- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

In early spring, four of the world’s great wildlife migrations mark the annual cycle of birth and renewal: wildebeest in East Africa’s Serengeti, caribou on Alaska’s Arctic plain, gray whales from Baja California to the Bering Sea, harp seals from Greenland to Canada’s Atlantic Coast. The first three remain magnificent spectacles of nature at its most sublime. The fourth is an ugly orgy of human cruelty at its very worst. The infamously inhumane Canadian seal hunt, scaled way back in recent years after decades of international protest, has returned bigger and bloodier than ever.

Last February, the Canadian government set a new three-year quota of almost 1 million animals, the biggest in its 30-year history. During the hunt that ended June 15, sealers “harvested” more than 286,000 baby seals between 12 days and 12 weeks old. They were killed for their fur sold in Scandinavia, Russia and the Far East for clothing, boots, and garment-trim, and for their penises used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine. The lucky ones died quickly after being clubbed or shot. The wounded were skinned alive or escaped to die later beneath the ice.

Do Prime Minister Jean Chretien, his federal fishery managers, and provincial politicians seriously imagine that animal protection organizations and the public will sit idly by as one of the world’s biggest and most barbaric mammal massacres once again stains the ice red along the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts?

Recent polls by the Humane Society of the United States and an animal protection coalition in the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and France found an identical 79 percent opposition to killing seals for their fur. In Canada, 81 percent of those surveyed opposed killing seals under 1 year of age, and 41 percent weren’t even aware the hunt was still held.

Ottawa’s continuing disdain for public opinion is reflected in the much quoted sentiments of Member of Parliament John Efford. “I would like to see the 6 million seals, or whatever number is out there, killed and sold, or destroyed and burned,” Mr. Efford told Newfoundland’s House of Assembly in 1998 when he was provincial fisheries minister. “The more they kill, the better I will love it.”

The HSUS recently launched its own three-year campaign to persuade Canada to reverse its decision and stop the killing. We plan to use paid advertising, e-mail, newsletters, and the combined wrath of our 7 million members and supporters, to inform Americans of the hunt’s resurrection. Our message: Tell the Canadian government that you won’t spend your tourist dollars in Canada, nor purchase Canadian goods and services, as long as they allow this carnage to continue.

Canada has been going through tough times lately with a struggling economy and a sharp drop in tourism brought about in part by the SARS outbreak. The government recently launched a (U.S.) $5.4 million ad campaign to persuade Americans to visit this summer. Some have criticized the HSUS for kicking our friends and neighbors when they’re down. A more fitting analogy, perhaps, would be bashing them across the skull with a hakapik, the Newfoundland sealers’ weapon of choice.

It’s difficult to fathom why Canada continues to promote the hunt.

Ottawa justifies the slaughter as an economic boost for fishermen left jobless or underemployed after wiping out the once-abundant Atlantic cod. After pumping (U.S.) $14.5 million into the hunt between 1995 and 2001, the government continues to subsidize the killing by providing interest-free loans, grants to seal processors, market research and other assistance.

The Chretien government must surely be embarrassed by such a sordid and sanguinary spectacle that is completely out of touch with today’s more compassionate values. Over the past three decades, millions of young seals have been bludgeoned and many are now being shot. Canada claims the hunt is humane, but studies of carcasses by independent veterinarians found 42 percent had minimal or no skull fractures, suggesting they were conscious when skinned.

Testimony by observers confirms that fact. “The sealer would club a seal … he would begin to cut it open but all too often it would start to move,” reported Rebecca Aldworth in the Toronto Star last May after viewing her fifth hunt. “The sealer would [club] the animal again [and] resume skinning. Again the seal would move. Usually the sealer would give up and finish skinning the still-thrashing animal.”

The animal protection community has asked in every conceivable way for this cruelty to end. We have been consistently ignored or given only passing consideration. And the bloodbath continues. Canada rationalizes the hunt by blaming seals — not two centuries of rampant overfishing — for wiping out their cod stocks. They also view seals as a renewable resource that can provide economic benefits for a depressed region.

But keeping the hunt alive also keeps the people of Labrador and Newfoundland shackled to an activity that cannot provide a living wage. If all 4,000 regional sealers participated in this year’s hunt, each would have taken home less than (U.S.) $975. The paltry income from this dangerous and dehumanizing work will never spur the economic growth of their struggling communities. Instead of subsidizing the slaughter of a million baby seals, Canada should invest in Newfoundland with real, sustainable job programs. It will be expensive, but everyone — particularly the sealers — knows it’s the only way to secure their future.

In 1985, after finally spurning many of the same arguments used to justify the harp seal kill in Atlantic Canada, the United States ended its last commercial seal hunt in Alaska’s Pribiloff Islands. Economic aid and job training helped the islanders find alternative livelihoods, and that’s exactly what Canada needs to do. Instead, it is considering expanding the hunt to the West Coast, a move that will further inflame public opinion and tarnish the nation’s image. O Canada. How could you?

John W. Grandy is a senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States.

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