The decision to continue the Canadian commercial seal hunt is difficult to understand

A commercial sealer on the ice in Canada skinning a recently killed harp seal pup.What a week it has been!

The plans of the International Fund for Animal Welfare seal team have been shifting as quickly as the pans of ice where the harp seal pups have just been born off of the east coast of Canada. Now about three weeks old, most of the pups have begun to molt their white fur, which means the time of the annual Canadian seal hunt is upon us.

There is always uncertainty as to when the seal hunt will start, and this year was no exception.

Only a few hours after announcing that the commercial seal hunt would open on March 26 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans changed its mind and declared that it would instead open on March 22.

With less than 36 hours’ notice, we would have to act fast.

And act fast we did.

On opening day, we flew out to what was said to be the largest (maybe the only) remaining concentration of seals left in the Gulf, a small patch of ice near the Magdalen islands.  

Far from finding the 5,000 to 10,000 animals reported there, we found only perhaps a few hundred scattered animals clinging to the last bits of remaining ice.  

Everything from mothers still with their whitecoat pups, adult males, even a few hooded seals.

Six boats were out hunting seals, clubbing and shooting any animals they came across.

Some boats were throwing carcasses overboard, some were leaving the pelts. Either way, this is a wastefulness generally not tolerated in other types of wildlife hunts in Canada.  And with the high numbers of pups thought to have died in recent years, so few animals remaining on the Gulf ice, and markets for seal products disappearing, the fact that this hunt is proceeding at all is difficult to understand.

As disturbing as it is to watch defenseless animals being slaughtered, I try to remind myself how far we've come.

In the 11 years I've documented the seal hunt with IFAW, there has definitely been a difference in the past few hunts.  Fewer boats, fewer seals killed and, of course, fewer pans of ice--ice that is critical for these animals to survive their first few weeks of life.

It appears as though climate change has killed the harp seal hunt in the Gulf, at least for now.  

At the end of the first day of the hunt, 1,724 seals had been reported killed.  Although it is horrendous that any hunt is taking place at all, no one can deny that we are making a difference for seals in Canada.

We must continue.

We are so close finally seeing the end of this cruel, unsustainable and unnecessary industry.  

Help IFAW make the seal hunt history by sending a message to the government of Canada that it is time for the seal hunt to end.  

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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