The Story of a Model Advocate

By on November 10, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

We each have our own reasons for why we work so hard for animals. This week I wanted to share with you just a few of these perspectives from a broad range of animal advocates. As you read these stories in the coming days, I hope you’re inspired to share your own experiences. Offer a comment or send an email about what drives you, and I’ll post a collection of your accounts next week.

Nigel Barker of America's Next Top Model at rally against Canadian seal hunt
© The HSUS/George
Nigel, far left, at today’s rally against the Canadian seal hunt.

We’ll kick things off today with some thoughts from Nigel Barker, renowned fashion photographer and judge on "America’s Next Top Model." This afternoon Nigel joined The HSUS’s ProtectSeals team and more than 100 advocates from the D.C. area at the Canadian Embassy for a rally against Canada’s annual slaughter of seal pups for the fur trade. Nigel knows the cruelty of this hunt firsthand. This spring he used his brilliant photography skills to capture the beauty of Canada’s harp seal nursery and, weeks later, the horror of the baby seals’ death, juxtaposing these images in a photo exhibit and a moving documentary called "A Sealed Fate?".

With international outrage against the seal hunt growing, seal pelt prices dropping, and nearly 5,000 restaurants and retailers joining the boycott of Canadian seafood, we gathered today to help send the message that now is the time for the Canadian government to stop the commercial seal hunt for good. Let me turn it over to Nigel for more on the subject and why he’s involved:

I grew up in London and was educated in the rural countryside of England and no matter the location I was always surrounded by animals. At school we had an active farm where I volunteered and at home we had our own zoo made up of dogs, cats, mice, rabbits and fish. My parents were keen for my siblings and I to grow up loving animals and understanding how important they are in the community. It’s funny because every photo of me as a child, I am holding a lizard, a beetle, a spider, or cuddling a dog. I dreamed of studying marine biology or zoology at university, my heroes were Sir David Attenborough and Jacques Cousteau, but that didn’t happen… Instead I started a modeling career and in the mid ’90s a photography career, establishing my own studio in New York City.

Fast forward to now and I have been very fortunate. I am married with a son called Jack and a daughter due imminently, "America’s Next Top Model" is filming its twelfth season, and earlier this year I was invited to become a spokesperson for The Humane Society of The United States. The thought of being able to use my ability as a photographer to celebrate animals was a dream come true. Also to be able to direct the celebrity I had garnered from 12 seasons of a hit show to helping animals in need is extremely rewarding. Animals can’t speak up for themselves, so with the use of photography I can help give them a voice.

Photo of baby harp seal by Nigel Barker
© Nigel Barker
One of Nigel’s photographs from the harp seal nursery in March.

In March of this year I flew up to the ice floes of Eastern Canada with The HSUS to witness, in my opinion, one of the wonders of the world. The largest mammalian birthing ground on Earth. Millions of harp seals gather annually in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to give birth to their "white coat" pups. It’s an incredible sight and one that you’ll never forget. Tragically and barbarically, hundreds of thousands of these seals aged 12 days-plus are slaughtered in the most brutal of manners using spiked clubs called hakapiks. So not only was my team and I there to document and photograph the spectacular baby white coat nursery on the frozen ice-scapes off Newfoundland, but we returned to the ice two weeks later to film the ensuing horror of these helpless creatures being bludgeoned to death for their fur. The methods employed by the hunters to kill the seals would cause such unrest if used on land that it makes even the strongest of us shudder. I witnessed personally many young seals being skinned alive as they were merely unconscious, not dead, at the time of skinning. The checks the Canadian government has in place were rarely to never demonstrated and that was when the fishermen knew they were being filmed…

In this day and age there can be no excuse for this type of atrocity. Stating financial hardship, economic woes or a country’s right to hunt in a manner it has for hundreds of years are simply not good enough answers. Yes, local fisherman make approximately $2,000 a year from sealing, but that doesn’t justify the manner in which these innocent animals are killed. Yes, hunters have used hakapiks to kill seals for generations, but there are many things we used to do that we have stopped or changed, as we now know better. The concept that the young men who hunt the seals can go home and comfortably sit in front of their families is deeply worrying to me. I believe the Canadian government owes it to its citizens to offer alternatives so that there can be no excuse to continue this hunt.

Every photographer, journalist and witness who traveled up to Canada to see the white coat seal pups left the ice with that once in a lifetime experience. I truly believe that the birth of the seals could be marketed as an ecotourism opportunity similar in nature to the whale watching programs that bring in millions of dollars for Canada. I would like to see the sealers’ licenses be bought out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and a concerted effort made to revitalize the coastal regions of Eastern Canada. Canada is considered by most people around the world as a stalwart on environmental matters and this act of barbarity is an unnecessary smear on an otherwise good reputation.

I personally will not stop nor sleep well until I know we have stopped this horrendous slaughter. I invite you to sign the HSUS pledge calling on the Canadian government to ban the seal hunt and to boycott Canadian seafood products in supermarkets and restaurants wherever you are. Together we can stop this.

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