Why commercial sealing is cruel

It is hard to portray just how cruel the business of commercial sealing is. The need to prioritize speed and profit, combined with an unpredictable environment makes it virtually impossible to ensure humane killing.

Seal hunting in Canada

Each spring off the East Coast of Canada, hunters take their boats into dangerous waters or rush across moving ice pans in attempts to kill as many baby seals as possible in the short time available. Seal pups, most too young to escape, are either shot or hit with a spiked wooden club called a hakapik.

Although the Canadian government compares the commercial seal hunt to the killing of farm animals, they have little in common. Unlike abattoirs, the commercial slaughter of seals takes place in an unpredictable, unmanageable environment where humane killing is impossible to achieve consistently.

IFAW believes Canada’s commercial seal hunt can never be made acceptably humane. Here’s why:

  1. Competitive, commercial pressures make speed more important than humane killing.

    The seal hunt is effectively a race between sealers to collect as many skins as possible before the quota is reached. Sometimes as many as 150,000 seals have been killed in two days. Under such conditions, humane killing isn’t a priority and is rarely achieved.

  2. Seal hunting involves unacceptably high wounding rates.

    When rifles are shot from moving boats at escaping seals or when the animals are chased across the ice pans with hunters swinging their hakapiks, it is unlikely a seal will be stunned effectively with a single blow or shot. Instead, animals are left wounded and terrified, lingering on the ice in pain, suffering and distress. Some seals are struck and lost.

  3. The current Marine Mammal Regulations do not set out requirements for humane killing of seals.

    Sanctioned hunting practices permit the most inhumane activities: live and conscious animals are impaled on steel hooks; seals can be shot at from moving boats and in open water; multiple animals can be shot before testing for unconsciousness, wounded seals may be left to suffer; and bleeding out is not required immediately after checking for unconsciousness. The requirements for humane slaughter are neither legislated nor practiced.

  4. Effective monitoring and enforcement is impossible.

    Our over 40 years of seal hunt observation indicate that any regulations are impossible to enforce. Boats are widely dispersed over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, and hundreds, sometimes thousands, of boats take part. With only a few vessels available to enforce the hunt, officials face an impossible task.

  5. Endemic disregard for the Regulations indicates the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is unwilling - and unable - to enforce any rules that might be in place.

    There is a clear conflict of interest in having the Department of Fisheries and Oceans responsible for enforcing the Regulations and at the same time defending the “humaneness” of the seal hunt.

The evidence gathered by IFAW demonstrates that Canada’s commercial seal hunt is not conducted humanely and that monitoring and enforcement is all but impossible. Commerical sealing is inherently inhumane and seals - like all wild animals - should not be exploited for commercial gain.

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