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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA's Canadian Representative

Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

Tweaking Will Not Change the Canadian Seal Hunt

About Canada’s Pathetic Effort to Mollify Europeans

Published 01/26/09

The European Union is poised to implement a trade ban on all products derived from the notorious, Canadian annual east coast seal hunt, “to ensure that products derived from seals killed and skinned in ways that cause pain, distress and suffering are not found on the European market.”

Canada has steadfastly fought efforts to reduce this annual slaughter that sees the deaths of hundreds of thousands of harp seals on the ice floes off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Its most recent response to the Europeans has been to “tweak” the Marine Mammal Regulations by strengthening federal enforcement and by mandating that sealers, after bashing young seals on the head with their clubs, feel the cranium to make sure it has been shattered, and then to bleed the animals out for a full minute before starting to skin them.

This is supposed to replace the “blink test” whereby, once the young seal has been clubbed, the cornea of the eye is touched. If the animal is fully unconscious or dead, it won’t blink.

Actually, the “blink test” works in terms of preventing the skinning of conscious seals, it is just that it is impossible to enforce. So will be the new “tweak.”

Quota for seals killed has ranged between 270,000 and 335,000 annually over the last few years. Something over 99 percent of the seals killed were born just a few weeks earlier. They are either shot or clubbed.

You can’t kill that many animals in such an environment, so quickly, in a humane fashion. Each year Canadian authorities and seal hunt apologists claim that the hunt is humane, and each year animal protection organizations, independent journalists, and European politicians see, and record, proof to the contrary.

Seal hunt apologists claim other forms of animal use, including such beloved European traditions as fox hunting, bull fighting or the force-feeding of geese to produce pâté de foie gras, are similarly cruel.

But in Europe there is steady legislative progress against animal abuse. Canada’s animal protection legislation is woefully outdated and ineffectual. Europeans have recently banned cat and dog fur, and passed a suite of laws that would be unthinkable in Canada, that seek to add protection to companion animals, animals used in research, and animals used to produce fur, meat, and dairy products. Yes, these laws impose on people earning a living, but that’s not really an excuse for animal abuse. And your mother was right: two wrongs still don’t make a right.

When on the ice, the horizon is remarkably near. Sight lines are limited by towering pressure ridges and tilted slabs of ice. So while an increase in enforcement officers is welcome, sealers will still work mostly in isolation from observation. They will still be economically motivated to take shortcuts in order to speed up production. Seals will still suffer in large numbers.

Canada is seeking new markets for the seal hunt, and new products for fur, leather, oil, and meat. Potential markets for the meat are probably not told that seal meat is classified in Canada as fish, even though seals are mammals. Fish don’t get brucellosis, a disease that can contaminate mammal meat, and can be transmitted to humans. So even though seals get it, their meat (which, unless greatly diluted with other meat or otherwise taste-altered, is unpalatable to most people) is not inspected for it.

The Europeans are not stupid. As long as they can be allowed to see the hunt, as long as images of the hunt can be obtained, they can judge for themselves, as they have been doing all along. The Canadian seal hunt is a cruel anachronism that has no place in the twenty-first century. It is past time for it, not young seals, to be bashed into oblivion.

Blogging off,


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