IFAW: Grey seal cull not supported by science

IFAW: Grey seal cull not supported by science
Tuesday, 23 October, 2012

The Canadian Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans today released a report recommending a mass cull of 70,000 grey seals in the Gulf of St Lawrence, a recommendation the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) calls an unethical and risky gamble that is not supported by science.

“Seals are being used as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the very serious issues facing fisheries such as bycatch and overfishing” said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW’s Seal Program, “There has been absolutely no scientific evidence presented to date that would suggest culling seals will help in the recovery of cod or any other fish stock.”

The Senate  launched its study into the ‘management’ of grey seals in October 2011 and over the course of its review heard strong testimony from several prominent and respected Canadian marine scientists, who warned that culling grey seals could have unexpected and unintended consequences, that culling grey seals to benefit cod recovery is not supported by the available science, and that there is nothing to suggest that cod stocks will benefit as a result. 

A recent study co-authored by scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Dalhousie University examined cases of culling predators and found that where culls of marine mammals have been attempted, in almost all cases the removals had either unknown or no effects on fish stocks, even in cases where seal populations were reduced by 50-80%.  

“A grey seal cull is a risky, unethical and costly way to make it appear like the Government of Canada is doing something for cod recovery,” said Fink, “when the reality is that since the collapse of the cod fishery 20 years ago, the Government of Canada has done very little. In fact, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has allowed catches in the Southern Gulf of St Lawrence to exceed the scientific advice for this stock for most of the past decade.”

In a nation-wide poll conducted by Environics research, 73% of Canadians said they were opposed to a government-funded cull of grey seals.*  The estimated costs of a seal cull, which one Government commissioned report placed at $35 million, coupled with the repercussions to Canada’s international reputation, make the costs of a grey seal cull extremely high.   

“A grey seal cull is nothing more than a short-term, knee-jerk response to appease the fishing industry that is based on emotion and the desire to win votes - not science.  If the government implements a cull, Canada will undoubtedly be scorned once again on the international stage for its astounding lack of respect for science and the opinions of a majority of Canadian citizens.”


*Canadians with an opinion

Notes to editors:

  • IFAW has produced a report entitled “Grey Seals in Atlantic Canada: To cull or not to cull” and a short animated video called “Seals and Fisheries: Look below the surface” which gives an overview of the culling issue.
  • Prominent Canadian scientists have presented testimony to the Senate Fisheries Committee and have warned of the risks and uncertainties associatedwith a grey seal cull, they include: Dr. Boris Worm, Marine Research Ecologist, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University; Dr. Sara Iverson, Professor, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University; Dr. Jeff Hutchings, Department of Biology at Dalhousie University and Chair of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on Sustaining Canadian Marine Biodiversity, and others.
  • A grey seal cull is likely to involve shooting seals in open water, a practice several veterinary panels have deemed to be unacceptable due to the high potential for seals being injured but not killed. If a cull involved herding and clubbing pups on coastal islands during the whelping period, there are additional animal welfare issues.
  • The financial cost of implementing the various cull scenarios will be significant, with previous estimates between $15 and $35 million or more.

The Director of IFAW’s Seal Program, Sheryl Fink, is in Ottawa for the release of the Senate report. She is available for broadcast, print and online media interviews. Dr David Lavigne, IFAW’s Science Advisor, gave testimony to the Senate Committee and is also available for telephone interviews.


Michelle Cliffe, IFAW Global Communications Lead, Seals
Telephone: +1 647 986 4329
E-mail:  mcliffe@ifaw.org
Twitter: @IFAWCanada

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Michelle Cliffe, IFAW Global Communications Lead, Seals
Contact mobile:
+1 647 986 4329
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Director, France and Francophone Africa
Sheryl Fink, Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
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Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
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