Seals, Dead or Alive: Which Should We Value Most?

It is no longer the exception, but rather the norm, that managers and decision-makers base conservation rulings on their own sets of values rather than the dictates of science, ethics, animal welfare and, more often than not, society.

There are many things wrong with the state of conservation today, but if there is one practice that really highlights where things have gone horribly awry, it is the killing of seals. The shocking images of the clubbing to death of seal pups cannot go unnoticed.

Every year, tens of thousands of these young marine mammals are battered lifeless at breeding colonies on sandy beaches in Namibia. While it is extremely difficult to obtain accurate information about the exact number of individuals killed, the quotas over the past few years have been set at around 85,000 pups and 6,000 bulls. The youngsters are targeted for their pelts; the bulls are shot for their penises, which are used in traditional medicines and as aphrodisiacs in Asia.

I am not sure how any sane person can render this practice humane, even if  "government-endorsed" regulations are purported to be followed. As far as I am concerned, any reference to clubbing as a "humane killing method" is an oxymoron. However, despite peer-reviewed critique, the Namibian government continues to sanction this outdated practice.

In an article published in the South African Journal of Science last year and entitled ‘Assessing the Hunting Practices of Namibia’s Commercial Seal Hunt’, Drs David Lavigne (International Fund for Animal Welfare Science Advisor) and Steve Kirkman concluded that it is doubtful that humane slaughter can ever be implemented successfully in large-scale seal-hunting operations.

This should be reason enough for putting an end to this despicable custom, quite apart from the fact that there are no justifiable scientific grounds for killing the seals.

The Namibian government has constantly changed tack over the years to justify its sealing industry. Sometimes it refers to the need to cull seals because they compete with the country’s fisheries – a fallacious claim – and at other times reference is made to a harvest for commercial purposes. In fact, as leading marine mammal scientists the world over have condemned the reasons for seal culls anywhere, the focus for justification in Namibia has definitely shifted to economic gain.

Of course, the main problem with this scenario lies in the area of sustainability. A harvesting programme, if it is to have any chance of being 'sustainable', must be backed by sound science. This is far from the case in Namibia where, in the absence of reliable seal population data, the sustainability of the hunt has been questioned time and again.

This brings me to what I believe is the biggest challenge confronting the conservation movement today – the question of values. What can we learn from seal clubbing and its effect on the seal population, the impact of the ivory trade on elephants, the trade in rhino horn, tiger bones and whale meat?

Well, it is simple. When a wild animal is regarded as a commodity, its importance is defined in utilitarian terms. And, as history has taught us, such utilitarian values, usually defined in economic, socio-economic and socio-political terms, tend to outweigh by far the questions of intrinsic worth and ethics.

It is no longer the exception, but rather the norm, that managers and decision-makers base conservation rulings on their own sets of values rather than the dictates of science, ethics, animal welfare and, more often than not, society.

While some in the conservation movement take pleasure in professing the counter-intuitive argument that the importance of wildlife needs to be defined in economic terms, I argue that until there is an attitudinal shift to the contrary, we have a lot to be concerned about.

-- JBL

Comments: 7

6 years ago

Jason IFAW is welcome to attend WWF meeting on 13th. Putting our heads together with my attorney should move things in the right direction for our meeting with govt on 25th in Namibia. Do you have the presentation?

7 years ago

Hi Bart - thanks for your comment. IFAW is in discussions with other international groups about how best to reach out to the Namibian Givernment on this issue. As you know, the Namibian Government has shut out nearly all attempts to reach out to them. However, I agree with you that steps need to be taken to engage directly with the Government. Regarding the offer to buy out the industry, IFAW confirmed with the Permament Secretary in the Ministry at the time that they had made no such offer and that even if private deals were made with the concessionaires (I think there were attempts to do so privately without government endorsement), they would simply offer the licenses to new bidders....

7 years ago

It's such a shame Namibia doesn't want to open up its eyes to what they are doing to the colony. They could make so much more in eco tourism then they will ever make in killing seals.

7 years ago

The question is what is IFAW going to do about it? I think social and other media is doing a good job in spreading the word and informing people what is going on, but one can form as many facebook groups and sign as many petitions as you like, someone has to take the next step and engage directly with government. Individuals aren't in a position to do anything, IFAW with many hundreds of millions of $ every year, are in a position to do something. There are rumors floating around that the an offer was made by the Namibian government a few years back, to buy out the industry. (A license retirement programme) and it was refused. I would like to know if that is true and if so why was it refused?

7 years ago

[...] Seals, Dead or Alive: Which Should We Value Most? — [...]

7 years ago

It is unfortunate that often times animals are viewed simply as a commodity despite their true worth to society and the overall planet. This then leads to culling practices such as the clubbing of seals which no matter the reason cannot be justified as humane. These inhumane practices are often explained as being necessary for population control which more often than not stands at odds with animal conservation. Eventually once practice dominates at the cost of the other and historically this has unfortunately not fared well for animal conservation.

7 years ago

[...] Seals, Dead or Alive: Which Should We Value Most? — Share and [...]

Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy