Liberal Senator Mac Harb (Photo: THE MARK)

Today history was made in Ottawa.  Liberal Senator Mac Harb’s private member bill calling for the end of Canada’s commercial seal hunt was unanimously approved to pass for second reading.  Putting an end to Canada’s cruel and wasteful commercial seal hunt will FINALLY be debated in the Senate!

This is Senator Harb’s third attempt to get the bill through.  In 2010 He failed to find a seconder and the motion died a swift death.  In 2011 it was reported that Conservative Senator Lowell Murray seconded the motion but other senators voted against allowing the proposal to appear for discussion on the order paper.  Senator Harb, undeterred, returned for a third attempt and this time the motion was seconded by liberal Senator Larry Campbell and was then passed unanimously to move forward for second reading and debate.

Senator Harb’s bill calls for an end to the commercial seal hunt and compensation to be given to sealers.  The bill does not target or affect the Inuit subsistence hunt which is also exempt from the EU trade ban on seal products.

Reaction to this momentous event has been swift.  Humane Society International/Canada issued the following statement:

Senator Harb’s bill is timely and would effectively end the commercial seal slaughter in Canada. HSI/Canada further proposes that any legislation to end the seal slaughter be paired with a federal sealing industry buyout. This plan would involve the federal government ending the commercial seal slaughter, providing immediate compensation to sealers and investing in economic alternatives in the communities involved. Polling shows half of sealers holding an opinion are already in support of this plan and the overwhelming majority of Canadians are willing to fund it. Given sealers and other Canadians are willing to move beyond commercial sealing, it is time our government acted.”

The Green Party of Canada issued a press release which stated:

“The sealing industry had been dying for years,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “It’s time to stop providing life support to this disappearing industry by ending the massive government subsidies. Taxpayers’ money is better spent creating sustainable economic opportunities in coastal communities.”

International Fund for Animal Welfare issued the following statement:

Senator Harb’s bill is supported by public opinion polls that repeatedly show the majority of Canadians would like to see an end to the commercial seal hunt.  At the very least, the Canadian government should debate this issue on behalf of those citizens. It’s time.

When asked about the chances of the bill ultimately being passed, Senator Harb replied, “I’m a realist. I do believe the government and the Senate will not allow me to get it through. But I want to get the discussion going, whether they like it or not. That’s democracy.“   Whether or not this bill is ultimately successful, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind this marks a turning point in Canada.  As the Chronicle Herald pointed out:  “But the bill is another hint that the days of unwavering loyalty to the seal hunt are coming to an end.” 

Reaction from the pro-sealing camp has also been swift.  Sealing industry representatives have spoken against calls to end the unprofitable seal hunt, claiming Canada’s sealing industry is “very much alive and well.”  They provide some disingenuous facts to back up those dubious claims.

Here, they neglect to mention the profits and exports have been declining with each passing year.  In 2011 the seal hunt brought in under $1 million, a figure dwarfed by the millions of dollars the Canadian government spends each year to subsidize the annual slaughter.  As well, substantial markets to seal products have closed since 2005.  The EU banned seal products in 2010 and Russia – which accounted for 90% of exports – banned sealskins last August.  Markets in China, long-promised by the Canadian government, have not materialized.

Hmmmm, just a tad misleading to claim sealskin prices have increased this year when the Newfoundland government gave $3.6M to a processing company to buy all the seal skins to stockpile in case markets pick up in future!  And let’s not forget the sum in excess of $17,000 the government paid a St. John’s furrier to shill sealskin at a recent international fur expo at which the only country present that did have a trade ban on seal products was Canada!!

In my opinion, an industry with a dwindling profit margin relying on subsidies from Canadian taxpayers and bailouts from the federal and provincial governments just to keep afloat is clearly NOT “alive and well.”  In my opinion, that is a drain on taxpayers should should be ended.

But of course Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette is blaming it all on the Vegetarian Lobby armed with pointy carrots and a secret agenda to turn the world into tofu-eating tree-huggers. And she also wants to market seal meat for our cats and dogs.  Oh Senator.  Don’t you remember?  They tried feeding seal meat to minks on fur farms.  The minks all died.

A frank and honest discussion about Canada’s cruel and wasteful commercial seal hunt is long-overdue.  Let’s start talking!

Harp seal pup, Cape Breton, 2009 Photo: B. Curran/ACASC

Tomorrow is International Day of Action for Seals, with demonstrations being held across Canada, in the US, and around the world to show opposition to the slaughter of seals in countries such as Canada and Namibia.

Some may be saying: “It is 2012, why has this slaughter not been shut down yet?!”  You need to read this inspiring blog by IFAW’s Sheryl Fink, which shows the giant strides the anti-sealing campaign has made in the past few years, and the huge victories won for seals.

I first got directly involved in the seal hunt issue in 2006 and am amazed at the accomplishments of the past six years and deeply touched by the generosity, compassion and dedication of so many around the world battling on to win protection for seals.  We are very close to ending the cruel slaughter once and for all!

Here are a few actions you can take to help protect seals on the International Day of Action for Seals:

1. Attend a demo or rally in your area. Rallies are being held across Canada, the US and internationally.  A list can be found on Facebook HERE.

2.  Tell your MP to protect seals and provide sealers with opportunities to transition out of this dying industry. Canadians can use THIS FORM to quickly and easily email their Member of Parliament to urge them to protect seals and to show real support by sealers by helping them to transition out of the industry.

3.  Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the commercial seal hunt. The majority of Canadians oppose the commercial seal hunt, yet each year the Harper government lavishes millions of our tax dollars on the annual slaughter.  If you live in Canada please use THIS FORM – if you live outside of Canada, please use THIS FORM – to send an email asking him to respect the wishes of Canadians and stop the slaughter.

4.  Tell Canadian Ambassador to US Gary Doer to end Canada’s commercial seal hunt. Please use THIS FORM to send a message to Gary Doer urging him to listen to people around the world, protect seals and provide sealers with opportunities to get out of the crumbling sealing industry.

5.  Send an email thanking the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Belarus for passing their own seal product ban. The world was shocked when it was discovered recently the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus had implemented a ban on import and export of harp seal skins.  This was a major blow to the Canadian sealing industry, as Russia was the largest purchaser of Canadian harp seal skins, representing 90% of the market for pelts.  The Canadian government is now pressuring Russia to reverse its ban.   Now is the time to send a quick message of thanks to those countries and urging them to stand firm in the face of bullying from the Canadian government.  Use THIS FORM to let them know the world stands united with them in their efforts to protect defenseless seals from a horrific fate.

Grey seal pups, Hay Island, 2010 Photo: B. Curran/ACASC

6.  Send an email to the Canadian Senate to urge protection for Grey Seals. The Senate Committee on Fisheries & Oceans is currently conducting a “study” on a proposed large-scale cull of grey seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  It is rumoured Canadian Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield advised the Committee he wants it to recommend a cull regardless of their findings.  Send Committee members a reminder that the decision should be made based on SCIENCE, not POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY, and no credible science supports a grey seal cull.  In fact, leading Canadian scientists strongly advise against such a cull!  Use THIS FORM to send your email to Senate Committee members.

7.  Boycott Canadian Seafood. Sealers are commercial fishermen who kill seals for a bit of extra cash in the closed season.  The Canadian government was the inspiration for the Canadian seafood boycott running successfully in the US and Europe when a government official stated it would end the commercial seal hunt when fishermen asked it to do so. Please add your name to the list of those boycotting Canadian seafood until the commercial seal hunt is ended.

Valentine available for download on Coalition website

On this day of love – Valentines Day – I’m asking my readers and friends to take a moment to send a Valentine to Nova Scotia’s premier Darrell Dexter to urge him to show some love for besieged Nova Scotia grey seals.

Each year on islands around Nova Scotia, grey seal pups are mercilessly slaughtered with clubs, hakapiks and rifles. Even pups on Hay Island, a so-called Protected Wilderness Area, are not safe as sealers invade that island each February to beat and shoot to death defenceless pups aged just a few weeks old. Government and the fishing/sealing industry have scapegoated seals for the sluggish recovery of ground fish stocks – despite the presence of scientific studies suggesting grey seal predation is actually assisting in ground fish stock recovery – and a large-scale cull of grey seals has been called for over the past few years, including seals on iconic Sable Island, Canada’s newest national park located in Nova Scotia. Leading Canadian scientists are opposed to any culling of grey seals.

Valentine available for download on Coalition website

Please mark February 14th this year by sending a Valentine to Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter, urging him to show some love for Nova Scotia grey seals by protecting them instead of allowing them to be slaughtered. Simply follow the link below, right-click on one of the images on the page and save to your hard drive. Then insert or embed into the body of the email and address it to premier@gov.ns.ca. Thank you for speaking up for Nova Scotia grey seals!


http://www.antisealingcoalition.ca/GreySeals/greyseal-valentines-2012.php

If anyone had any illusions the Canadian government is being truthful about the commercial seal hunt, those illusions surely have been shattered this past week.  I grew up knowing the commercial seal hunt was wrong, the killing was cruel and the whole disgusting business was unnecessary.  My grandmother, originally from a remote island known as Rams Island (later renamed Iona before being cleared and its inhabitants moved to the mainland) in Newfoundland, disagreed with my view, and I remember bitter words being spoken on the subject.  But when I actually witnessed the killing for myself for the first time in 2007 it struck me – the Canadian public has truly been betrayed by the Canadian government.  The Canadian government uses our taxes to fund the killing and misleads us in regard to every single aspect of the sadistic practice, while branding people like me – who have seen the slaughter with their own eyes – liars.  I have never lied about what I have witnessed in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  The Canadian government is the guilty party.  Here are just a few of the many lies told by our government:

LIE #1: Baby seals aren’t killed.  THE TRUTH:  Oh yes, they are – even protected whitecoats and bluebacks are killed by sealers.

