Harp seal population at risk due to global warming -- Canadian government urged to call off seal hunt

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Ottawa, Canada
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) and its 2.5 million supporters worldwide today called on the Canadian government to cancel its annual commercial hunt of hundreds of thousands of seals off of eastern Canada, citing a disturbing lack of ice and ice-breeding seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. With temperatures now on the rise, ice conditions are expected to worsen, with just two weeks to go before the world’s largest hunt for marine mammals is set to begin.
According to the latest reports from scientific agencies in Canada, ice conditions on Canada’s east coast are shaping up to be among the worst on record. Current ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence appear to be worse than in 2002, when Canadian government scientists estimated that 75 percent of the newborn seal pups died as a consequence of bad ice conditions. Seal pups are unable to swim for the first few weeks of life, and need solid ice on which to live and nurse from their mothers.

In normal years, thousands of ice-breeding harp and hooded seals migrate to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to give birth and nurse their pups on ice pans, but this year’s lack of solid, stable ice means very few of these seals have been spotted.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable,” said Sheryl Fink, IFAW Senior Researcher. “Surveillance flights are reporting that there is not a single harp seal to be found in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.”

Last month IFAW released a scientific report highlighting the impacts of global warming on Canada’s ice-breeding seals, which revealed that in nine of the past 11 years, average ice coverage has been well below the average ice cover seen over the last 37 years.

With the Canadian government’s announcement of the 2007 seal hunt total allowable catch (TAC) figures expected any day, the government has one last chance to show they are prepared to give Canada’s wildlife a fighting chance in the face of global warming.

“Canada can take immediate and positive action to combat the effects of global warming on this species. In light of these dire ice conditions, the responsible thing to do is to call off this year’s seal hunt,” said Fink.

To learn more about IFAW’s efforts to end the Canadian commercial seal hunt, visit www.ifaw.org today.

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