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

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.

DFO has long denied the Canadian government subsidizes the commercial seal hunt.  On its webpage Canadian Seal Harvest – Myths and Realities it makes the following claim:

DFO does not subsidize the seal harvest. Sealing is an economically viable industry. Some subsidies were provided prior to 2001 for market and product development, including a meat subsidy, to encourage full use of the seal.

$100,000 govt subsidy to Canadian Seal Marketing Group to attend trade shows in China

So government says no subsidies have been given to the sealing industry since 2001.  And yet a recent review of grants and contributions over $25,000 reported on the website of federally-run ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) revealed two sizeable contributions made to the sealing industry as recently as 2010. 

The first subsidy was a $100,000 contribution made by the federal government on May 10, 2010 awarded to Canadian Seal Marketing Group of Little Catalina, Newfoundland.  The contribution was to “attend trade shows in Russia and China.”   The Canadian Seal Marketing Group is an organization comprised of GC Rieber Carino Ltd., a Canadian company located in Dildo, Newfoundland; NuTan Furs Inc. of Catalina, Newfoundland; and Ta Ma Su Seal Products Inc. of Quebec.

$50,000 govt subsidy to Sealer's Cooperative to develop business plan to flog "value-added" dead baby seals

The second subsidy was a $50,000 contribution made on September 11, 2010 to Northeast Coast Sealer’s Cooperative Society, Limited of Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland, to “develop comprehensive plan for value-added seal products.” 

The Northeast Coast Sealer’s Cooperative Society is no stranger to financial assistance from ACOA, as it participated in the ACOA-led Atlantic Canada “seafood and aquaculture” trade mission to China in 2007.

Between 1995 and 2000 the government of Canada and Newfoundland provided $20 million in subsidies to the sealing industry, including direct payments to sealers.

And of course each year there are subsidies in the form of services and infrastructure - Spotter planes and helicopters are used to locate seal pups and radio coordinates to sealers (Interestingly, DFO refuses to provide those coordinates to licensed observers).  Coast Guard icebreakers are used to forge paths to the seal pups for sealers.  One icebreaker – the Amundsen – reportedly costs $50,000 per day to operate in winter months.  Vessels and helicopters are also used to rescue sealers and their vessels in distress.  On the administrative side, DFO staff processes observation permit applications and interviews each applicant.

Photo: HSUS/Gray Mitchell

Our tax dollars have also paid for expensive international trips for politicians, sealers and Inuit representatives to lobby against the EU seal product ban.  In 2007 the Canadian government organized a tour by European journalists to Newfoundland & Labrador and the Magdalen Islands.  The tour allowed journalists to meet with sealers, sealing industry bullies and politicians to give what the Canadian government claimed to be the truth about the seal harvest.  Interestingly, the journalists were not invited to witness the actual “harvest” as it took place. 

So many subsidies, so little time to detail them all…In April of 2008 the Financial Post published an article penned by Toronto lawyer/journalist Murray Teitel setting out the vast sums of money the Canadian government lavishes on this crumbling industry.  The article, entitled The millions Ottawa spends subsidizing the seal hunt, is definitely worth a read.

Polling consistently shows Canadians oppose the annual slaughter, yet millions of our tax dollars are lavished on the failing industry each year.  It would actually cost less to implement a licence buyback program!  A recent poll conducted with Newfoundland sealers concluded 50% of sealers holding an opinion were interested in a licence buyout.

Photo: ACASC/Bridget Curran

I recently asked Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff whether the Liberal Party of Canada would be willing to help Atlantic Canadian sealers should they decide to lobby the government for a buyout.  He stated that if sealers wanted a licence buyout, of course the Liberal Party of Canada would help them get it.  This was the first time Ignatieff has formally stated he would assist sealers with a licence buyout, and is a promising sign.

The Canadian commercial seal hunt is an unprofitable venture, a drain on Canadian taxpayers and an embarrassment to us all internationally.  It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad and shut it down for good.

In February of 2008 the Nova Scotia government colluded with the Canadian government to allow Nova Scotia fishermen to slaughter up to 2,500 grey seals on Hay Island, a Protected Wilderness Area. At the end of three short days, 1,261 defenceless pups had been brutally slaughtered. I made this video last year in their memory, and we’ve played this at candlelight vigils.