IFAW Hunt Watch 2008 - Day One at the Hunt

“We will use every avenue we can within the law to keep people as far away from the hunt as we can.” Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.  October, 2006.

And so they did. Today was the opening day of the commercial harp seal hunt here in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and even though we had long ago filled out our observation licence applications, gone through the personal interviews, and paid our licence fees, the seal hunt was opened with not a single observer licence issued.

We decided to head out anyway.

Without an observation licence in hand, our ability to observe the hunt would be severely hampered, but someone had to get out there.  The fixed wing took off first; we would try to find the sealing boats in the Gulf, which is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. 

At about 7h30 am, we spotted the Coast Guard icebreaker off the tip of Cape Breton, clearing the way for about a dozen or so sealing boats. We sent the coordinates to the helicopter, which was on its way with the high-definition camera.  With this technology, we can see what is happening down on the ice, while keeping enough distance from the hunt that we don’t need the (still not-issued) observation licence. 

And boy, what did they see.  As the boats snaked their way through the ice behind the Coast Guard spewing black smoke into the air, sealers were jumping onto the ice pans and chasing down seals with their hakapiks. Unsteady on the slippery ice, they awkwardly tried multiple times to strike seals, often missing the animal completely in their haste.  One sealer hit  a pup near the edge of the ice pan, where it slipped – injured - into the water. He tried to grab its hind flippers but was unable to haul it back onto the ice. Another seal “struck and lost”.

I was not surprised to see that not a single sealer bled the seal out on the ice – a requirement introduced by the Department of Fisheries this year. Of course, the wording of the new condition of licence says this must only be done “where possible”. 

Personally I couldn’t see any reason why the step of bleeding the seal out would not have been possible: the pan of ice was sufficiently large, there were no concerns for sealer safety…  and yet bleeding out to ensure death was not done, showing us that nothing has changed in Canada’s commercial seal hunt. Sealers still show blatant disregard for the rules, and seals are still killed inhumanely.

As of 5 pm tonight, we still have not been issued observer licences for tomorrow.  The DFO says it is because they don’t know how many boats are out there. Well I can tell you there are at least 17, I saw them myself today.  We all know the “official” reason is nothing more than a smokescreen: once again, DFO is “using every avenue within the law” to keep us away.from the hunt.  But I saw more than enough today, enough to be reminded that this hunt is inherently inhumane, and enough to know that all of us must keep up our work to bring an end to it.

More to come...

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