This seal pup is almost completely covered in white fur and was likely 14 days old when it was killed. Not even eating solid food, still very much a baby. Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

The Canadian government claims all seals killed in the commercial seal hunt are self-reliant adults.  In actual fact, seals targeted during the commercial seal hunt are between the ages of 12 days and three months, with most being under one month of age.  Many, like the pup in the photo here, are still almost completely covered in white fur at the time of their death.  At this age they are not swimming, nor are they eating solid food.  Recently weaned, they live on fat reserves built up from their mom’s milk until they’re ready to leave the ice and swim away.

In truth, a seal can legally be killed once it begins moulting its whitecoat, which usually happens at about 12 days of age.   Recently weaned, unable to swim, escape or defend themselves against sealers, they are as helpless as babies and certainly are NOT the self-reliant adults DFO would like you to believe are the target of the commercial seal hunt.
The Canadian government is quick to point out that since 1982 it has been illegal to kill whitecoats (harp pups younger than 12 days) and bluebacks (hooded seal pups younger than 14 months).  This ban came into effect following an EU-wide ban on whitecoat seal products which caused the sealing industry to collapse.  The Canadian government has been silent on reports coming from observers that sealers were documented killing protected bluebacks.
 
LIE #2 – The commercial seal hunt is humane.  THE TRUTH – Every year observers compile hours of videotaped evidence sealers routinely violate woefully inadequate Regulations and inflict horrific cruelty on seal pups.
 

Conscious seal pups are stabbed through the eye socket and jaw with metal hooks and hauled onto boats - this is NOT illegal and is documented each year. Photo: Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

I observed the commercial seal hunt from 2007 – 2010 and the horrors I witnessed will stay with me forever.  I was unable to travel to Newfoundland this year but have been following closely reports from Humane Society International/Canada and IFAW observers.   The reports have been grisly, to put it mildly.  Just a few instances:

  • Sealers failing to perform 3-step process, slicing open seal pups still alive and possibly conscious;
  • Seal pups showing conscious reaction to pain – voluntary movement – after being sliced open and hurled into the bottom of sealing boat;
  • Seal pups being shot in close proximity to each other as they desperately try to escape;
  • Seal pups being shot in the face, neck and back, suffering on the ice for long periods of time before boats reach them to finish them off;
  • Seal pups being shot on the ice and just left to die – sealers not even retrieving them from the ice – killing for sport;
  • Terrified seal pups being harassed and manhandled by sealers posing for photos.

 

This video, by International Fund for Animal Welfare, shows a seal pup sliced open and thrown into a boat, waving and clenching a front flipper in pain as it bleeds to death slowly in the bottom of the boat with other seal carcasses.

The bottom line is the commercial seal hunt cannot be conducted humanely.  Several factors prevent the annual kill from ever being humane.  The speed at which it is conducted (this year, in just one week 20,000 seals were killed by approximately 39 boats); extreme weather conditions; geographical location and inability of DFO Enforcement to monitor the killing to make sure killing is as humane as possible are just a few examples.  It is simply impossible for seals to be killed humanely during the annual seal kill and that’s one compelling reason the killing must be stopped.

LIE #3 - The commercial seal hunt is tightly regulated.  THE TRUTH – Regulations are inadequate to properly address animal welfare concerns and are not enforced by DFO.

HUMANE?? Photo R. Aldworth/HSI 2011

The Marine Mammal Regulations which govern the killing of seals in the commercial seal hunt are woefully inadequate to properly address animal welfare concerns.  For instance, the Regulations allow live and conscious seals to be hooked through the eye socket or jaw and dragged across the ice and into boats.  The Regulations allow pups to be shot and left, wounded and suffering, on the ice for extended periods of time before being killed by sealers.  Even the much-heralded 3-step process does not satisfy international veterinarian standards for humane slaughter.  The 3-step process, introduced by the Canadian government in 2008 as a cynical ploy to stave off a threatened EU-wide seal trade ban, is not even incorporated into the Marine Mammal Regulations; it is simply a licence condition.

