlife.

Young seals are clubbed to avoid bullet-riddled pelts. Although the slaughter of unweaned pups is forbidden, an estimated 95% of fatalities in 2003 were 12 days to 12 months old. In April of 2004, The New York Times reported, “With one or two blows to the head, they crush the skulls, sometimes leaving the young animals in convulsions.”

Men bludgeoning fuzzy-wuzzy pups? In Canada the harp seal is no cute critter. He is the official scapegoat for a depressed fishing industry.

In 1983, Canada’s commercial seal hunt collapsed amid global protest. But by the early 90s, cod were scarce. Canadian fisheries and politicians blamed the seals.

Meanwhile, foreign and domestic fishing fleets looted Newfoundland’s Grand Banks fishery. Oversize drag trawlers, with goliath nets that gobbled their way down to the sea floor, wasted minerals and vegetation as they dragged up cod by the ton.

In 1992, when the draggers surfaced empty, politicians scrambled to save local fisheries with subsidies. They also pledged to eradicate the “cod-killing” seal. Yet Brian Tobin, onetime Minister of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), refused to criminalize the seal because his own staff had no conclusive studies to verify a link between harp seals and diminishing cod.

Set to leave the DFO to become Newfoundland’s Premier in 1995, Tobin suddenly faced a seal-hating constituency. In a campaign flip-flop, he proclaimed: "There is only one major player still fishing the cod. His name is harp and his second name is seal."

Tobin’s final gift as DFO minister was the launch of a bigger and bolder seal hunt. Since then, offshore draggers continue to scourge the coasts beyond the government’s 200-mile boundary. Canadian firms still buy imported cod while fishing-repressed Newfoundlanders subsist on federal handouts. Rather than zero in on overfishing, authorities prefer to kill seals.

"I would like to see the six million seals, or whatever number is out there, killed and sold, or destroyed or burned,” John Efford, Newfoundland’s Minister of Fisheries, declared in 1998. “Kill them [seals] and they [cod] will come back."

“Only problem with Efford's wisdom is that scientific observation does not back up his political scapegoating of the seal,” argues Captain Paul Watson, an author and co-founder of Greenpeace who formed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977. Watson calls Efford’s rhetoric a “tirelessly repeated lie. We have politicians solving the problem of wildlife destruction by, well, destroying more wildlife.”

Watson—a native Canadian who once planted himself on an ice floe to barricade a baby seal from an advancing seal boat—backs his argument with expert opinion. “’Certainly, no Department of Fisheries scientist thinks the seal had anything to do with the fishery's collapse,” Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, a fishery biologist and former DFO consultant, has confided.

In fact, marine mammalogist Dr. David Lavigne attributes cod recovery to an abundant seal population. Lavigne claims cod make up just 3 percent of the harp seal diet. Seals primarily consume fish that prey on cod. Thus, fewer seals mean more predatory fishes, ultimately weakening the cod stock.

In 1999, seal hunt historian Farley Mowat told Watson a reported 300,000 seals didn’t account for the 900,000 actually killed. For every seal landed, more wounded seals drown beneath the ice. Sealers who overstep quota are not penalized. Due to limited supervision on the ice, Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) under the Canadian Fisheries Act are rarely enforced.

During a single March-April hunt, witnesses documented over 660 MMR violations. Data from 2001 showed 40% of seal pups were skinned alive. “We filmed seals being skinned alive right in front of us,” one observer told the BBC (4/7/04).

The market for seal meat is almost nonexistent. Some Newfoundlanders consume the flipper, but most of the carcass becomes animal feed or rots on the ice. A limited demand for seal fur in Norway, Denmark, Russia, and Eastern Europe results in a multitude of unsold pelts each year. Seal penises are peddled as impotence remedies in Asia and Canadian officials plug seal oil as an Omega 3 supplement.

“Imagine trying to market baby seals as some sort of health food product?” Watson asks. “Omega 3 and essential fatty acids can be [derived] from flax and hemp seed oil without ingesting PCB's and arsenic found in seal oil.”

The European Union banned seal hides in the 1980s. In the U.S., seal goods are illegal and many legislators support Senator Carl Levin’s resolution calling for an end to the hunt. Some animal protection groups advocate Canadian boycotts. Brigitte Bardot, Martin Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, William Shatner, Richard Dean Anderson, Paris Hilton,
and other celebrities publicly denounce the carnage. Polls show most Canadians oppose

Baby seals

the tax-subsidized hunt as well.

Nonetheless, the face-off between statesman and seal now flaunts the highest kill quotas in over 50 years. At this rate, the hunt seems unsustainable. Officials aren't worried. Most DFO ministers hail from Newfoundland, where seals are charged with wiping out the cod fisheries. Moreover, political parties vying to govern Newfoundland won't risk votes by condemning the hunt. Newfoundland's Green Party even endorses seal extermination.

Government apathy only drives Watson to end the bureaucratic battle over seals. "Sea Shepherd has been fighting the seal slaughter since the Seventies," he says. "We will continue to oppose it until we shut it down. We will never abandon the seals."

WHAT YOU CAN DO
1.) Sign up to help the seals. Join the Sea Shepherd's "Cyber Seal Navy" Activist list:
http://harpseals.org/cyberlist.html

2.) Visit the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society website to learn more about marine
wildlife issues: www.seashepherd.org

3.) Let Canada’s Prime Minister and Tourism Commission know you will boycott
Canadian tourism until the seal hunt is permanently banned.

Prime Minister Paul Martin
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Canada K1A 0A2
fax: 613-941-6900; email: pm@pm.gc.ca

Canadian Tourism Commission
55 Metcalfe Street, Suite 600
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1P 6L5
ph: 613-946-1000; www.canadatourism.com
online comments: http://www.canadatourism.com/en/ctc/aboutctc/CTX_ContactUs.cfm

4.) Urge your two U.S. Senators to support Senator Carl Levin’s (D-MI) resolution, S.
Res. 269, denouncing the Canadian seal hunt. Contact information for your federal
legislators: www.Congress.org

PHOTOS:
1. HarpSeals.org, Killing
2. Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
3. HarpSeals.org
4. International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
5. The Animals Voice
6. © 2003, Ignacio Aronovich, at HarpSeals.org
7. © 2003, Ignacio Aronovich, at HarpSeals.org
8. IFAW, Baby hooded seal
9. © 2003, Ignacio Aronovich, at HarpSeals.org
10. IFAW


To reprint this article in your publication, web site or list, please request author permission: info@kinshipcircle.org

Kinship Circle’s column runs bimonthly in The Healthy Planet. Ms. Shoss is also a contributing writer for The Animals Voice, Satya Magazine, VegNews, and other publications. If you would like to reprint this column, please request author permission at info@kinshipcircle.org

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