Canada, land of the holier than thou. Hey, some of my best friends are Canadians, but really, most Canadians look down on Americans for being all the bad things that we truly are. So fine, we deserve it. But if you are a non-Canadian of any nationality, the next time a Canadian condescends to you, mention the one-million-seal a year quote that the Canadian government allows in their annual seal hunt.
Top Three Seal Hunt Myths
Here are the top three myths told by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) about the commercial seal hunt:
Myth #1: The seal hunt is humane.
All available evidence, including veterinary reports and independent observations, indicates that each year tens of thousands of seal pups die in an unacceptably cruel manner inconsistent with contemporary animal welfare standards.
Year after year, observers report abuses such as the hooking and dragging of live seals across the ice, seals clubbed or shot and left to suffer on the ice, and seals skinned while conscious. And while all recent veterinary reports recommend reducing the suffering of seals, their recommendations have not been fully implemented. There is no doubt that Canada’s commercial seal hunt continues to result in considerable and unacceptable suffering.
Myth #2: The seal hunt is sustainable.
Seal catch quotas set by the Canadian government are much higher than government scientists’ estimates of what is sustainable, and these quotas are allowed to be exceeded. A recent study by IFAW scientists found that the current management approach risks depleting the harp seal herd by as much as 70% in the next 15 years.
The DFO often states that the harp seal population has tripled since the 1970s. However, this ignores the fact that between 1950 and 1970 the harp seal population was reduced by as much as two-thirds from seal hunting. Since 1995, harp seals have been killed at levels similar to those that caused a dangerous decline in the past, and the DFO now admits that the population has decreased.
Climate change is also presenting a new threat to the harp seal population by negatively impacting their breeding habitat. Increasingly, poor ice conditions off the east coast of Canada are causing higher than normal seal pup mortality. For example, government scientists estimate that in 2002, 75% of the seal pups in the Gulf of St. Lawrence died due to a lack of ice before the hunt even began. Yet the government continues to set total allowable catches for harp seals above sustainable levels, putting the population at increased risk.
Myth #3: The seal hunt is closely monitored and well managed.
The seal hunt involves thousands of sealers competing for a limited number of seals during a short period of time. Sealers are concerned with clubbing or shooting as many animals as quickly as possible instead of checking to see if a seal is dead before moving on to club or shoot the next one.
Year after year, IFAW hunt observers encounter seals that have been clubbed and left to suffer on the ice, bleeding profusely, crying, breathing and attempting to crawl. These are not “reflexes” as the DFO claims, which are easily recognized and familiar to experience seal hunt observers.
During 2006, the DFO claimed to have had 12 monitors for the Gulf hunt, the largest enforcement effort ever. Yet sealers in one region were allowed to take three times their quota without any consequences. In fact the Total Allowable Catch has been exceeded in four of the past five years.