In my years observing the seal hunt I saw many violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations.  From what I have been reading and seeing of this year’s slaughter, this could very well be the worst in terms of numbers of violations.  According to observers, sealers are routinely violating the Regulations and licence conditions – failing to perform the 3-step process, cutting into live and possibly conscious pups, using what appear to be illegal killing implements, killing protected hooded blueback pups, killing for sport, not landing the carcass or the pelt…the list goes on and on.  And throughout this brutal bloodbath, where is DFO enforcement?  That leads me to the next lie.

LIE #4 – The commercial seal hunt is closely monitored and enforced.  THE TRUTH – DFO does not monitor or enforce the killing of seals during the commercial seal hunt in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland.

Pups are routinely wounded with bullets and left suffering on the ice, waiting helplessly for sealers to come and beat them to death. Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

Observers at this year’s commercial seal hunt are reporting a distinct lack of DFO Enforcement presence in the killing zones.  While observers videotaped sealers committing Reg violations for hours, DFO was nowhere in sight.  This is nothing new.  During my years of observation, DFO was never around to document the killing.  Even when Coast Guard boats were in the vicinity, the sealers did what they liked with little or no regard for Regulations or even rudimentary animal welfare, while DFO looked the other way.   Each year observers submit hours of unedited footage to DFO showing clear violations of Marine Mammal Regulations.  Very few charges are ever laid by DFO as a result of this evidence given to them.

In various conversations I’ve had with DFO regarding the commercial killing of grey seals on islands in Nova Scotia, DFO has confirmed there is no constant monitoring of sealers as they kill seals.  In 2007 I was told by a DFO official, “We don’t stand there looking over their shoulder as they’re working” and in 2010 it was confirmed DFO visits periodically just to check up on things.  I’ve been advised by someone familiar with Nova Scotia sealers that the periodic DFO visits have more to do with bringing coffee for the sealers than actually monitoring the killing.

On Hay Island, a nature reserve in Nova Scotia, grey seal pups are herded together and beaten or shot to death mere inches from each other Photo R. Aldworth/HSI 2011

The truth is, even if DFO had the will to actually monitor the killing and enforce the Regulations, it is physically impossible to do so.  Even in the smaller Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, DFO has never been able to control the sealing boats and for years sealers killed above and beyond the Total Allowable Catch.  DFO admitted to reporters a few years ago it was very difficult to control the boats there.  If DFO staff cannot control boats in the relatively small Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, how can they possibly claim to be able to control boats in the much larger Northern Gulf or The Front?  In previous years, hundreds of boats participated in the commercial seal hunt.  In recent years that number has dwindled to a few dozen, but those boats are operating in an area the size of France.  DFO has a small number of vessels and limited staff – there is no physical way they can monitor the killing or enforce the law.  And yet each year they lie and claim that is precisely what they are doing!

As the reports come in daily and the videos and photographs are shared via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the Canadian government has fallen strangely silent.  Neither Fisheries Minister Gail Shea nor Prime Minister Stephen Harper have cared to comment publicly about their many falsehoods being exposed.  Of course they don’t care to comment, since they believe they don’t have to answer to Canadians, the majority of whom, polling consistently shows, oppose the annual slaughter and object to their taxes being used to fund it.  This is why more than ever, Canadians need to make the seal hunt a voting issue.

Coming tomorrow - Lies My Government Told Me (Part 2) dealing with more porky pies told by our government, including such chestnuts as ‘Full utilization of the animal’, ‘Sealing provides much-needed income to coastal communities’ and ‘Sealing is a time-honoured tradition.”  What a load of crap…

Today – March 15th – is the Global Day of Action Against Sealing.  Rallies and demonstrations are being held all over the world to voice opposition to the cruel commercial hunting of seals.  Here in Halifax, we’ll be hosting a rally on Saturday, March 19th at 11 am at the Main Gates of the Public Gardens, corner of Spring Garden and South Park.

In the meantime, here are a couple of actions you can take on this Day of Action to help seals (or tomorrow, if you can’t get to them today):

1.  Tell Canada’s Minister of International Trade to drop the WTO challenge.  The Canadian government is determined to fight the EU seal product ban which will cost Canadian taxpayers a further $10 million and could put in jeopardy a trade deal presently being discussed by Canada and the EU.  HSI has other actions you can take to help seals – you’ll see them listed after you’ve sent your email to Canada’s Trade Minister.

2.  Contact your Member of Parliament.  Tell them you oppose the cruel commercial seal hunt, want to see it ended and would like to know their position on the issue.

According to The Navigator Online, Conservative MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Scott Armstrong, moved to introduce a new bill yesterday that “will better protect Canadian sealers from angry anti-sealing protesters.”

