Canadian Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield has finally broken his silence and responded to leading scientists’ criticism regarding  a proposed grey seal cull with a shocking revelation: “Seals aren’t vegetarians or vegans.”

Minister's shocking revelation: "Seals aren't vegetarians or vegans."

Yes, those sage words were uttered by our very own Minister of Few Words this afternoon to a Canadian Press journalist.  The Minister had remained strangely silent while the furor grew over the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council’s recommendations for a massive grey seal cull (unlike his predecessor Gail “Media Whore” Shea who loved talking to the media to the point of fabricating announcements).  After reading Ashfield’s quotes online today, I personally think he should have remained silent a little longer.

Yes, Minister, seals do eat fish.  So do other marine predators, such as whales, sharks and dolphins.  Are you suggesting we should kill those species as well, just in case they’re to blame?  After all, you don’t know for sure seals are responsible for the failure of Gulf of St. Lawrence fish stocks to rebound.  You just think they’re the “most likely” cause.  So if the idea is to kill a massive number of seals as an experiment to see if it helps fish stocks, why not kill a massive amount of all predators in the oceans and really double your chances of success!  Not scientific enough for you?  It’s about as scientific as taking your science advice from a bunch of knuckle-dragging fishermen who “clean up real good” to sit in front of the Senate Committee and lie their asses off.

But I digress.  Shortly after the FRCC released its report which recommended the removal of 140,000 grey seals in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence over a five year period, two of Canada’s leading marine biologists spoke out against the scheme, branding it politically motivated and scientifically irresponsible.  Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax specializing in the study of whales said:

Before humans started industrial fishing, there were large populations of seals and of cod. Clearly, they can coexist perfectly well. … It appears to me that politicians are playing into this largely irrational hatred of seals to make it look like they’re doing something.

Boris Worm, a Dalhousie biology professor who studies marine biodiversity, told media former fisheries minister Gail Shea had spoken in favour of a cull in 2009, and federal scientists have since been pressured to justify that decision.  He said:

It was something that was announced before the science was heard, and then a meeting was convened to produce the science to support that decision,” he said, referring to a series of scientific workshops held last fall.  To me, as a scientist, that’s not acceptable.

On September 26, 2011 an open letter was sent to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, signed by six marine scientists pointing out that the proposed greal seal cull is not supported by science and could have unexpected disastrous effects on our oceans.  The signees urged the Minister to meet with independent scientists to discuss the folly of approving a large-scale cull of grey seals.

Minister Ashfield’s reaction is tantamount to a slap in the face to these leading scientists.  Obviously the Minister would rather take his science advice from a bunch of biased yes-men and fishermen hand-picked by the Fisheries Minister to sit on the board of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council.  No surprise there, however – Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is notorious for making decisions based on political expediency and economics rather than conservation.

And Minister, please remind me, because I’m still confused on this point – how do you hope to pay for this cull?  The cost of such a large-scale slaughter will be substantial and DFO is currently cutting its budget and slashing science programs.  Oh, how silly of me, of course, the Canadian taxpayer will foot the bill for this make-work project for disgruntled sealers.  Of course, the taxpayers will unwillingly hand over the cash so the sealers can happily bash and shoot in the skulls of nursing whitecoats and their mothers, and the Harper government can buy all the sealing/fishing votes for the next election.  And what do the Canadian taxpayers get?  Shafted.  Again.  Of course.

I’m no scientist, but even I know that to focus on a simplistic prey-predator model such as cod-seal is a recipe for disaster.  Our marine ecosystem is a complex food web and removing a large number of one species could have catastrophic results.  If I thought there was merit in killing off a large number of one species as an experiment to see if the desired results could be achieved, I would’ve called for a cull of pro-sealing politicians a long time ago!  ;)

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…

This video, narrated by Sheryl Fink of International Fund for Animal Welfare, was shot during the first day of the commercial seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland and shows the cruelty inherent in the annual slaughter. On the video are violations of Marine Mammal Regulations, but even more troubling are the acts of brutality to seal pups which are perfectly legal and acceptable under the Marine Mammal Regulations.

