It’s not every day that you get a chance to walk on water. But that’s what my colleagues, Nigel Barker, and I did yesterday. We flew into a stiff headwind and went 25 miles from the edge of Prince Edward Island and landed the helicopter on the endless-looking ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We put the floats of the helicopter down about 200 meters from a large group of harp seals, with whitecoat pups not quite invisible against the backdrop of a massive whiteout in this sea of ice.
© Nigel Barker
Nigel photographed this newborn harp seal yesterday.
We were enveloped in survival suits. The seals had only their beautiful fur, yet they looked far more comfortable than we did. After all, this is their world, and we are the exotic species.
While there, I thought about the sealers’ argument that they had the right to continue this tradition. It seemed like such a flimsy argument—that localism and tradition trump any other social concern.
The seals pass through just for a few months at a time. They migrate thousands of miles from Greenland, and make their way down to southern Canada. Their actual range spans millions of square miles spanning the North Atlantic marine ecosystem—from the Arctic Circle to the waters just north of the United States.
They own the animals no more than a single tribe in Kenya or Tanzania owns all of the wildebeest or zebra that move across the plains of East Africa. Or that one community owns all of the ducks and geese and swans that fly from Alaska and travel down through Mexico.
I am also struck by a corollary argument of the sealers—that The HSUS and other advocates of protecting seals have no right to impinge on their local tradition. But the fact is, the sealers do not use seal parts locally. They discard the carcasses, and they export the hides to Europe and Asia and rely on global consumers to support their killing ways. They welcome the commerce from people in Europe or Asia, but they don’t want the views of other people in those very same communities who oppose the seal hunt. It seems they can’t have it both ways. If you want to play in the global economy, you must play by the rules—and that includes standards of decency and humaneness.
Witnessing hundreds of thousands of harp seals with their beautiful whitecoat pups in this awe-inspiring frozen landscape is enough to take even the most seasoned photojournalist’s breath away. Of course the thought of the impending slaughter with the use of clubs, sharp spikes and guns in only a few weeks time shatters what should be a celebration of life and promise and instead fills you with dread and remorse for the inhumane way we treat our fellow animals.
I hope to raise awareness in the youth of today with graphic images of both the joy and desperation from the largest mammalian birthing site and consequent killing fields on Earth. This sort of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated by the youth of today and I intend to do something about it.
As Nigel photographs the seal nursery, a pup approaches.
Yesterday’s visit to the ice floes was unforgettable. With the sun shining brightly above, the ice landscape was quickly transformed into stunning hues of blue and violet. As we landed in our helicopter, we saw hundreds of mothers and their young pups across the floes.
The pups had clearly been born just a day or two before, but even at that young age, they were tremendously charismatic. And they were clearly curious about us as we photographed them. As Nigel lay on the ice at eye level with the seals, one baby crawled towards him, staring at him with fascination. A few feet away, British actress Alison Steadman—another of our special guests—looked across the vast landscape and remarked that it was the most amazing day of her life.
There is something so peaceful about these innocent pups and their protective mothers, bonding in this startlingly beautiful environment. The newborn pups are entirely trusting of people, and they will even approach you if you stay in one place for a few minutes. But the mothers stare at you cautiously, and it is sobering to think they are likely the survivors of previous slaughters. Their solemn gaze is a reminder that this visit is fleeting, as is the peace we feel on these ice floes. In a matter of weeks, the seal hunt will go on, and it will be open season on these defenseless pups.
But we can all act now to stop it. Please visit humanesociety.org/protectseals to find out how you can take immediate action to end Canada’s cruel commercial seal hunt.