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February 24, 2011

Hay Island: Shattered Peace

The slaughter begins

Humane Society International/Canada

by Rebecca Aldworth

What a horrible difference three days can make.

On Monday, the ProtectSeals team visited the baby grey seals on Hay Island, a nature reserve off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The scene was stunning: baby seals nursed from their mothers while older pups slept and played in the snow. It was an amazing experience, and one I won't soon forget. Watch a video of the seal nursery.

Unfortunately, we knew the fate of the baby seals was uncertain. Days earlier, the Canadian government had buckled to pressure from the fishing lobby, and opened the commercial seal hunt on Hay Island. Still, bad weather had kept the sealers at bay. This was giving the seal pups precious time to learn to swim—the means to escape the hunters. With a bad forecast through the end of the week, we thought there was a good chance the pups would all be gone before the sealers could do their worst.

We were wrong, and we are devastated. Today, the weather cleared, and at the break of dawn, the sealers set off for Hay Island. The ProtectSeals team followed closely, determined to expose the cruelty. Watch a video of the hunt.

Death at daybreak

As the sealers jumped off their boats onto the beach, the pups looked around, sensing danger.

This year, Fur Institute of Canada Director Pierre Daoust had arranged to use Hay Island as his laboratory. He initiated tests of a new baby seal killing weapon—a low-velocity rifle. But as the sealers shot seal after seal at close range, and still some needed to be shot again or clubbed, it was clear that his macabre test had failed.

In the background, sealers continued with their standard tool—clubs—and beat defenseless baby seals again and again in front of each other. One pup was struck on the side of his head. He flipped around, thrashing in pain, trying to escape the blows raining down on him. But to no avail—the sealers are far faster and stronger than the defenseless baby animals they work to harvest. One of the most disturbing sights was a baby seal huddled next to a dead pup, covered in blood. Too often, I see bewildered babies like this one attempting to seek comfort or safety from those who have already been brutalized beyond hope.

Work and hope

Our ProtectSeals boycott of Canadian seafood is hitting fishermen in their pocketbooks, making them reconsider their former unquestioned support of sealing. Here in Canada, we are making progress too—already, half of sealers in Newfoundland with an opinion support a federal sealing industry buyout. That program would compensate fishermen for lost income as the seal hunt ends, and invest funds in economic alternatives in the communities most involved.

Canada can—and will—move beyond commercial sealing. And when that day comes, HSI will be there, on Hay Island, to celebrate with the baby seals.

Rebecca Aldworth is Executive Director, Humane Society International/Canada.

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