Canada’s baby seal hunt has resumed. That’s despite the government of Canada spending far more to monitor and defend the hunt than the sealers gain from selling the pelts they peel from the animals’ bodies. The whole spectacle is cruel and archaic, it’s a financial boondoggle, and it’s just waiting for someone with common sense and economic insight within the government and industry to finish it off and establish a new way forward. We’ve reduced the number of seals killed each year from a high of nearly 365,000 to just 35,000 last year, after closing markets for seal products in the European Union and elsewhere.
Yet even if a relatively small number of sealers take to the ice floes to do their killing, we are going to be there, too. We won’t relent until it ends. I’ve asked Rebecca Aldworth, our Canadian director, to give a firsthand account of what’s happening. She’s there again, as she’s been for nearly two decades, leading the effort to drastically shrink the killing and ultimately to end it once and for all.
From a thousand feet in the air, we could see the beautiful one-month-old seal pup. She lay on a tiny pan of sea ice, surrounded by open water, moving quickly on the rough waves. She looked so vulnerable, clinging to her fragile ice pan, in the midst of the roiling ocean.
But a danger far greater than the high waves was fast approaching. A large red sealing boat was bearing down on her, a shooter at the top with a rifle trained on the pup.
Without warning, a shot rang out and she slumped on the ice, blood spilling out beneath her neck. For a moment the pup lay still and we thought she was dead as the boat moved into position to retrieve her body. But then, she began to move her tail and thrash around. Moments later, she opened her mouth to cry out twice, just before the sealers impaled her on a metal spike, first through her tail, and then through her face, and dragged her onto the boat. There she lay on the blood slicked deck until a sealer clubbed her on the head – to make sure – and skinned her.
This was the very first kill we filmed in the 2016 commercial seal hunt. And it was yet another affirmation of the crucial importance of our being here.
The most difficult thing I do each year is bear witness to Canada’s commercial seal slaughter. Thousands of pups, just weeks of age, are shot and wounded, impaled, beaten, and skinned in a series of gut-wrenching kills on the ice. I feel as though a part of me dies with every baby seal I watch endure this suffering.
But the evidence we gather here is shutting this industry down. I know that the suffering of this poor baby seal is not in vain, because we are here, and our campaign has already reduced the killing by 90 percent.
Today, the sealing industry is a shadow of its former self, existing on government handouts and false promises of future markets. Only a few hundred fishermen continue to slaughter seals and they earn only a tiny fraction of their incomes from doing so.
But for the tens of thousands of seals that continue to die horribly at the hands of this industry we cannot stop. This year, we are taking our campaign to China, calling for a ban on commercial trade in seal products. And we are working to develop a permanent solution to commercial sealing in Canada: a fair transition program for sealers and a real investment in economic alternatives.
In the meantime, we will continue to shine a global spotlight on what the commercial sealing industry wants to keep hidden. In doing so, we will move ever closer to the moment when peace prevails once more on the ice.