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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!”

 

Anti-Fur Society

 

“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                                             

Fax: 613-941-6900                                         

Email address: pm@pm.gc.ca

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.

Canadian residents: Please write to your local MP on this issue. You can find out who this is from this Web site. For more tips on how to lobby your MP, please click here.

 

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.

 

Animal Alliance of Canada

Animal Aid UK

Animal Rights Action Network

Anti-Fur Society

Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition

Campaigns Against The Cruelty To Animals

Harp Seals

Humane Society of the United States

International Fund for Animal Welfare

PETA

Respect for Animals

Scandinavian Anti-Sealing Coalition

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

 

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!

Xinhua

Harp seal pup, Gulf of St. Lawrence. Photo: Xinhua

 

 

 

Activists with the Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN) of Ireland this week are calling on their government to halt further funding for animal research at Smooth Muscle Research Centre (SMRC) located at the Dundalk Institute of Technology. An exposé in this week’s Dundalk Argus, a leading local newspaper, reveals how researchers at SMRC use rabbits and mice imported into Ireland from Charles River Laboratories based in the UK and Mayo, Ireland, for research into erectile dysfunction, urinary tract infections, incontinence and cardiovascular systems.

    At SMRC, rabbits and mice are routinely killed and dissected so their body parts can be used in the experiments. ARAN argues that SMRC should use parts from human bodies donated to science and that such work would provide human-relevant data while also eliminating the extra steps of having to breed the animals, transport them, kill them and then use their body parts. The laboratory is subsidized in part by the government.

    “Yet again animal experiments are shown to be highly unethical, unnecessary and unreliable,” says Stephan Wymore, head of research for ARAN. “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are like us.’ Ask the experimenters why it is morally OK to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction. Irish medical research needs a rapid modernized shake up.”

    According to the news article, figures released from the Department of Agriculture show that between September 2005 and November 2008 SMRC imported 1,000 New Zealand white rabbits and 70 mice to use in tests.

    ARAN is directing activists to the site for the National Anti-Vivisection Society for more information on humane research and ways to get involved in campaigns against vivisection.

    You can read more about ARAN and their campaigns here.

The founder of Ireland’s Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN), John Carmody works on campaigns as varied as the Canadian seal slaughter, blood sports, greyhound racing, live export, vivisection, circus suffering and fur farming. The group also works with local welfare organizations to find permanent homes for rescued animals. Though he has an unending passion about activism, John describes himself as an average “Joe Soap,” born and bred in Limerick city. He slowed down long enough to talk about his approach to animal activism.

 

What inspired you to become an animal activist, John?

Seeing the front page of The Irish Daily Mirror newspaper, with pictures of hundreds of baby seals killed in Canada, their heads smashed in and their lovely bodies skinned ― I felt that I needed to do something, so I formed Animal Rights Action Network, which is now Ireland’s largest national grassroots animal rights group without doubt.

 

When did you form ARAN?

I think it was 1999 … around that time; it’s about 10 years now, I think.

 

How many people help you with ARAN? How many members do you have?

We have about 25 volunteers who do all sorts of different things, so I get to oversee all this stuff and give them projects to work on, but it’s only a drop in the ocean to the huge amount of cruelty out there. But even one person does make a difference!

 

Animal Rights Action Network membership is growing. We have about 3,500 on our mailing list, but we also have another big mailing list for the UK and the USA, where much of our support also comes from.

 

What role does veganism play in being an activist?

I think as a campaigner for animal rights we must try and level ourselves when we are advocating for animals to the average member of the public and put ourselves in their shoes and try to relate to them so that they can better understand us plus so that they feel as if we are not out of the ordinary ― but vegan is very important as it shows you are practicing what you preach, as they say!

 

What do you think are the most effective strategies for advocating for animals?

Being polite, professional and understanding!

 

Can you tell me about any successful campaigns you’re especially proud of?

I think we are successful at many things, especially generating positive press coverage for our campaigns ― whatever we touch we get press; educating people on the street, in college, in schools and in the marketplace; staging eye-catching events and getting people active for animals!

 

Our big success this year was getting Ireland’s largest and most up-market department store to go fur free. Their name is Brown Thomas with stores nationwide selling all the top designers and more.

 

Congratulations on getting Brown Thomas to give up fur. How did you accomplish that?

It was a campaign Animal Rights Action Network and other Irish animal rights groups took part in. For ARAN’s part, we organized really exciting demos outside and also inside the store. We have people “die” in coffins outside of their flagship store in Dublin. We also had nude activists outside their store in Galway and we had activists wearing real full-length donated fur coats covered in blood in their store in Cork. We also organized regular demos, press campaigns, public education and consumer pressure, which also works. We also took over their flagship store last year and blockaded the main entrance showing pictures of the Canadian seal hunt. Anyone who buys or wears real fur can share the blame, that’s what I say!

 

You mentioned ARAN getting a lot of press. How do you do that?

I think the days of telling the story exactly how it is are long gone. The media these days want something in the way of sound bites with catchy headings and a tempting description of what is happening and why. For instance, protesting a fur store. Explain to the media about those large posters activists will be holding of a skinned fox with that tag line “Fur: No Skin off Your Back” ― tell the press what other members will be doing, like handing out leaflets to that curious passerby, et cetera. Always keep the press release really sharp, and put it in a way the press will want to come out and cover the event. Why? Because we need to keep them curious! Remember, at the end of the day, the people in the press are only human, so even they will be interested to see what’s going on!

 

What keeps you busy outside of activism?

I know this might sound strange, but advocating for animal rights is my life. When I am not working, I am advocating either online or on the streets helping to make Animal Rights Action Network the best voice for animals we can be!

 

Is there nothing you do to relax?

Let me see, I suppose I like to do some light reading and I love walking and hanging out with friends.

 

What do you do to keep from burning out?

I can’t sleep at night knowing cruelty is existing right now. I won’t ever lie down until this suffering stops. I am in this right up until my last breath on this planet.

 

For more about ARAN, please visit http://www.aran.ie/


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