NS MP Scott Armstrong gives thumbs-up to pathetic pointless posturing in the run-up to a federal election

In his introduction of Bill C-636, MP Armstrong said, “In fact, in 2008 the Canadian Coast Guard had to seize a vessel and arrest European activists who were putting sealers’ lives at risk by coming dangerously close to the hunt.“  He is referring to the incident in which the Canadian government claimed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s vessel ‘Farley Mowat’ got too close to the hunt after sealers complained the Farley Mowat was ramming the ice upon which they stood as they beat to death defenceless baby seals.  The Farley Mowat was stormed and boarded by Gestapo RCMP, female crew members were roughly thrown down and held on the ground, and everyone was arrested and thrown in jail.  Eventually, Captain Alex Cornelissen and First Officer Peter Hammarstedt were found guilty of interfering with Canada’s seal hunt in Nova Scotia Kangaroo Provincial Court.

The Act seeks to amend the Marine Mammal Regulations to increase the distance non-licenced observers must stay from the seal hunt.  Currently anyone not in possession of an observation permit must stay a one-half nautical mile from sealers.  This Bill seeks to increase that distance to one full nautical mile.

My immediate reaction was righteous indignation.  Any distance restriction – and the very requirement to apply for an observation permit - is a gross violation of our Charter Rights as Canadians. 

However, upon reflection I decided to lighten up and have a chuckle at the sheer silliness of the business.  And let’s face it, there are so many shades of silly to this Bill that I hardly know where to begin.

NS sealer about to bludgeon terrified baby grey seal on Hay Island 2011 (Photo: Rebecca Aldworth/Humane Society International)

First of all, if “angry anti-sealing protesters” are so determined to approach sealers that they ignore the one-half nautical mile stipulation, such “dangerous radicals” certainly are not going to be deterred by an increase to that stipulation.  A half-nautical mile is quite a distance and really should be sufficient to keep unlicenced observers (or, “dangerous radicals” as Mr. Armstrong likes to refer to them) away from physical confrontations with sealers.  Considering ice conditions in the past few years, one would have to get alot closer than one-half nautical mile to cause mischief.  To increase the distance requirement to a full mile is overkill and just plain silly.  Not to mention the waste of taxpayers’ money.  But then, considering the millions of our tax dollars the government currently lavishes on this crumbling and unprofitable industry, what’s a few thousand more? *nudge nudge wink wink*

Secondly, Mr. Armstong has gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick.  Sealers don’t need protection from observers – observers are the ones in need of protection.  The only violence perpetrated by human against human on (and off) the ice is committed by sealers.  Although licenced observers must remain 10 metres away from sealers, there is no similar distance requirement for sealers, and they are free to approach and assault observers.  And they quite often do assault observers.  Where was Mr. Armstrong’s concern when a Newfoundland sealer attacked an observer with a hakapik (charges were stayed and the sealer agreed to make a $500 donation to a local food bank instead of going to court)?  Where was Mr. Armstrong’s indignation when Nova Scotia sealers chased an inflatible craft carrying observers through dangerous icepans, brandishing their rifles and threatening to shoot them?  But then, that’s right – Mr. Armstrong seems to care only for the safety of Canadian sealers.  He doesn’t seem to care about the safety of Canadian observers.  Perhaps Mr. Armstrong should give serious thought to his priorities and work instead to ensure the safety of Canadian citizens who observe and document the seal hunt each year, and propose to amend the Marine Mammal Regulations to impose a restriction on the distance sealers must remain from observers.  Nah, can’t see that happening.  After all, there are more sealers voting in the upcoming federal election than seal hunt observers.

This pup was shot, gagged through face and hauled across ice while still conscious by NS sealer Pat Briand in 2008 (Photo: IFAW)

And that’s the final point.  Armstrong’s proposed Bill is not about “…protecting our sealers on the very ice where they conduct the seal hunt”, nor is he being truthful when he claims  ”it is about protecting our sealers, and it is the right thing to do.  This is about pre-election posturing.  This is about sending the message to the fishing and sealing industry of Atlantic Canada that the Conservative Party of Canada has their “back”, truly cares about them and their families, and is willing to move heaven and earth to enshrine their right to bludgeon and shoot to death defenceless baby seals.  If Armstrong truly cared about sealers, he would stop the unproductive posturing and propose the abolition of the commercial seal hunt and the implementation of a licence buyout.

I wonder if Armstrong came up with this scheme on his own or if he was instructed to do so by Stephen “Dead Eyes” Harp(sealkill)er?  Either way, he should be ashamed of himself for such pathetic posturing.  It is highly unlikely this Bill will pass.  Private member bills rarely become law.   But then, whether or not it becomes law isn’t important to the Conservatives – it’s the optics, the illusion that the Conservative government cares enough about sealers to want to change the law to ensure their safety.

