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April 6, 2010

Seal Hunt 2010: Countdown Begins

A "Live from the Ice" dispatch from Rebecca Aldworth, director of Humane Society International/Canada

Humane Society International

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The ProtectSeals team has arrived in Newfoundland, Canada—the heart of sealing country—to document the commercial seal slaughter set to open here on April 8.

As we flew in yesterday over the mountains, my heart sank. Each year I come here it is the same—the stunning beauty of this place contrasts so sharply with the bloody violence we are about to see. We are preparing to bear witness to the word’s largest and most atrocious slaughter of marine mammals, and the thought is devastating.

This year will be harder to witness than most.

2010 has seen the lowest sea ice formation on record off of Canada’s east coast, a disaster for the ice-breeding seals who are the target of the commercial seal hunt. In some key seal birthing areas, virtually no ice formed. In others, the ice that did form melted before the pups were able to survive in open water.

There have been reports of starving seal pups on beaches throughout Canada’s Atlantic Provinces, tragic victims of their mothers’ desperate attempts to give birth on land. Today we surveyed the rocky beaches of the west coast of Newfoundland and found many dead whitecoats. This heartbreaking scene was hard enough to bear, but even harder knowing the 2010 commercial seal slaughter will proceed.

Unmoved by the mass seal pup mortalities we are witnessing, the Canadian government has raised the seal quota by 50,000. This year, sealers will be allowed to slaughter 388,200 seals—one of the highest quotas in Canadian history. Unbelievably, the few seal pups who have survived the ice disaster are now about to be beaten and shot to death for their fur.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A recent poll conducted by a leading Canadian polling firm Ipsos Reid reveals that fully half of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion support a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry. Such a plan would involve the federal government compensating fishermen for their sealing licenses, and investing in economic alternatives in communities involved. There is every reason for sealers to support such a plan.

Sealers are commercial fishermen, who earn, on average, less than five percent of their annual incomes from killing seals. In contrast to the small amount it contributes, the seal hunt is dangerous, difficult work, resulting in major damage to fishing vessels and injuries to crews in most years. As fishermen, sealers are feeling the impact of a boycott of Canadian seafood that will continue until the seal hunt has ended. Globally, the sealing industry is coming to an end, with the EU banning its trade in seal products and Russia ending its commercial seal hunt last year. The impacts of climate change on ice breeding seal populations make the future of commercial sealing even more questionable.

For too long, those Canadian parliamentarians have had to choose between sealers and the overwhelming majority of Canadians who want the seal hunt to end. A federal sealing industry buyout, with broad support in the Newfoundland sealing industry, could offer a new way forward.

As we prepare for what we are about to see in the coming days, we can only hope that the Canadian government will seize this opportunity and move Canada beyond commercial sealing.

Support the end of the seal hunt in Canada: donate to save seals, or sign the pledge to boycott seafood from Canada»

Rebecca Aldworth is Executive Director of Humane Society International/Canada. For the past decade, she has been a firsthand observer of Canada's commercial seal hunt, escorting more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to witness the slaughter.

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