Canada rejects “scientific” seal slaughter in nature reserve

Canadian media reported that sealers have been openly and illegally poaching grey seals on Brion Island for at least three years without repercussion.We’re celebrating a small victory for common sense and wildlife protection, as the province of Quebec, Canada, rejected a proposal to slaughter 1,200 grey seals in Brion Island Nature Reserve under the pretext of “scientific research.”

Canadian media reported that sealers have been openly and illegally poaching grey seals on Brion Island for at least three years without repercussion. The area, which has been a protected ecological reserve since 1984, has become an important nursery for grey seals to give birth and nurse their pups.  Having discovered – not surprisingly – that a protected area is a remarkably good place to find large numbers of the animals they wish to kill, sealers have been lobbying  for an opening of a commercial hunt.

Thankfully, a new proposal for lethal research “to analyze the health of the grey seal population” on Brion Island has been rejected by Quebec’s fisheries and environment ministries. The proposal was put forth by Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust, a wildlife veterinarian and pathologist at the Atlantic Veterinary College, who has previously conducted research on how to kill seals.

In addition to analyzing the carcasses of the animals, Daoust and his research team wanted to determine “if the meat and oil are of high enough quality to be sold commercially, should the seal hunt ever be reopened.”  This is an unusual rationale, since there currently exists a commercial hunt allowed for grey seals in Atlantic Canada, with a quota of 60,000 animals, and Canada has been aggressively trying to market grey seal products for decades with little success.  If there are now concerns that the meat and oil of these animals are of poor quality and inadequate for consumption, this has serious implications for the commercial hunting of all grey seals – not just those found on Brion Island.  The researchers then proposed to turn over the carcasses to the sealing industry, which would process – and sell – the skins, fat and meat. 

Leaving aside the fact that there are few markets for grey seal products, this type of ”research” seems to bear a strong resemblance to Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling” program. Japan slaughtered 333 minke whales in the Antarctic last year under a scheme designed to skirt international rules to protect whales.  Critics of Japan’s controversial whaling activities have long maintained that Japanese whale research is little more than a cover for commercial hunting, and that non-lethal methods could be instead used.

Proposing a research project under the guise of science to provide cover for an ongoing illegal slaughter of wildlife in a protected area and allowing individuals to profit financially  –then pretending the project  has anything to do with “sustainable development” – is a joke. We do not need to kill animals to study their health.

Whether it is seals, whales, or elephants - wildlife poaching is a crime that should be taken seriously.

We commend Quebec’s Ministry of Fisheries and Environment for seeing this ploy for what it really is: an attempt to open a commercial slaughter for seals in a protected area under the guise of “scientific research,” and in the process legitimizing the illegal poaching of wildlife in a nature reserve.  

Sadly, those in favor of the seal slaughter say they plan to fight the decision, and are now looking for another way to justify culling seals in this protected area. We strongly encourage the Province of Quebec to stop turning a blind eye to illegal hunting, and to crack down on the poaching of seals in Brion Island nature reserve.  Protected areas are necessary sanctuaries for seals and other wildlife.  They should not be abused as ‘easy pickings’ for those who wish to slaughter wildlife for profit.


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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Sheryl Fink, Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations