For decades, Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States have worked to stop Canada’s brutal commercial seal hunt, where seal pups are mercilessly clubbed and shot to death for their fur. Leading this fight has been Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI/Canada. For 18 years, Rebecca has traveled to the ice floes to document the slaughter and focus a global spotlight on this important animal protection issue. Those efforts have helped turn the tide for seals—today more than 37 countries ban commercial seal product trade, which has led to a drop in demand and prices for seal fur in Atlantic Canada.
Unfortunately, the killing has continued, and the seals now face more threats than ever before, including climate change. In this guest post today, Rebecca discusses why Canada needs to act fast to stop commercial sealing before it is too late for these iconic animals.
Right now, mother harp seals are nursing their pups on the spectacular ice floes off Canada’s east coast. The scene is breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly peaceful—and it draws people from all over the world to witness it firsthand. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the ice several times this week, documenting the harp seal nursery for Humane Society International.
But it’s a bittersweet experience, because the adorable pups who live in this pristine environment are already facing mortal threats to their survival.
A recent segment on “Good Morning America” exposed the devastating impacts of climate change on the ice breeding harp seals. Over the past five decades, scientists have tracked a significant and constant decline in the sea ice cover in eastern Canada. For the harp seal pups born on that ice, it spells disaster. Warming temperatures are causing the ice to literally melt from under the pups and so many are forced into the water before they are strong enough to survive there. In some recent years we have witnessed up to 100% mortality in seal pups born in key whelping areas because of the vanishing sea ice.
But there is another story—an even greater risk to the seal pups—and it is one that GMA chose not to tell. The very harp seals who are contending with these devastating impacts of climate change are the primary targets of Canada’s commercial seal hunt, the largest and cruelest slaughter of marine mammals on earth. In just a few weeks’ time, Canadian seal hunters will descend on the peaceful harp seal nursery and turn it into an open air slaughterhouse. The pups who survive the destruction of their sea ice habitat will be brutally clubbed and shot to death for their fur, their tiny bodies left on the ice to rot. Our Protect Seals team has exposed the cruelty of this so-called hunt for years; defenseless four-week-old seal pups are routinely shot and left crawling through their own blood, impaled on metal hooks, dragged onto bloody boat decks and clubbed to death. Notably, veterinarians who have studied the killing have labelled all killing methods at the commercial seal hunt “inherently inhumane.”
Our campaign has stopped so much of this cruelty, by closing the most important global markets for products of commercial sealing. In the past decade, our work has saved millions of pups from the slaughter. Yet the killing continues, with tens of thousands of seal pups falling victim to the commercial seal hunt each year.
Tragically, there is no way to reverse the impacts of climate change on the harp seals’ sea ice habitat in the near term. But a responsible government can and should end commercial seal hunting. That is exactly what we are urging Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to do.
Everyone should have the opportunity to see the stunning harp seal nursery in their lifetime. But if Canada fails to take action soon, that opportunity may be lost forever—for us and for future generations.