The Canadian government claims the commercial seal hunt is “tightly regulated” and “closely monitored.” Each year, however, hours of video footage is compiled by lawful observers which prove those claims are false.

The seal hunt is regulated in the sense there exists a set of Marine Mammal Regulations to which sealers are supposed to adhere. However, the Regulations are woefully inadequate and do not ensure acceptable animal welfare standards are met. Even the much-heralded “3-step process” does not meet international veterinarian standards for humane slaughter. Let me put it this way — it is perfectly legal under the Marine Mammal Regulations for sealers to impale conscious seal pups through the face or other body part with large metal hooks and drag them across the ice, before throwing them onto a boat and finishing them off with a club. Does that sound humane to you? It is not.

The government’s other claim — the commercial seal hunt is “closely monitored” — is also BOGUS. I guess it all depends on their definition of “monitored.” IFAW reported that during the first day of the killing spree, DFO Enforcement was nowhere in sight. Sealers were routinely violating the Marine Mammal Regulations and DFO was not present to monitor or enforce those Regulations.

This is nothing new.  Each and every year sealers violate Marine Mammal Regulations and inflict unimaginable agony on defenceless seal pups, while DFO Enforcement looks the other way.  Oftentimes, DFO is too busy keeping an eye on lawful licenced observers to actually do their job and monitor the killing.

I urge everyone to contact Canada’s Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea and ask her how she can possibly continue to insist the commercial seal hunt is humane and it clearly isn’t.  Tell her the evidence is irrefutable.  Tell her we are tired of the Canadian government misinforming the public as to the true nature of the cruel commercial seal hunt.  Tell her it must end now.  Her contact info is as follows:

Email: min@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Twitter: @CPCGailShea

Tomorrow I will post more ways you can help Canada’s seals.

Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS

Yesterday marked the first day of the commercial seal hunt in Newfoundland, in an area referred to as The Front, and almost immediately the horror stories began to surface of the horrific cruelty being documented by licenced observers of the slaughter.

Sheryl Fink, Director of Seals Program for International Fund for Animal Welfare, reported sealers were not performing the 3-step process which is part of their sealing licence conditions, and at least one sealer was using what appeared to be an illegal weapon.  As well, she reported sealers were killing seal pups just for the sake of killing them, leaving their carcass and pelt on the ice for the birds to peck.  During these repeated violations of Marine Mammal Regulations, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Enforcement was nowhere to be found.

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada reported witnessing pups being shot while in the water (a practice condemned by the Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association) and gaffed while still alive.  Again, DFO was nowhere to be seen.

These eyewitness accounts expose the despicable lies behind the Canadian government’s claims that the seal hunt is closely monitored and tightly regulated. This is video footage taken by HSI/Canada on the first day of the slaughter:

I observed the Canadian commercial seal hunt in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from 2007 to 2010 and know full-well the agony these pups are suffering at the hands of the brutal Newfoundland sealers, and the trauma felt by observers having to bear witness to such despicable acts.  Although I could not be there this year, my heart is with the seals and I am helping to spread the information I’m getting online through Twitter and Facebook.

Please take action right now to help end this brutal slaughter. To find out how you can help, please visit the websites of IFAW and Humane Society International

What does one do with hundreds of pounds of dead baby seal flesh no one wants?  Feed it to the homeless.  Hey, they’re homeless; they’re bound to be hungry, right?  And, after all, beggars can’t be choosers, can they?

The sealers would have us believe their donation is based on goodwill and public relations.  Leonce Arsenault, organizer of the event, explained, “We come to Montreal to show people that the sealers are not as barbaric want to believe the animal rights activists who have misinformation about the seal hunt,” (Google translation which is rough, but you get the idea.)

