IFAW calls on Canada to cancel seal hunt due to lack of ice

Friday, 24 March, 2006
Charlottetown, Canada
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is again calling on Canada’s new government to be conservative and cautious, and cancel this year’s commercial harp seal hunt due to a lack of ice.
“There is almost no ice out here,” IFAW’s Canada director Olivier Bonnet said today, after flying over the region to assess the situation. “There are also very few seals to be seen this year. Everyone is asking, where are the seals? What has happened to them?”

This winter has been Canada’s warmest on record since the country began keeping national records in 1948. Canada as a whole was 3.9 degrees above normal temperatures for the winter of 2005-06, nearly a full degree warmer than the previous high set in 1987.

Ice cover in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, normally several feet thick this time of year, has been negligible due to the warm winter. A large percentage of the harp seal population migrates to the gulf to give birth each year. If harp seals are unable to find ice they will abort the pups in the water and the pups will die.

“Harp seals depend on a stable ice platform to give birth to their pups and successfully nurse them. When ice fails to form, or is unusually thin, normal pupping and nursing is drastically affected and large numbers of newborn pups die,” said Dr. David Lavigne, IFAW’s Science Advisor and internationally renowned marine mammal expert who has studied harp seals for the past 30 years. “The combination of a lack of ice and a seal hunt could result in the loss of almost all of this year’s pups born in the Gulf and, possibly, on the Front, as well.”

“It makes no sense to hunt harp seals when it is obvious that a large percentage of the pups will die because of poor ice conditions. We must act with caution,” said Dr. Lavigne.

In 1981 and 2002, poor ice years, Canadian government scientists assume that three-quarters (75 percent) of the gulf pups died as a consequence of bad ice conditions. In 1998 and 2000, they estimated that one-quarter of the pups died due to lack of ice before the hunt began.

A week ago, the Canadian government announced a one-year quota (called a TAC or Total Allowable Catch) of 335,000 seals. Despite the lack of ice and environmental conditions in general, the 2006 quota for harp seals is one of the highest in history and higher than 2005.

The seal hunt is scheduled to begin Saturday March 25 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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