IFAW at 50: How the organzation started by saving seals

May 2 2019

As part of our 50th anniversary, we’ve been looking back on significant moments in our organization’s history. As such, we recently explored the year 1969, and how IFAW got its start with our founder Brian Davies and his valiant efforts to save seals in Canada.

Brian Davies was born in a Welsh mining village and immigrated to Canada in 1955 to look for a better opportunity. He eventually became the executive secretary of the New Brunswick Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). In 1965, the Canadian government asked a 30-year-old Davies to join a small group of consultants to visit the commercial seal hunt taking place off the coast in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After bad publicity about the seal hunt, the group had been assembled with the mission to observe the hunt and make recommendations to the government on how it could be improved to be more humane.

What Davies witnessed on the ice would forever change his life. As Davies recounts in his own words, “As I got off the helicopter, 100 feet ahead of me was a baby white seal, and the hunter was skinning it alive. I made an eye connection with that seal and I could feel the desperate terror and pain that it was suffering.”

Davies came back to the Canadian government with a clear message. The hunt could not be made humane and the only option was to end it. And with that, Brian Davies became a champion for the seals and helped birth the modern-day animal welfare movement. Canada’s commercial seal hunt became the first animal welfare issue to be internationally condemned, as Davies began exposing the world to the horrifying images of white seal pups being clubbed and skinned on the ice.

Davies split from the SPCA, and in 1969, created his own organization, the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Fifty years later, with offices in 15 countries, and projects in more than 40, IFAW is today one of the largest animal welfare organizations in the world.

— Kaila Ferrari, Tiff deGroot, and Alex Johnson, IFAW Digital Team

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