April 12, 2011
Seal Slaughter Fades with the Ice
Global warming, global disapproval erode the butchery
by Rebecca Aldworth
Thirteen years ago, I flew to the harp seal nursery for the first time.
I remember being amazed at the way the ice seemed to go on forever. How it formed an entirely new landscape on the ocean. You couldn't see land from any direction—just the stunning hues of blue and gold and the seals lying across it.
At the time, the ice felt solid enough to drive a truck over.
Now, as we fly over the same areas, it is devastating to see the change. Where once we landed our helicopters on solid sea ice, there are now just tiny ice pans—often too small to support the weight of a baby seal.
Climate change is causing the sea ice here to disappear at an alarming rate. The past decade has seen markedly below-average sea ice formation off Canada's east coast, and the situation is getting worse. What we are witnessing is part of a devastating trend—one that is seriously threatening the survival of seal populations.
The seals that are the target of Canada's commercial seal slaughter are, like polar bears, ice dependent animals. Mother seals need the sea ice to give birth and nurse their pups, and the pups need the ice to remain intact until they are strong enough to survive in open water.
As the ice vanishes, we see fewer and fewer baby seals. This year, a government scientist predicted that half the seal pups born in Atlantic Canada would die. I believe he was being conservative. For where we should be seeing hundreds of thousands of pups, only a few dozen can be spotted.
Clubbing the survivors to death
But instead of taking action to protect this struggling population, the Canadian government just set the highest seal quota in history—allowing sealers to kill more than 468,000 seals. It was a pointless gesture, since the sealers can't find many live pups out here to kill anyway.
It is shameful. I wonder how the few fishermen participating in the seal slaughter this year can stomach what they are doing. They are seeing first-hand the ice disaster and the desperate struggle of these baby seals to live. Yet one by one, they are killing off the survivors.
Today, the Protect Seals team has been held back from the killing grounds by high winds and fog. But tomorrow, the weather clears, and we will be back to expose the cruelty of Canada’s seal slaughter to the world.
Stop this travesty. Pledge now to boycott Canadian seafood in 2011.
Rebecca Aldworth is director of Humane Society International Canada (HSI Canada).