April 16, 2012
Death on Ice: Seal Pups Die Horribly
Watching Canada's seal slaughter in order to stop it
by Rebecca Aldworth
He raised his flipper and rolled over sleepily on the ice. The sun shone down on him and he wriggled playfully, feeling completely happy.
But this sweet baby seal was not safe. And he was not alone.
Meters away a blood-covered motorboat sped toward him and the gunner had his rifle in the air.
The pup raised his head, sensing danger, and we all cried out as the bullet slammed into him. He collapsed, blood pouring from his head. Then he clenched his hind flippers and began to thrash around.
We watched miserably as the sealer arrived. Stepping on the baby seal with one foot, the sealer smashed the club down twice before stabbing the pup with a metal spike.
Still the pup moved, clenching his tail and rolling. But the sealer grabbed him by the flipper and sliced him open top to bottom.
Could the tide turn for seal pups?
Saturday was the third day of the Canadian seal hunt in the "front," the waters northeast of Newfoundland.
On that day, a total of 36 vessels hailed out to participate in the slaughter, and most were from this area. Yet we found only a few small motorboats there, killing the very few seal pups that could be found on the remaining sea ice.
It left us wondering if there might be a chance that, despite the millions of dollars of government financing, the seal hunt will not go ahead at the scale we anticipated.
That would mean everything. Seal pups killed during the Canadian seal hunt meet a violent end, and if our work to close global markets for seal products has prevailed, hundreds of thousands of pups could be spared that fate.
From contentment to mortal pain
Again today, a similar scene plays out. We watch from the air as a small motorboat turns in a slow circle, carefully maneuvering through broken pans of sea ice.
At the front of the vessel, a sealer stands clutching a pair of binoculars. He scouts around the floes, gesturing to the skipper. Suddenly, he grabs his rifle: he's seen something.
I call out, "he's got his gun!" And from a thousand feet in the air, we frantically scan the ice floes in front of the boat until we see a baby seal, just a few weeks old, resting on a floe. We film as the pup stretches her hind flippers and then pushes her nose into the snow. The sun makes these baby seals so content, unaware of the danger they are in.
We can no longer see the boat in our monitor, and we hope desperately that he didn't spot her. But then, a bullet strikes her and the blood literally spouts from her head. We can't hear the shot over the sound of the helicopter, but we flinch all the same.
The sealer arrives, holding his club high and smashing it down on her skull again and again. He rolls her over and makes two long, deep cuts, one on either side, and then tosses her onto the blood-soaked boat.
The blood from a seal kill covers everything: the dying baby seal, the sealer, and the ice. It pours off the decks of the sealing boats and spreads across the water.
The pristine ice floes stand in sharp contrast. Almost blindingly white before the sealers move in, they form a breathtaking landscape that holds the harp seal nursery.
It is almost unbearable to witness something so special turned into this grim scene every year, for something as useless as fur fashion items.
Why we are here
Witness it we must, because it is only when the world sees what happens here that this abomination can end. No matter what rationalizations the sealing industry apologists come up with, when you see it, you know that this slaughter is just plain wrong.
When you see these helpless baby seals die so horribly, you can't rest until the killing stops. And we won't stop our campaign, not for a minute, until we've achieved that goal.
Rebecca Aldworth is director of Canadian Wildlife Issues for The Humane Society of the United States.