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!)
Seal-Hunt-Supporting Senator Struts Her Ignorance
OK, before I tell you just how ignorant Sen. Hervieux-Payette is on a wildlife slaughter she strongly supports, some non-Canadian readers will require a brief word of explanation. Lest you think Canada is a full democracy, well, no — there are some vestiges of imperialistic elitism, most particularly including the Senate.
This is a body of non-elected, supposedly distinguished and decidedly mature individuals appointed as favors bestowed by the current or previous governing federal parties. They are supposed to provide a sober, second thought on legislation enacted by a Parliament that actually is elected, thus more or less accountable to the public. The Senate is, in short, a group of our elite supposed superiors; you can’t trust the rabble to make the right choices.
One such senator, Céline Hervieux-Payette, is an adamant supporter of Canada’s internationally notorious East Coast annual spring commercial slaughter of mostly young harp seals. She naturally welcomed the news, last month, that China had reached an agreement to import seal hunt products. “Besides fur,” she reportedly said, “China will experience our excellent Canadian seal meat and oil.”
Yeah, right. It’s been a good 30 years since friends of mine set up a hidden camera in a St. John’s, Newfoundland, outdoor market, aimed at a stall selling, or really not selling, seal meat. No one wanted to buy it and only one old-timer even showed interest, albeit very little, despite its cheap price.
And it’s been at least a couple of decades since a representative of a sealing association, prior to a televised debate, proudly showed me some non-fur-seal products my tax dollars helped to create by funding research and development. These included a seal-skin leather necktie, with a zipper (the leather is not flexible enough to be knotted, like an ordinary necktie) and a can of seal meat. The latter was heavily diluted with other types of meat, and even so one sniff was more than I would ever want to experience of the stuff.
And through the years I’ve been told and sometimes seen first hand how seal meat, artfully adulterated to obscure its rank flavor, has been served as canapés by Canada at home and during various diplomatic functions. It’s a bit of a private joke, off the record, among diplomats. And no one is told that the meat derives only from the shoulder blade (inexplicably called “seal flipper”). Even those down-east stalwarts with a taste for “flipper pie” don’t utilize meat from the entire animal.
But last month Hervieux-Payette reached a new plateau of absurdity not just by urging more Canadian tax money be squandered promoting sales in seal products (latest wrinkle in that department is to use seal heart valves in heart valve surgery — seriously) but that seals must be killed for their own sake.
“Pretending that it would be ethical to let a herd of seals grow exponentially, leaving animals to die of hunger or disease, is irresponsible,” she said. “At the top of the food chain, humans have a responsibility to take resources sustainably and to waste as little of them as possible. This is the spirit of the Universal Declaration of the Ethical Harvest of Seals.”
No species, other than humans thus far (and even for us there must be an ultimate end to our population increase) has ever sustained exponential growth. The laws of physics prevent it. As my good friend, Dr. Ronald Orenstein (who, unlike Hervieux-Payette, has dedicated his life to the study of wildlife and ecology), put it, “Gosh, how does the senator feel about deer mice, or porcupines, or American Robins, or all the other animals we do not cull because they have no economic value? Think how unethical we are being by not having a culling program in operation for every species on the planet, so that no animal ever starves to death again.”
Sen. Céline Hervieux-Payette and her ilk mindlessly repeat a dogmatic rhetoric. There is no understanding of the interrelated complexity of nature, thus no acknowledgement that seals and other predators serve important ecological functions that can benefit prey species, and certainly don’t wipe them out.
The world, Canada, and Canadian wildlife deserve better. The senator is not a fool, except when it comes to the seal hunt. Then she is sadly ignorant.