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April 16, 2011

A Year of Seal Hunt Extremes

Record low ice, record high quota, appalling cruelty

Humane Society International

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    A seal is hauled onto a boat deck awash in blood. Frank Loftus/HSUS

by Rebecca Aldworth

The hardest decision I make during our annual expeditions to document the commercial seal slaughter is when to leave.

How much evidence is enough?

Is it the baby seal, so young he is still almost entirely covered in white fur, who is shot in the neck and left to suffer, crying in agony?

Is it the seal pup, shot in the jaw, in extreme pain and mortally wounded, who slips beneath the surface of the water?

Is it the seal slowly crushed in the ice floes as the sealing boat pushes forward relentlessly?

Please help make sure this never happens again.

Is it the baby seal who is shot and wounded, stabbed and dragged onto a boat, who lifts his head from a pile of bloody carcasses to cry out?

To me, each one of these barbaric killings should be enough to shut this horror down forever. But to fight those with a vested interest in the seal slaughter, the evidence we gather must be overwhelming. Reviewing our footage from the past week, I know that it is. We have achieved our mission here, and today, we make the agonizing decision to go.

Resistance and hope

This has been a year of extremes. A record-low sea ice cover caused hundreds of thousands of baby seals to die when they were forced into open water before they were strong enough to survive there. Ignoring the plight of the struggling baby seals entirely, the Canadian government ruthlessly set the highest quota for seals in history, authorizing sealers to kill more than 468,000 of them.

At the same time, rock-bottom prices for seal fur convinced most sealers to stay home, and this year fewer sealing boats operated than I have ever seen. In an area where hundreds of sealing vessels normally participate in the slaughter, we spotted about a dozen. By the third day of the slaughter, fewer than 10,000 baby seals had died. Compare that to previous years, when more than 100,000 died in the first two days of killing.

Baby seals suffer extremely

And yet, despite the greatly reduced scale of the slaughter, we have witnessed more cruelty this year than ever before. Wounded seals left to suffer in agony. Conscious seals impaled on hooks and pulled across the ice. Terrified baby seals watching as their neighbors are beaten to death around them.

As we document the horrific things some people are willing to do to animals, it is very hard not to lose our faith in humanity. But then we read the messages streaming in from outraged people around the world urging us to continue and vowing to join our fight. And I know that compassion will win in the end.

For me, hope lies with you. With every person out there, who fights this difficult fight every single year to bring down the sealing industry.

We know we will prevail. Markets for seal products are closing the world over and thousands of companies are boycotting Canadian seafood to compel the fishing industry to stop killing baby seals. Soon, the pressure will be enough to compel the Canadian government to do as most Canadians want and end this killing.

Thank you for joining with us to bear witness to what we hope will be Canada's last commercial seal slaughter.

Our fight to stop this cruelty begins here, and we are counting on you. Together, we can end it.

Rebecca Aldworth is executive director of Humane Society International/Canada (HSI Canada).

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