VIDEO: Seals Suffering and Canadian Law Enforcement is Nowhere in Sight
The International Fund for Animal Welfare seal team is on the East Coast of Canada to document the opening of the 2011 commercial seal hunt in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of the worst ice conditions on record mean that there is little ice habitat and few seal pups in the area.
With the lack of demand for seal products, and pelt prices hovering around $20, the economic benefit from seal hunting is virtually nonexistent. But with a total allowable catch of 400,000 seal pups for this year, and with rumours that two Newfoundland seal processors have agreed to purchase 80,000 skins, we were concerned that some boats would still go out to hunt. So IFAW is here to film them.
We found the Coast Guard Henry Larsen, which is apparently the icebreaker dedicated to seal hunt enforcement. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near the seal hunt. We kept searching for the 27 boats that we were told had hailed out that morning.
Eventually we came upon four vessels that were actively hunting. They were shooting at seal pups on small pans of ice, and either reaching overboard to hook them with a long boat hook or hopping onto the ice to club them with a hakapik before bringing them in.
Noticing our presence above them, one boat went as far as to unroll a large tarpaulin to cover up the contents of their skiff and completely conceal what was happening on the boat deck below us. In my 10 years of observing the seal hunt, I’d never seen such a bizarre action. What could they possibly be trying to hide?
We saw seal pups killed and left -- pelt, carcass and all -- on the ice. This is a clear violation of the Marine Mammal Regulations 33.1 which says: Every person who fishes for seals for personal or commercial use shall land the pelt or the carcass of the seal.
Why? Because seal processors have made it clear this year that they will not purchase “ragged jackets” or partially moulted pups. So here the sealers were, wantonly killing ragged jackets and leaving them for the gulls to peck at. Although I didn’t realize at the time, a seal hunter was quoted saying that this, in fact, was what the seal hunt now came down to, stating that, “You're only just going at it for the sport and try to kill off some of the seals, that's around, to get rid of some."
We continued along, filming the Irish Connection, a larger boat that was working with a skiff behind it. The gunman on the larger vessel shot multiple animals, and the skiff went along behind, picking up seals and slicing them open. I made a note in my logbook that the “hakapik” being used did not appear to meet the requirements as set forth in the Marine Mammal Regulations, and that sealer was not doing any skull palpation (a required test for unconsciousness) before gaffing or slicing the seals open.
The skiff had about 4 bodies in the bottom of the boat and so we set about filming its activities.
What I saw on my monitor made me catch my breath.
A small paw reached up from the bottom of the boat, waving desperately.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Coordinated movements of the front flippers usually indicate a conscious, voluntary movement. It is one of the things we look for to distinguish a serious animal welfare issue from the horizontal “swim reflex” that often occurs when seals are killed.
I peered closer at the screen, hoping that my eyes had deceived me. Maybe I had imagined it? Maybe it was the movement of the boat jostling in the waves.
Several minutes later the small paw reached up again, waving and clenching in pain. There was no way this could be any “reflex”. And since no skull palpation had been conducted, I realized that this seal was likely still very much alive, buried under a pile of bloody seal bodies.
I thought angrily of the lack of enforcement and monitoring presence in the area. Why wasn’t the Department of Fisheries and Oceans doing their job? I reminded myself that if it were not for IFAW’s presence here, this suffering would go completely unnoticed.
This is why IFAW documents the seal hunt every year, even though it requires a fairly significant investment of our much-needed resources.
This is why the government of Canada needs to wake up and stop supporting and defending this cruel, unnecessary, and economically nonviable activity.
This is why Canada’s commercial seal hunt needs to stop – and it needs to stop now.
For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to end the Canadian commercial seal hunt visit http://www.ifaw.org/seals