Presenting the facts on sealing to the Namibian ombudsman

The International Fund for Animal Welfare was recently invited to a stakeholder meeting in Namibia, organized by the Ombudsman after he received complaints about Namibia’s seal hunt from IFAW and other animal welfare groups around the world.

The subject of the meeting was the legalities of their annual seal harvest, the exploitation of the living natural resources and the method of killing seals in Namibia. A wide variety of stakeholders were in attendance and the concerns over the hunting of Namibian seals were well represented.

Ombudsman John Walters welcomed the stakeholders warmly and assured us that he would be undertaking this process with the utmost transparency, and that he was committed to listening to all opinions before making his findings or proceeding with an investigation. It was apparent from his introduction that Mr. Walters has heard extensively on this subject, and is aware of the wide range of animal welfare and conservation concerns arising from the Namibian seal hunt.

The tone of the meeting was serious.  We were reminded repeatedly that this was not to be a debate, that we had been specifically asked to present “the facts”, and that we did not need to convince anyone of the merits of our case other than the Ombudsman.  It was clear that any deviation from this mandate by any of the stakeholders was not going to be tolerated.

There was disruption at the outset, as all media were suddenly ordered to leave the meeting and absolutely no recording of the presentations was to be allowed. While this might seem a contradiction of the commitment to transparency, the outcries from the audience were quickly silenced. IFAW’s presentation focused on the fact that the killing methods used by Namibian sealers do not meet internationally recognized standards for humane killing as recognized by the European Food Safety Authority and that the Namibian hunt is inherently inhumane. We also argued hat there was no data to suggest that the hunt was being conducted on a biologically sustainable basis, and that killing Cape fur seals could actually have a negative impact on fish stocks.

Excellent presentations were made by SPCA Namibia, the South African Seal Saving Initiative, Seal Alert SA , Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, WSPA , and Seals of Namibia. The facts and arguments supporting an end to the Namibian seal hunt were in abundance, ranging from the inherent cruelty in the killing methods, lack of scientific information on sustainability, ecosystem interactions, to the question of whether the hunt was even legal under the Namibian constitution. 

Even the question of human rights was addressed, with concern expressed for the well-being of seal hunters and their families. But very little could be found in the way of facts that would support the continuation of the Namibian seal slaughter. A presentation by the Ministry of Fisheries repeated the main points outlined in a government statement the previous night, but unfortunately no scientific documentation was presented. 

A graph with a few data points and a line drawn through it was projected on the screen, with the claim that the Cape fur seal population was in good shape. But no estimates were provided, no confidence intervals given, no scientific papers referred to, the representative could not even tell us who conducted the population surveys!

During the presentations, some video footage of the Namibian seal hunt was shown, where the Regulations were not being obeyed or enforced. But instead of acknowledging what was obvious to everyone in the room – that the Regulations were not being followed and that seals were being cruelly killed -  the Fisheries representative retorted angrily that the video was obtained by illegal means (independent observation of the Namibian hunt is not allowed), implying that this should somehow invalidate the evidence before our very eyes.

The blatant denial of something so obvious is bewildering.  But as in Canada, when the sealing industry doesn’t like what the video evidence shows, the response is to simply ignore the evidence or question the means by which it is obtained.  

For example, when informed that IFAW’s 2011 seal hunt footage showed a seal being sliced open and suffering while alive and conscious, Frank Pinhorn, President of the Canadian Sealers’ Association, refused to acknowledge the evidence, replying that he “didn’t watch protestor video”.

Such a response does not indicate an industry that is willing to improve its practices. I left the meeting feeling cautiously optimistic.  We know that without a doubt, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports an end to the Namibian seal hunt. 

By appearances, the Ombudsman is taking his task seriously and gathering as much input as possible, and IFAW will be submitting more information to him in the coming weeks.  The amount of material to be considered, however, is enormous, and Mr. Walters was unable to give a timeframe for his “findings”. You can read our initial submission to the Ombudsman here and keep watching for more updates on IFAW’s work to end the commercial seal hunt in Namibia. -- SF  

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Experts

Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Sheryl Fink, Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Sonja Van Tichelen, Regional Director, European Union
Regional Director, European Union