For countless generations every spring, pregnant seals have gathered on the placid ice floes off the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence east of Quebec to give birth to their babies. And every spring, thousands of Canadian fishermen descend upon the helpless mothers and their newborn pups, bludgeoning, shooting, clubbing and skinning between 270,000 and 335,000 seals, depending on the quota set by the government. Most of the dead seals are only weeks old. The fishermen call this a “hunt,” yet the animals cannot hide or escape the armed fishermen, who simply walk up to the seals and kill them. As Paul Watson described it in his 2002 book Seal Wars, “The slaughter of the seals is an annual baptism of blood.” And it’s subsidized by the government.
Despite worldwide condemnation, Canada will proceed with its yearly massacre of seals in March. Last December, the Canadian government quietly passed new regulations regarding the slaughter. The new rules ban the use of the hakapik ― the spiked club that has come to symbolize the atrocity ― for killing any seal older than one year. Instead, the seals are supposed to be shot. The hakapik ban was an effort to placate the European Union, which proposed legislation in July that could prohibit the import of Canadian seal pelts and other products; a decision is expected in April. (Because it’s the European designers who set the fashion trends for the rest of the world, the belief is a ban on seal fur in the EU would doom the Canadian seal slaughter, even if seal products are allowed in Russia and elsewhere.)
Banning the hakapik was also meant to mollify animal activists. But Humane Society International’s Rebecca Aldworth, a Canadian who has long campaigned against the commercial “hunt” of seals, says removing the spiked club would actually increase the suffering of seals because seals who are shot during the hunt are often only wounded by the first bullet. Now sealers will have to cut open live, conscious animals, which Rebecca stresses is not only “an extremely cruel act,” but a violation of regulations.
I asked some animal protection groups around the world how they intend to campaign against Canada’s seal slaughter this year, and I’ll wrap this up with five things you can do to help.
Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC)
Animal Alliance of Canada is working with the Humane Society of the United States to get restaurants, grocery stores, “seafood” companies, chains, hotels, resorts and casinos not to purchase Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends permanently. “Fishermen are the ones who kill baby seals in their off season specifically for fur and leave their bodies to rot on the ice,” says Karen Levenson, director of AAC’s Canadian Seafood Boycott campaign. Karen says that to date, 5,000 restaurants, hotels, casinos, grocery stores and seafood companies have signed on to the campaign.
AAC is also investigating claims made by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regarding the importance of the seal hunt. “During the seal hunt, we will be monitoring the media to ensure their reporting is unbiased and factual,” says Karen. “During previous seal hunts, journalists from Canadian Press who cover the seal hunt and work mostly in Newfoundland have reported very one-sided accounts and have included numerous statements by the DFO that were factually inaccurate.”
Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN)
“In March, as per every year, Animal Rights Action Network will be staging another high-profile demonstration to raise awareness of Canada’s seal hunt,” says ARAN’s founder, John Carmody. “We also have plans to release the 2009 slaughter footage from an international campaign group we are working with, plus we intend on doing a photocall [publicity event] outside the Canadian Embassy. Also this year we’ll be calling on Irish MEPs to ensure that the EU trade ban goes ahead and that the Irish Government shows their support for such a ban also.”
John believes this is an issue everyone should be involved in. “I would suggest getting in contact with your local animal protection group to see what they are up to, or some of the main groups campaigning for an end to the seal slaughter like HSUS, IFAW, Sea Shepherd or Harp Seals.” He also recommends sending letters and emails to lawmakers in your country, voicing your opposition to the slaughter. “Of course,” he adds, “there’s no better way to highlight the killing than to organize a peaceful protest or photocall with the press — it works every time!”
“We are working with various groups, including one in Canada, on a campaign to convince EU parliamentary members to ban seal products to all European countries,” says Rosa Close of the Anti-Fur Society. “You may know well just how much Canadian authorities are working to have EU members vote against the ban. In fact, there is a Canadian delegation in Belgium right now doing all they can to stop the ban, and unfortunately, it seems that the EU is inclined to vote against a ban.
“The European Parliament must hear from people all over the world so they may make at least some humanitarian requirements from the Canadian government. But, I am afraid things don’t look too promising.”
Campaigns Against The Cruelty To Animals (CATCA)
“CATCA has been busy doing high-level lobbying in Europe with the decision makers on this issue,” says the group’s president, Ericka Ceballos. “This year, we are waiting to see what happens for further action, but we sent several E-Campaigns on January 3rd for everybody to write to Ministers and MEPs crucial on the upcoming decision to be taken about the Resolution on the trade of seal products at the European Parliament and Council.”
CATCA has listed campaign information here.
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
As part of its Protect Seals campaign, HSUS is encouraging consumers not to buy Canadian seafood until the seal slaughter ends. In addition to the 5,000 grocery stores and restaurants mentioned above, more than 600,000 individuals have pledged not to buy seafood from Canada since HSUS launched its boycott in 2005. The organization hopes the Canadian government will realize the economic impact of a fisheries boycott is too high a price to pay for the seal hunt.
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
“The International Fund for Animal Welfare has documented hundreds of criminal acts of cruelty in the seal hunt,” says Corrie Rabbe of IFAW-Canada. “Unfortunately, due to lack of enforcement of regulations, most serious acts of animal cruelty ever documented continue to go unpunished. To date, we have submitted video evidence of more than 660 probable violations of Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations — including the skinning of live seals — to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Not a single charge has been laid in response.”
