Photo ACASC/B. Curran

Today I was lucky enough to visit Pictou Island with members of the Grey Seal Conservation Society and a documentary producer who is making a film about grey seals in this province.   A few weeks ago it was reported that due to lack of ice in the Northumberland Strait, thousands of grey seals had come ashore on Pictou Island to give birth and nurse their young.  We’d been trying to get over to the island for a couple of weeks but the weather had made it impossible.  Today we had a narrow window of opportunity and we seized it! 

Getting to Pictou Island wasn’t difficult.  A two-hour drive to Trenton and a 15-minute plane ride and we were there.  But it was as if we’d stepped into another world.  And what a beautiful world!  Pictou Island is stunning in the winter, so I can only imagine how beautiful it must be during the summer months.  People who live there are truly fortunate.

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

The pilot had arranged beforehand for some kind residents to drive us to the various sites to photograph the seals.  I can’t even begin to convey the feeling of utter joy that swept over me when I saw the first pups on the beach.  The last time I’d visited grey seals was last year on Hay Island, a protected wilderness area that has been opened to commercial sealers since 2008.  That visit was tinged with sadness, as the pups were marked for an agonizing death at the hands of Nova Scotia fishermen wielding wooden bats.  This time, I knew these pups were safe and it meant the world to be able to sit with them and celebrate their life.

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

Many of the pups had moulted their white coats and taken to the water by the time we got there, and only a fraction remained on the island.  Fully-moulted pups were hanging out with moulting pups and a few recently-weaned whitecoats.  And they were everywhere!  On the beach, across the road in the woods, along the side of the road…Most of the adults were gone as well.  Females will wean their young, mate with a bull, and then leave.  I saw a few bulls swimming in the water, but only one or two adult females.

After a couple of hours photographing and videotaping the grey seals we reluctantly returned to the mainland while the weather held.  

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

The spell was somewhat broken when, as we were leaving, someone made a comment about how it would only be a matter of time before fishermen called for a cull of grey seals on Pictou Island.  Sad but true.  Fishermen ignorantly and stubbornly continue to insist ”there are too many seals” and “they’re eating all the fish” despite a complete lack of scientific proof to back up those claims.  In fact, science tells us just the opposite.  Seals are aiding in fish stock recovery and their populations are self-regulated and stabilized.  Still, the fishermen believe what they want to believe and pressure the government for culls and commercial hunts.  In Atlantic Canada generally what fishermen want, fishermen get.  The evidence is ignored - there is no justification for killing seals and in fact every justification for protecting them.; the majority of Canadians are opposed to the annual commercial seal slaughter; there are no commercial markets -  and today in 2011 the provincial government has again colluded with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to facilitate the killing of 1,900 grey seals pups on Protected Wilderness Area Hay Island; the federal government currently is contemplating a scheme wherein 220,000 grey seals will be slaughtered and incinerated on Canada’s newest national park Sable Island; and the federal government has set a quota of 60,000 grey seals in Atlantic Canada without even having a Seal Management Plan!  Hard to believe.

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

This obscene desire of government to keep sealers happy has blinded them to reality — seals are worth far more alive than dead.  Not only is DFO Science evidence emerging that grey seals are aiding in fish stock recovery in Scotian Shelf waters, but seal-watching could be an extremely successful tourism venture.  Many people are envious when I tell them of my visits with grey seals and show them the photographs.  I know many people who would pay alot of money to spend time with beautiful wildlife in stunning natural surroundings.  Grey seal watching tours on small islands in this province would be a real cash-earner.

It just makes sense.  Protect the seals.  Leave them alone to play their important role in our marine eco-system which is aiding fish stock recovery.  Leave them alone to birth and nurse on islands in Nova Scotia and allow tourists to photograph them in their natural surroundings.  Stop killing them and everyone benefits.

1 Comment

  1. Brilliant post, lovely pictures and timely message. Thank you for sharing this and for your work on behalf of the seals.

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