Science has been cancelled: Health of our oceans & harp seals sacrificed for east coast votes

There is a DFO letter making the rounds online, defending the 2012 harp seal Total Allowable Catch (TAC) which was set at an unsustainably high 400,000 last week.  The letter is signed by Morley Knight, Director-General of Resource Management at DFO, and attempts to mislead convince the public the TAC was set “in accordance with the internationally recognized precautionary approach.” 

It’s not surprising DFO has gone into repair mode in response to the bashlash to the news the Fisheries Minister had ignored the advice of his own scientists and had set the 2012 harp seal Total Allowable Catch at the request of sealing industry executives.  Both IFAW and HSI condemned the TAC.  My own letter, representing Atlantic Canadians, was published in four newspapers.

Nor is it surprising a government bureaucrat signed the editorial defending the TAC; it is highly unlikely any of the ignored scientists would agree to put their name on such a work of fiction.

Mr. Knight seems to be in denial of two concrete irrefutable facts: 

(1)  The Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat concluded in its most recent Science Advisory Report the harp seal herd is in decline and the 2012 TAC should not exceed 300,000, as anything higher would not respect DFO’s management plan; and

(2)  DFO clearly stated the 400,000 TAC was guided in part by “the unanimous recommendation of industry representatives.”

Setting TACs to appease the sealing industry while ignoring scientific advice is not “in accordance with the internationally recognized precautionary approach,” although Mr. Knight seems to expect the public to believe it is.

DFO has a long history of basing conservation decisions based on political expediency rather than science.  DFO mismanaged cod into commercial extinction and has consistently failed to protect endangered species such as porbeagle shark and sockeye salmon for “socio-economic” reasons. Now it is placing the future of harp seals at risk.

Sealer about to beat to death 2- or 3-week old pup still almost completely covered in whitecoat Photo: Sheryl Fink/IFAW 2012

I was reading an article in the Ottawa Citizen this morning detailing how the government’s failure to set start dates for the commercial seal hunt in Newfoundland was causing wide-spread concern for the problems it would pose for rural towns along the east coast.  Featured in the article were doomsday-style quotes by Canadian Sealers Association executive Frank Pinhorn and Bonavista Mayor Betty Fitzgerald.  There were warnings about rapidly expanding hordes of voracious harp seals patrolling the coastline devouring all the cod and dire predictions that if the the hordes weren’t ”controlled” (read: slaughtered via club, hakapik and rifle) the fish would disappear and so would all the jobs on the east coast.

It is difficult to discern if Pinhorn and Fitzgerald are honestly deluded about seals and cod, or are guilty of wilfully spreading misinformation. In any event, both are incorrect in their recent statements to media.

Pinhorn speaks of the “growing seal population,” claiming it is at a record-high of nine to 10 million, while Fitzgerald insists the seal population must be controlled to protect fish stocks. Both Pinhorn and Fitzgerald need to read the latest Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat’s Science Advisory Report in which DFO scientists Mike Hammill and Garry Stenson advise the harp seal population is declining, with a current population of approximately 7 million individuals, and accordingly, the Total Allowable Catch should be reduced by 25%.  There has never been credible science supporting these wild claims that seals are preventing fish stocks from rebounding after years of gross human overfishing.  In fact, for those who bother investigating the issue, there is an emerging wealth of information to the contrary.

Fitzgerald and Pinhorn are guilty of the sort of irresponsible scaremongering that promotes the misconception seals must be culled to protect fish stocks. In truth, science indicates seals play an important role in our complex marine ecosystem and should be protected for the overall health of our oceans. Fitzgerald and Pinhorn would do well to quit the melodrama and stick to the facts.

In terms of claims that “lack of an April seal hunting season could pose a problem for rural towns along the coast,” the only problem the cancellation of the 2012 Newfoundland harp seal hunt poses is the sealers would miss out on their annual beer-swilling baby seal-bashing social event.  As one sealer told Paul Watson years ago, “Every year we gets to go out on the ice, get away from the old lady, drink beer with the boys and whack seals” and as sealer Desmond Adams told media a few years ago, “We all go out for the love of it rather than the money, which isn’t there anymore.”  This is not a commercial seal hunt or a hunt for subsistence – this is a yearly social event for people who love beating and shooting to death screaming seal pups.  And Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill.  That, to me, is a very real problem.

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.

 

Senator Mac Harb, lone voice of reason in Canadian Senate, is calling for action on behalf of imperiled grey seals (photo credit: Erik Brush/CC)

I recently received an email from the office of Senator Mac Harb.  Senator Harb seems to be the lone voice of reason within the Canadian Senate.  It seems all other senators are blindly chanting the “SEALS MUST DIE!” mantra of the Harper government, following along like sheep with a scheme that will see over 140,000 grey seals slaughtered under the guise of a “targeted removal” but what is actually a vote-grabbing make-work project for sealers disgruntled at collapsed commercial markets for seal products.

And it is in the hands of the Senate Committee that the fate of grey seals lie.  The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is currently studying the issue and has already heard testimony from DFO officials as well as former members of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (the politically-appointed organization that recommended the experimental slaughter of grey seals). 

Scheduled to appear next week are the president and executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association. 

Notably, there is no indication the Senate Committee will hear testimony from leading scientists speaking against the cull.  Effectively, the Committee is only hearing one side of the argument.  But that is nothing new for this government.  There have been numerous allegations that while discussing the grey seal predation issue, scientists opposed to a cull were removed and replaced by those willing to adhere to the Harper government’s political agenda.

Incidentally, during DFO’s testimony to the Senate Committee, David Balfour, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management for DFO suggested all seal carcasses would be dumped in the water since there are currently no markets for seal products…So…not only unscientific, inhumane and unsustainable, but also wasteful…

I’ve copied and pasted the text of Senator Harb’s email below and have also set up an action page on the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition website which lists all email addresses you will need to write to the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

You can also get updates on this issue at the Coalition website.

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Dear Friend,

The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has recently begun a study that could result in the killing of 70,000 grey seals off Canada’s East Coast.

The Fisheries Minister is pushing federal scientists to justify the slaughter of seals through contrived studies and one-sided hearings for political reasons. He has decided to ignore factors such as the impact of uncontrolled foreign overfishing in the waters off our coast and the total lack of scientific proof that seals are affecting the cod’s recovery.

The committee is considering an irresponsible cull that could, in my view, have serious negative impact on the Atlantic ecosystem and the long term health of many species, including cod. This slaughter would also result in untold costs to taxpayers and to Canada’s international reputation.

I have called on the committee to do due diligence and gather scientific evidence from all sides of this issue, not simply the studies that fit in with the unjustifiable goal of killing 70,000 seals. I urge you to write to the committee and its members who can be contacted through the Committee website http://senate-senat.ca/pofo-e.asp.

The government needs to know how Canadians and people around the world feel about this indefensible slaughter.

Sincerely,

Hon. Senator Mac Harb

Chers amis,

Le Comité sénatorial permanent des pêches et océans a récemment entrepris une étude qui pourrait entraîner la mise à mort de 70 000 phoques gris au large de la côte Est du Canada.

Le ministre de Pêches et Océans pousse ses scientifiques à justifier l’abattage de phoques par des études peu crédibles et des avis tendancieux pour des raisons politiques.

Il a décidé de ne pas tenir compte de divers facteurs, comme les répercussions de la surpêche étrangère non réglementée dans les eaux internationales au large de nos côtes et l’absence totale de données scientifiques qui prouvent que les phoques menacent réellement le rétablissement des stocks de morue.

Le Comité examine la possibilité d’un abattage irresponsable qui pourrait, à mon avis, avoir de graves répercussions sur l’écosystème de l’Atlantique et sur la santé à long terme de bien des espèces d’animaux, dont la morue. Non seulement ce carnage serait très coûteux pour les contribuables, mais il porterait aussi atteinte à la réputation du Canada sur la scène internationale.

J’ai pressé le Comité de faire preuve de précaution et de rassemble et d’examiner les preuves scientifiques de toutes les parties concernées, et non uniquement les études qui viennent appuyer un objectif injustifiable, celui d’abattre 70 000 phoques. Je vous exhorte à communiquer avec le Comité et avec ses membres. Écrivez-leur sur le site Web du Comité en cliquant http://senate-senat.ca/pofo-f.asp.

Le gouvernement doit connaître l’opinion des Canadiens et des gens du monde entier sur ce carnage indéfendable.

Sincères salutations,

L’hon. Mac Harb, sénateur

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

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.