First phase of Canadian seal hunt a wash out as single boat leaves port

Monday, March 29, 2010
(Charlottetown, Canada – March 28, 2010) – IFAW (The International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) has confirmed with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that a sole sealing vessel has hailed out on the opening day of the commercial harp seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada.

The vessel is reportedly heading to the Northern Gulf – the only area where seals have been observed in the Gulf – to kill the few animals that have managed to survive what has been a disastrous year for harp seal pups.

“After spending the past week watching the few tenacious seal pup survivors clinging to life, it is heartbreaking to realise that they may now be killed,” said Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with IFAW. “On the other hand, I am encouraged that only one boat has decided to go seal killing so far this year.”

This year has been the worst ice year on record for the east coast of Canada. The IFAW observation team has been in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, documenting the ice conditions and few pups that remain.  Harp seals need ice for giving birth, nursing and resting, and seal mortality is expected to be very high this year as a result of the poor ice conditions.

“Given the almost complete lack of demand for seal skins, allowing the commercial slaughter of these survivors to proceed is simply adding insult to injury. The situation this year is dire, and there is no question that the effect of climate change on these individual animals is devastating.  We’ve seen dead and abandoned pups on beaches, starving pups crying for food and trying to suckle off each other, and whitecoat pups swimming in desperate search of ice on which they can rest” said Fink.

Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, said: “It is reckless and irresponsible for the government to allow the hunt to proceed this year, given the high pup mortality that is expected. Under a precautionary approach, we should be protecting the few pups that might escape the devastating effects of climate change this year.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species notes that harp seals are going to be negatively affected by climate change. “Under a precautionary approach, these seal pups should be protected from commercial hunting and given the chance to survive. Instead, Canada is proceeding to kill off any animals that might actually exhibit traits that would allow the species to better contend with climate change” said Fink.

The lack of interest in sealing this year is not only due to the scarcity of seal pups, but also a result of a decreased demand for seal products. Markets for seal pelts appear to remain saturated with prices expected to remain around $15 per skin, down from $104 in 2006.  A commercial hunt for grey seals earlier this year failed to occur altogether.

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