How IFAW’s founder Brian Davies came to dedicate his life to seals

In 1969, Brian Davies founded IFAW to end Canada’s commercial seal hunt. Forty five years later, we are still working on realizing that dream, but we’re getting closer. Brian’s vision and determination continue to inspire our staff, supporters and animal lovers around the world. I spoke with him about the early days and asked for his thoughts on the progress that we have made. Here’s our conversation:

Q: How did you become a champion for the seals?

A: In 1961, I was living on an army base in Fredericton, New Brunswick. A little puppy dog was hit by a car just outside my house. And the man who hit it brought the dog into my house because he assumed that it belonged to me.

It wasn’t mine, but I wanted to help the poor thing. I took the dog to the local SPCA, which eventually led to me becoming an employee. In that role, I was invited to the seal hunt to assess the humaneness of the hunt.  I looked into the eyes of a baby seal that was suffering at the hands of a sealer, and I was instantly convinced that you couldn’t make this hunt humane. From that day forward, I committed my life to protect seals and the rest is history.

That eerie sequence of events changed my life. If that driver had left the house a few seconds earlier, or a few seconds later, if the little dog turned right instead of left, there would be no IFAW.

Q: It was a big job for one man and a very small team to take on the government. What were some of your major challenges?

A: Those were interesting times. I received death threats. My helicopter was destroyed. I was held hostage for three days at a motel in Newfoundland along with 50 journalists. I was put in jail for violating the seal protection regulations by flying out to observe the hunt.

There were so many obstacles, but I just never ever intended to stop trying until I died of old age or until the hunt stopped. My first thought in the morning was the seals and my last thought at night was the seals too.  

Q: What is one of your greatest accomplishments? Any regrets?

A: In 1983, the EU implemented a ban on the importation of baby whitecoat harp seals. We kept the pressure on with fish boycotts and in 1987, Canada banned the killing of whitecoats, which effectively ended the hunt for a period of time.

It was amazing to go back to ice during this time of peace and enjoy the seals in their natural habitat. I felt really, really good. Finally you could see that what you did; it made a difference.

My one regret is that the legislation didn’t include seals of all ages. That would have ended it right there and then. Unfortunately, in the 1990s Canada started large-scale hunts for slightly older seals (once they start shedding their white fur a few weeks later) and the commercial hunt picked back up again.

SEE ALSO: Canada’s commercial seal hunt: it is cruel, unnecessary – and shockingly wasteful

Q: Do you think Canada’s commercial seal hunt will end soon?

A: Yes, the time has come for the large-scale commercial seal hunt to end. Canada should help find sustainable alternative employment opportunities for the very small number of Canadians who depend on this hunt.

There is a better way for the animals and the people involved in the sealing industry. It’s time to bring it to an end once and for all.

Q: You play a central role in IFAW’s new documentary “Huntwatch.” What do think about the film?

A: I spent a couple of days with the IFAW film team, and I was more than happy to share my stories. I dedicated my life to the seals and that is clearly captured in “Huntwatch.” Gloria and I saw the finished product a few months ago and at first it was overwhelming to see your life’s work flash on the screen in front of you.

Following those emotions, we were also really impressed with the production quality and the storytelling. It’s an important film. And I’m not just saying that because it includes my perspective.

The film team made a conscious effort to remain fair and balanced and included multiple perspectives on the issue from sealers, politicians and IFAW campaigners. That’s what makes it a great film.  

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Learn more about IFAW's continuing efforts to end the Canadian commercial seal hunt on our campaign page.

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