Barbaric?  Surely not.  These charming fellows were out in the Gulf of St. Lawrence slaughtering defenceless weeks-old seal pups as they clung to melting pans of ice, shooting or beating them to death.  No, not barbaric at all.

Photo: ACASC/Bridget Curran

This year some of the worst ice in history was recorded in the Maritime and Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence regions and alarmingly high pup mortality rate ensued.  Nursery ice melted from under the pups before they could swim and they drowned, or pups were stranded on land where they fell prey to predators such as coyotes and large birds.  The sealers from the Maggies were the very few who bothered to go out in their boats and it was definitely a Slaughter of the Survivors.

The Canadian government recently announced a deal had been struck with China to import seal products, but those markets have failed to materialize and IFAW revealed the Canadian government had been making similar announcements for nearly 20 years with no markets ever materializing.  Just more empty promises.  So rather than admit there are no markets for the meat, they turn it into a PR circus event, foisting it on the homeless and patting themselves on the back. 

This year the record low ice and high pup mortality should have been enough for the government to cancel this year’s seal hunt.  Instead, the government hiked the quota to the ridiculously high sum of 400,000 and let sealers go out and slaughter every surviving pup they managed to find.  And for what?  To dump the flesh nobody else wants on the homeless?  Gesture of goodwill?  Slap in the face, more like.

I hope no one gets sick if they eat the seal meat.  Seals are prone to diseases and parasites and humans can become infected with brucellosis and trichinosis after coming into contact with infected seals or seal products.  In Canada, seals are processed as fish, not mammals, so the seal carcasses are not screened for diseases found in mammals.  When I made inquiries about the food safety protocols for planned shipments of seal meat to Asia, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the seal meat was “being handled entirely by the fish program.  A licence from DFO to harvest the seals is required and seal meat for export to China would have to be processed through a federally registered fish plant.”  When I asked if that meant  the veterinary oversight and meat hygiene protocols mandated under the federal ‘Meat Inspection Act’ are not being applied to the processing of seal meat, I never heard back from them.  I wonder why…

Scary, no?  But as I said, I guess the sealers’ reasoning is these people are homeless and hungry so they’ll take what they can get.  What an insult.  Here’s an idea:  if the sealers are so poverty-stricken that they must beat to death baby seals to earn a living to feed their families, why aren’t they feeding the seal meat to their children?  Point to ponder…

Emily McCoy, a US citizen arrested after putting a tofu cream pie in the face of Canada’s Fisheries Minister Gail Shea last year, was convicted of assault today and sentenced to two years probation during which time she is banned from entering Canada and from contacting Shea, Fisheries officials and officials from other Canadian institutions such as embassies and consulates.

During a speech given by Shea at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, McCoy stood up, pushed the pie into Shea’s face and berated her for authorizing the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of baby seals each year on the east coast of Canada.  McCoy’s actions were denounced by Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte MP Gerry Byrne who declared PETA should be labeled a “terrorist organization” as a consequence (but believes terrorizing, torturing and skinning alive baby seals is a time-honoured tradition). 

MP Gerry Byrne eating pie. Seriously. He's eating pie. Probably not tofu cream, though


Gail Shea complained to media she had not yet received an apology from McCoy, ignoring the fact that the majority of Canadians are still waiting for an apology from her for using their tax dollars to fund the world’s largest slaughter of marine mammals.

Likewise, PETA’s Emily Lavender is still waiting for an apology from the coward who hid inside the Salty Dog costume as he physically assaulted her before shoving a pie in her face while she conducted a peaceful demonstration in St. John’s.  Interesting enough, police didn’t arrest him for assault.  I guess it’s only assault if it’s a federal government official getting the pie in the face…

The question is not whether pieing constitutes assault, or a terrorist act, or whether McCoy’s sentence was stiff enough, or whether the revenge taken against Emily Lavendar in St. John’s was appropriate.  The real question is:  How the hell do we ban Gail Shea from Canada?

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.