IFAW Canada: Horrific cruelty observed during second day of seal hunt 4/9/10

Sheryl1 We have now spent 2 full days filming the commercial seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland. Only 28 boats hailed out this year – quite a dramatic drop from the 306 boats that went out in 2009 or the 977 in 2008 – the consequence of declining markets and low pelt prices this year. Unfortunately, the reduced number of sealers has in no way diminished the amount of cruelty, disregard for the regulations, and the unnecessary suffering of seal pups. I don’t know where to begin in describing what we saw.

Hardly any boats were checking for unconsciousness before cutting into the seal’s body or hooking it through the face and skin and hauling into the boat. Some seals were obviously still alive – clenched flippers, fighting against the steel hooks. Shockingly, it is still legal to hook animals that are alive and conscious. Pretty much no-one was bleeding seals out as soon as possible – as required by the regulations.

One boat had a methodology that was completely new to me – and frankly quite bizarre. I call it the “shoot and slice”.  They would shoot a seal, pull their boat up to the ice pan, disembark, and slice the pup down the belly. No skull palpation – as required – to make sure the seal is unconscious before skinning. No bleeding out for one minute – as required – to make sure the seal is dead. Just shoot and slice. The sheer callousness - and blatant disregard for the regulations – was stunning. The fact that they didn’t care that we were watching made it all the worse.

Other boats were involved in what could best be described as an assembly line of slaughter. A larger boat would move ahead through the ice, shooting seals as it came across them. A smaller skiff would trail along behind, disembarking on the ice to retrieve pups shot by the larger ship, but also shooting any other seals it encountered at the same time.  While this method might be efficient for the sealers, it certainly was not favourable towards the seals, and does not appear to be in compliance with the regulations. Often the smaller boat would get distracted by shooting other animals, or would be prevented from reaching shot animals by the moving ice pans for an extended period of time. The “three-step process” requires that shot animals be checked immediately for unconsciousness. But these seals were being left for extended periods before the smaller boat would get anywhere near them. Then – to my horror – some pups would start to raise their heads and move, proving that even though they were not showing ‘directed movement’ as described in the regulations, they were still very much alive, and conscious, after being shot and left for dead.  It seemed almost merciful when these animals were finally put out of their suffering by a blow to the head – often not with a hakapik, but an elongated boathook or some other illegal weapon.  Again, no palpation of the skull – a requirement to test for unconsciousness - was conducted. Hook through face, drag to boat.  Repeat. Hundreds if not thousands of times throughout the day, the hunters conducted their grisly task.  Even though only 28 boats were hailed out for today, the sealers were working as quickly as possible. It was obvious that even at $23 a pelt, it was money – and not proper killing practice – that was the main concern.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is not good, but we will be here and we will do our best to film the slaughter. There is no justification for the suffering we have seen these past 2 days. The disregard for the regulations is obvious – some of these boats should lose their licence immediately, if DFO is doing their job.  I wonder if we will see these same sealers out here at the slaughter again tomorrow. If we do, I am confident we will document some of the worst, and most unnecessary, atrocities against animals we have ever observed.

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