For seals, a cruel Canadian blood bath

Rebecca Aldworth and seal, in a photograph provided by the Humane Society of Canada.

The Canadian commercial seal hunt, the world’s largest slaughter of marine mammals, has begun. Virtually all of the seals killed in the slaughter are defenseless babies less than three months of age. They are cut open or impaled on metal hooks while still conscious.  

It should be no surprise that the overwhelming majority of Canadians and much of the international community have condemned this killing. The United States and the 27-nation European Union, Canada's two largest trading partners, banned trade in seal products for conservation and animal welfare reasons. Mexico and Croatia have followed suit and there is an ongoing campaign in China to achieve similar legislation.  
In the face of this opposition, Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea has repeatedly misinformed the public in her attempt to promote the sealing industry.

Minister Shea does not want the world to know that baby seals, many of whom who have yet to take their first swim or eat their first solid meal, are brutally clubbed and shot to death in front of each other.

Minister Shea also ignores the international scientific community which agrees that human overfishing, permitted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is the reason for cod stock depletions. 

The fact is, seal populations are still recovering from record low levels decades ago resulting from human overhunting. Today, seals face the added threat of climate change. Harp seals, like polar bears, are ice dependent animals, and  rely on sea ice as sanctuary to give birth to and nurse their pups.  Climate change is causing east coast sea ice to diminish at an alarming rate, with DFO estimating up to 100 percent mortality in seal pups born in key whelping areas when the sea ice melted before they were old enough to survive in open water.

Now, based on wildly inflated population estimates, the government has authorized an unsustainable slaughter of 468,200 harp, grey and hooded seals in 2011.  

Polling consistently shows the overwhelming majority of Canadians oppose the seal hunt, and the use of their tax dollars to prop up this outdated industry. Still, our government continues to subsidize the slaughter, providing tens of millions of Canadian tax dollars for seal tracking, hunt monitoring, Coast Guard support and marketing missions.  In contrast, the  value of the entire seal slaughter came to roughly $1.3 million last year.

It is time for the Harper government to stop playing regional politics at the expense of fisherman, seals and Canadian tax payers.  In the lead up to a federal election, the government should invest in a one-time buyout of the commercial sealing industry. Such a program would not only compensate fisherman for lost income as the seal hunt ended, but funds could also be invested in economic alternatives. Polling shows this plan is already supported by half of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion.

In the meantime, we challenge Minister Shea to a public debate to properly address the misinformation she has distributed and set the record straight on the issues of the seal slaughter.

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