This video recently surfaced online and has sparked shock and revulsion internationally.   EITB.com, a Spanish-language online news website,  posted the video a few days ago under the heading ‘First day of seal hunting in Canada.’  Since its appearance, angry comments such as “Shame on you Canada!”, “Murderers!” and “This is absolutely disgusting” have been appearing beneath the video.  Have a look and you’ll see unspeakable cruelty and will understand why it has sparked such outrage.

The grainy video, branded with the ‘eitb’ logo, shows a sealer striking a seal pup repeatedly on its back and side as it rolls around on the ground, trying to dodge the blows.  It also shows a sealer shoot a pup inches from his nursery-mate, then chase the terrified second pup in circles as it tries to escape, covered in the blood of the dead pup.  DFO officials and Fur Institute of Canada director Pierre-Yves Dauost look on impassively as the terrified pup is harassed by the sealer for a full 30 seconds before being shot as it lies huddled against its dead nursery-mate.  In another scene, a frightened pup still half-covered in white fur tries to escape as a group of sealers kneel beside a dead pup in the background.  In yet another scene, a burly sealer savagely bashes in the head of a weeks-old pup a full six times with a hakapik.

HUMANE?? Photo R. Aldworth/HSI

The Canadian and Nova Scotian governments have claimed for years the killing of seals on provincial nature reserve Hay Island is done humanely.  This video taken just a few days ago disproves those claims.  There is nothing humane about the manner in which these pups were killed.  These scenes filmed on Hay Island are typical of the way harp, hooded and grey seal pups are killed in the commercial seal hunt across Atlantic Canada.

Daoust told media the experiment using low-calibre bullets was a success.  He then followed by saying everything must be done differently next year – the number of pups killed inhumanely must be reduced; a more destructive bullet must be used; and sealers must wait until the seal pup stops moving before pulling the trigger (these are wild animals, threatened and terrified – of course they’re not going to stop moving…).  This leads one to wonder, quite reasonably, how the experiment could be termed a “success”…

Canada is currently challenging the EU seal product ban at WTO, complaining there is no exemption for “humanely harvested seal products.”  Even if there were such an exemption, does Canada honestly think its seal products would qualify for such an exemption?  Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Photo HSI/R. Aldworth

Today was a truly awful day for grey seals.  The sealers descended on Hay Island early this morning and swung their clubs and hakapiks and shot their rifles until all moulted pups were dead.  Not content with that, they then shot at least one adult grey seal.

DFO was up to its old tricks trying to restrict observation of the Hay Island slaughter and as a result, by the time I got on the island, the sealers had finished their killing spree.  The carnage that I witnessed was heartbreaking.  As I walked across the island I saw small pups lying next to pools of blood where their nursery mates had been slaughtered right in front of their eyes.  I saw a massive bull that had been shot, lying close to a female and a whitecoat.  I saw a group of sealers laughing and smiling as they worked over a pile of carcasses, getting them ready to winch onto one of the sealing boats.

Photo: HSI/R. Aldworth

Thankfully, these unfortunate pups did not die without witnesses.  Humane Society International was on the island, as was media.  I have watched the video footage of HSI and reviewed their photographs and it was a horrible flashback to 2008 when I first witnessed the slaughter of grey seals on Hay Island.  Relentless repeated clubbing of terrified weeks-old pups in front of their nursery mates, whitecoats crawling through pools of blood, cuddling up to dead seals, not understanding what was happening…but there was something different this year – the testing of the low-velocity ammunition that the director of the Fur Institute of Canada/wildlife pathologist Daoust had wanted to conduct, claiming he thought this would be a more humane killing method.  Well, from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s definitely not humane.  Seals had to be shot multiple times, or clubbed after being shot.  One pup flailed about crying out in pain after being shot the first time and had to be finished off.  One sealer leisurely followed a group of terrified pups as they attempted to escape.  He took his time, advancing after them as they jostled against each other in panic to escape, before finally shooting one.  I saw a picture of one sealer tormenting a terrified pup as it sat next to a dead pup.  What sort of sick demented soul enjoys tormenting animals in this manner?  ‘Sick’ and ‘demented’ are two very apt words to describe Nova Scotia sealers. 

Photo: ACASC/B. Curran

My government has betrayed Nova Scotians again.  The provincial government must give permission for a slaughter to occur on Hay Island and each year they give that permission despite the clear evidence of cruelty and unsustainability.  Hay Island is a provincial nature reserve – it does NOT belong to commercial industry.  Hay Island is held in trust for us by the government.  The government has betrayed that trust time and time again.  Nova Scotians should be outraged about this and demand their government respect their wishes and protect grey seals in this province.

It is a comfort to know that most pups born on Hay Island this year escaped harm, having moulted and left the island before the sealers arrived.  It is also a comfort to know the grey seal hunt in Nova Scotia is just about finished.  Kill numbers have been decreasing in past years.  Baby seal killer Robert Courtney’s original claims of a buyer for the full quota of 1,900 never materialized.  If he’d had a buyer he would’ve been over to the island the moment DFO announced the official start date.  He wasn’t held up by weather every day – there was a window of opportunity and he didn’t take it.  It was a repeat of 2009 — no markets, no buyer, so a buyer was manufactured thanks to funding from the Fur Institute of Canada (and the federal government) to facilitate a “commercial harvest” and dubious scientific studies.  They needed to kill 100 seals for their experiment this year, and they killed approximately 100 seals.  What a coincidence.

Photo: ACASC/B. Curran

Gail Shea recently said, “To this end, the Hay Island grey seal harvest is properly regulated and effectively monitored, and those who break the rules are held to account.”  Reviewing the HSI video shot today, I saw violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations and saw no sealers “held to account” for those violations.  Shea is misleading the public into believing seals are hampering fish stock recovery and growing exponentially.  Neither is true.  Shea has the nerve to call us liars while she continues to spread untruths to Canadians.  She is the ultimate hypocrite and should be removed from her position immediately. 

There is no future for the sealing industry in Canada.  It is finished.  But the government fights on, with an endless supply of taxpayer dollars, lavishing millions on a crumbling industry that employs a tiny fraction of the population of the country, putting our international reputation, tourism industry and free trade talks with the EU at risk.  To continue killing seals flies in the face of science, logic and compassion.  There is simply no logic to it.  It is a grudge match, nothing more.  The Canadian government simply does not want to admit defeat and do the decent thing.

Tonight I reflect with sadness upon those poor souls slaughtered so mercilessly today on Hay Island and vow that in the coming year I will work harder than ever to ensure this never happens again.

I’m here in Sydney with the HSI team, getting all my gear ready for tomorrow.  I was really hoping the seals would be spared again this year, as they were last year.  But it’s not to be.  Tomorrow’s weather forecast is favourable for the sealers so they’ll be heading out to Hay Island first thing in the morning, intent on killing every moulted pup they find. 

When they set foot on Hay Island with their clubs and guns we will be there too, with our cameras.  We will be intent on filming the cruelty of this slaughter and sharing it with the world in order to shut markets down once and for all.

It is a small comfort to know that many young pups have already moulted and swum away to safety.  There are still, however, unfortunate babes that will fall victim to these sealers and their bloodlust.  One ordinarily would wonder why they’re bothering to go at all.  Dingwall baby seal killer Robert Courtney had boasted to media he had a buyer for all 1,900 pups.  However, they waited so long to go to the island that most of the pups have gone.  They had been held up by bad weather but Monday was a perfect day yet they had failed to go.  Why? 

It’s strangely reminiscent of 2009 when the deal fell through and it looked as if there would not be a slaughter on the island.  The Fur Institute orchestrated a hasty deal, with Newfoundland’s Nu-Tan Furs offering to purchase 200 skins for “fabric samples for potential buyers” (the purchase monies, no doubt, came from the federal government).  This allowed the sealers to do what they love to do – bludgeon baby seals to death - and facilitated the study of the effectiveness/humaneness of using wooden bats on thick-skulled grey seal pups.  It was so obviously a setup – a “bailout for the boys.”  I suspect, personally, this is what is happening now.  I suspect as the sealers go to Hay Island, they’re not concerned about all the pups that have made their escape; they’re not concerned they won’t reach the quota of 1,900.  Their sole purpose is to blow the heads off 100 seal pups in an gruesome experiment simply because Fur Institute of Canada director / wildlife pathologist Dauost thinks it might be a more humane way to kill seals.

Tomorrow is going to be a long hellish day full of images and sounds that will likely haunt me for the rest of my days.  But it has to be done.  We will end this.  Everyone knows there’s no future to Canada’s sealing industry.  Even its most ardent fans know it deep in their stony hearts – it’s over.  Very soon, in the near future, grey seals in Nova Scotia will be protected and valued not for the price their skin fetches but for the price a tourist will pay to photograph them in their natural setting. 

Here are three simple things you can do right now to help Nova Scotia grey seals.

I will likely not be able to upload my photos and videos until later tomorrow night, but will try to update through my iPhone, posting photos via Facebook and Twitter.  I will update this blog tomorrow night.

Off to bed now for a few hours of sleep.

Over the past couple of days I have been reading news reports that Fur Institute of Canada Director Pierre-Ives Daoust (who also happens to be a veterinarian) is planning to conduct experiments blowing Hay Island grey seal pups’ brains out with low-velocity bullets.  Well, actually, Daoust won’t be doing the brain-blowing himself – apparently he did his share of that last year.  No, this year DFO has hired two Cape Breton Neanderthals sealers to put down their wooden bats long enough for a spot of target shooting practice while a veterinarian trails behind them taking notes.  I hope they’re not giving a firearm to Shane Briand as the word on the street is that he’s not particularly adept with firearms.  Just ask him how he lost his leg.

What sort of person is capable of beating these pups with a baseball bat? Dingwall sealers Robert Courtney and Pat Briand do it every year (Photo: Bridget Curran/ACASC)

Daoust claims he thinks using handguns may be “more humane” than clubs.  However, he maintains clubbing is a humane method and claims his only aim is to see if there is a better way to kill baby seals.  This is all very interesting.  Pro-sealing interests have long denied using clubs is an ineffective and inhumane method of killing grey seal pups which are larger and have substantially thicker skulls than harp seal pups.  In 2009 DFO conducted a study – again using Hay Island baby grey seals as their grisly test subjects – reportedly to determine whether this was true.  Notably, the results of that study have never been published.  The word on the street is that something went horribly wrong during the study and DFO Science was at odds with the MuckyMucks of the Regional Office over the study itself and its results.  So the study was never published and in 2010 the Nova Scotia government and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans authorized a slaughter on Hay Island using the controversial wooden bats.  Thankfully, the slaughter was cancelled when sealkillers could not secure a buyer. 

NS fishermen bludgeoning pups 2008 Photo: HSI/Canada

But in reality this has nothing to do with what may be “more humane” and has everything to do with what may look better.  Just as Newfoundland premier Danny Williams and Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn considering banning the hakapik from the harp seal hunt because of the “unpleasant optics” so too does DFO and Daoust wish to abolish the wooden bat and club to clean up the image of the grey seal hunt in Nova Scotia.

Anyone who seriously thinks using low-calibre bullets will have better optics than clubbing is incredibly naive.  On Hay Island, grey seals of all ages are herded together, including newborns and nursing females, and the moulted pups are killed mere inches from each other while traumatized mothers try to defend their young.  When the wooden bat was the killing implement the sights and sounds of it were hellish.  But using a gun will be no better.  Discharging loud firearms in a throng of terrified seals, brain-matter splattering all over traumatized newborn whitecoats, their mothers and other moulted pups as they try to escape…yeah, that’s REAL humane and REAL optic-friendly.
 

Dead grey seal pup Hay Island 2008 Photo: HSI

It’s time for the government and pro-sealing interests to face facts and stop trying to find lame justifications for exterminating seals.  DFO has evidence fish stocks in waters heavily populated by grey seals are rebounding.  Biologists are stating rate of growth of seal populations has slowed, they are stabilized and self-regulating.  Bang goes government and industry’s claims of “seals eating all the fish” and “exploding seal populations.” 

The truth, however unpalatable it may be to sealkiller fans, is that seals are worth far more alive than dead.  The commercial sealing industry is an unprofitable and failing enterprise, relying heavily on government subsidies via Canadian taxpayers, that threatens to damage tourism in this country and this province in particular.  Visitors to this province are horrified to learn we club baby seals to death in provincial nature reserves and many express a reluctance to return until the killing of grey seals is stopped.  As top predators seals play a vital role in our complex marine ecosystem.  Removing seals will damage our marine ecosystem and our tourism industry.  Conversely, an abundance of seals in this province can assist in fish stock rebounding and can bring in a vast amount of tourism dollars by way of seal-watching tours

Grey Seal pups on Pictou Island 2011 Photo ACASC/B. Curran

Why has DFO not published its long-overdue Science Advisory Report on the “impact of grey seals on fish populations?  Why has DFO gone ahead and set a grey seal quota of 60,000 – an increase of 10,000 from last year - in the absence of a current and valid Seal Management Plan?  Why has DFO not published its findings from the “science research” done on Hay Island in 2009 to determine the effectiveness of wooden bats on thick-skulled grey seals?  Is it true there is acrimony between DFO Science and the highers-up in the region about the results of this research?  Alot of questions, and DFO doesn’t seem to want to answer any of them…

Nothing can ever be done to make this slaughter humane, or to even appear humane, because it is NOT.  And that’s why it must end.  And it WILL end, whether pro-sealing apologists like it or not.  It’s just a question of whether the Nova Scotia sealers such as Robert Courtney, Pat Briand and his degenerate knuckle-dragging sons, and Willie Murphy want to stay in the Dark Ages with their club in hand, or move forward into the 21st century, put down their club and demand a licence buyout from the government for a better future for themselves and the next generation.

Bridget Curran
Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition