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February 22, 2011

Hay Island: Seals Safe for Now in Wind and Snow

Humane Society International/Canada

by Rebecca Aldworth

Yesterday, the ProtectSeals team travelled to tiny Hay Island, a part of the Scaterie Island wilderness area off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

We were expecting to film a horrific slaughter: Days ago, the Canadian government opened the commercial grey seal hunt, authorizing sealers to go on to this nature reserve and club nearly 2,000 pups to death.

The innocent and the knowing

Thankfully, high winds and driving snow have so far kept the sealers from reaching the remote island. For now, the pups are safe. Across the snowy landscape, mother seals and their babies huddled together, taking shelter from the weather. The beautiful pups touched noses, sleepily closing their eyes, slowly falling asleep. They trusted us entirely.

Their mothers were more wary. I know that they may have witnessed what we did in 2008—the brutal massacre of more than 1,000 baby seals on this island. Back then, mother seals, their newborns, and slightly older pups were herded together by sealers. The older pups were beaten to death with wooden bats just inches away from their families. Mothers desperately tried to protect their offspring, even putting themselves between the pups and the sealers. The newborns crawled through the blood, bewildered and terrified. The cries of the anguished baby seals echoed across the island.

Slaughter in a sanctuary

Hay Island is supposed to be protected from commercial hunting of any kind. But in recent years, the Nova Scotia government has worked with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow sealers to turn this sanctuary into an open-air slaughterhouse. This year, in an added twist, Fur Institute of Canada director Pierre Daoust plans to use the baby seals on Hay Island as laboratory subjects. He is working to have sealers test an experimental new seal-killing weapon—a low-velocity hand gun—on the pups. Notably, similar tests were conducted in the 1980s, and failed—and today, clubs and rifles remain the primary killing weapons at the commercial seal hunt.

Bearing witness once again

As we filmed and photographed the beautiful baby seals and their mothers, I could only wonder what kind of a society would see this as a place to destroy instead of one to protect. What kind of government would invest public funds to find new ways to kill the pups instead of ways to save them?

The ProtectSeals team is standing by, ready to expose the cruelty. When and if the slaughter on Hay Island goes ahead, we will be there. Please stay with Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States as we work to shut down this senseless killing forever.

Rebecca Aldworth is executive director of HSI Canada.

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