Corrie says that his year IFAW will continue to lobby European officials to put a ban on all seal products in place. “This is where most of our energies will be concentrated,” she says. “We will also be going out to monitor the hunt as we do every year so we can show officials our documentation and inform the public about what really happens. In addition, we will continue to conduct research and spread public awareness about this important issue.”
IFAW will continue their lobbying efforts across Canada, and Corrie says that this is where activists can be of great assistance. “IFAW believes that is it important that the Canadian government is aware of how strongly people feel about this issue, and for that reason we are asking supporters to let their views be known through writing letters and signing petitions.”
IFAW also has a site for community involvement.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Sarah Gawricki, assistant activist liaison, says PETA is still brainstorming what they’ll be doing to protest this year. In the meantime, though, Sarah suggests activists join PETA’s A-Team, which notifies members of upcoming events, demonstrations, breaking news and urgent alerts.
And Sea Shepherd?
Unfortunately, the group so well known for confronting Canada’s shameful “hunt” will not be engaged in any direct action against the seal slaughter this spring. “We intend to give the European Parliament the opportunity to end this atrocity through the implementation of a ban on all seal products,” reads a statement on Sea Shepherd’s Web site.
“Last year the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat was assaulted in international waters and two crewmembers, Captain Alex Cornelissen of the Netherlands and 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, were charged with approaching closer than a half a mile to a seal being slaughtered. The witnessing or documentation of a seal kill is considered a crime in Canada under the strange Orwellian name of the Seal Protection Regulations.
“The Canadian government still holds the Farley Mowat hostage although no charges have been laid against the ship and the two Sea Shepherd officers are scheduled to be tried in a Nova Scotia court in April 2009.”
Sea Shepherd is promoting the international boycott of Canadian “seafood” products as a means to strip the commercial seal hunt of all economic value and force it, by financial means, to end. (See #2 below.)
Yes, You CAN Help!
Here are 5 things you can do to help end the Canadian seal slaughter:
1. Write letters to Canada
Corrie Rabbe of IFAW-Canada recommends people write to both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, to express your disapproval of the annual slaughter:
The Honorable Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington St.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Email address: email@example.com
Web site: http://pm.gc.ca/eng/default.asp
Fax: (613) 995-7858
The Honorable Gail Shea
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
House of Commons
441-S Centre Block
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Be sure to mention you’ll be boycotting Canadian products until the annual slaughter is ended for good.
2. Boycott Canadian “seafood” and Red Lobster
If you eat fish, please boycott “seafood” from Canada and ask your family and friends to do the same. Boycotting Canadian seafood targets the very people who slaughter the seals, since it is the fishing industry that runs the seal “hunt” for off-season fishermen.
You can begin by not patronizing Red Lobster restaurants. Red Lobster is the number-one seafood restaurant in the U.S. and the world’s largest purchaser of Canadian seafood. Red Lobster purchases millions of dollars worth of Canadian seafood each year, including lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops and salmon ― animals caught by fishermen who also club and shoot baby seals or pressure the government for increased seal quotas. Despite repeated requests from animal protection organizations, Red Lobster refuses to join the boycott of Canadian seafood or take responsibility for their role in enabling the seal massacre to continue. You can learn more, and contact Red Lobster, through this link.
According to Sea Shepherd, the most optimistic estimated value of the seal hunt is $16 million; exports of seafood to the U.S. are about $3.3 billion; therefore, the seal hunt value is less than 0.48% of the value of exports to the U.S. If we can achieve just a 25% decline in the wholesale price in the U.S., that’s $825 million, or 51 times the value of the seal hunt.
“It is individual citizens who have the most power to make this campaign a success and also help us end the seal hunt,” says AAC’s Karen Levenson. “By using their purchasing power, and by letting the restaurants and grocery stores know when they do so, they can pressure companies to stop purchasing some or all Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends.”
3. Send letters to editors
The Letters page is one of the most highly read sections of newspapers and magazines, so a letter to the editor is one of the best tools animal activists have for making our message heard. You can send letters on the seal slaughter now, expressing your outrage; please do not wait until the killing begins this year. Click here for tips on writing letters.
4. Educate others
Unfortunately, many people believe that Canada banned the killing of seals for their fur years ago. Talk to family and friends about what is happening; let them know this is an ongoing issue that you’re concerned about. And don’t forget to post campaign information and undercover videos on MySpace, Facebook and other social-networking sites.
An auto-signature on your email is another great way to spread the word. You can include a link to one of the many organizations campaigning against the slaughter (a few are listed below), and you can encourage people to join the boycott of Canadian products and speak up for the seals!
You can also forward this post to others or link to it online.
5. Contact animal protection organizations
The killing of seals each spring in Canada is one of the few issues that animal rights, animal welfare and environmental groups all seem to agree must be stopped. Contact one or more of the following organizations to learn more on this issue, and, if they take contributions, consider making a donation to further their work on behalf of seals.
Incidentally, the average Canadian agrees the carnage should stop. Last April, in a lengthy review of the economic impact caused by subsidizing the slaughter in the face of boycotts and the EU trade ban, Murray Teitel wrote in Canada’s leading business newspaper, The Financial Post: “Enough already. This is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. And the sealers? Sealers should prefer these monies be used to train them for jobs in the 21st-century economy, rather than to preserve them as relics of a hunter/gatherer one.” Nearly every Canadian who posted a response online supported an end to the slaughter.
Thank you for helping the seals!