IFAW Huntwatch Update: Saturday 28 March
Posted by Sheryl Fink, IFAW Senior Researcher
The Huntwatch team first flew to Sydney, Nova Scotia where we had been told a couple of boats might head out to the hunt. But the sealers there could not get out due to the ice conditions.
Then, just before noon, our spotter plane called in on the radio that they had seen a boat hunting up by the Magdalen Islands. This was highly unexpected, since the quota for the Magdalens had been reached early on Day 3 of the commercial seal hunt.
We set down on the ice off the Maggies and approached the sealers. It was a beautiful sunny day on the ice, and we were in a thick concentration of harp seal pups. The pups, now about a month old, were splashing around in pools of water, just learning how to swim. Others were lying on their backs, rolling around scratching their bellies, or curiously nibbling on chunks of ice.
Shortly after we landed, the Quebec Police arrived by helicopter. We politely introduced ourselves, and showed them our observation licences. We were allowed to continue with our work, but they were keeping a close eye on us, ready to press charges should we violate any of our observation licence conditions.
The slaughter was horrific. About 8 men were using hakapiks to smash the skulls of the baby seals, moving methodically from pan to pan and killing every pup in sight.
Lazy and docile from the rays of the sun, it was a simple matter for the sealers to walk right up to the unsuspecting pups. A few tried to escape, using their little claws to awkwardly pull themselves across the slippery ice. They could not move fast enough.
One small pup hidden amongst the rafted up ice looked at me nervously. I tried not to look back - by doing so I would give her location away to the sealers.
But most of the pups just lay there in the suns rays, blissfully ignorant of the fate they were about to meet. They were so docile that the sealers would often grab a pup by the hind flippers, and pull it into a 'better' position before clubbing it.
Some of the sealers were whistling as they worked, and one even started singing "jingle bell rock" - in what I suppose was an attempt to demonstrate their indifference towards the suffering that was taking place . I will never be able to listen to that song again without recalling this horrible bloody massacre. Even so, their antics could not disguise the awful thud of the hakapik, and the panicked growls and cries of the pups as they were killed.
As the sun started to set, we were forced to head home. At the end of the day, it was estimated that 1000 or so pups had been clubbed and skinned, simply so that their beautiful pelts could be made into fur coats, hats, and boots. The ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence remains littered with the abandoned bloody carcasses of seal pups. My only wish is that this is the last year that anyone has to witness such a tragedy.