I wrote in 2011 about the Atlantic Canadian seal slaughter here and here, so I won't repeat myself in this entry. However, I do want to point you to the new Humane Society International infographic on the topic, which encapsulates a tremendous amount of information in just a few words and pictures. I've linked that infographic to the left. I also want to provide you with some information I've just received from Nick Wright, the Humane Society International Canada's seals campaigner, which I found very helpful in understanding the mechanics of the seal slaughter.
What It Is
There are ostensibly three seal slaughters in Eastern Canada every year. The first is the slaughter of gray seals, most notably on Hay Island nature reserve, which takes place in late February/early March. This is the smallest of the three; the 2011 Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Hay Island was 1900, of which roughly 1000 were killed. The Hay Island TAC for 2012 was set at the same number, but this year only 8 animals were killed. The second is the slaughter of harp seals in in mid-March in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the TAC was set at 105,000 last year. However, because of dwindling sea ice in the region, only 1200 animals were killed. This year the TAC was again set at 105,000, but early reports indicate only a few thousand were killed. The third is the slaughter of harp seals in early April at The Front off the coast of Newfoundland, and this is the largest of the three with a TAC last year of 250,000, of which only 37,000 were killed. It also might be helpful to point out that when you read about TAC numbers for gray seals and harp seals, you're reading the TAC numbers for the whole season in every region where the species is slaughtered (i.e. 60,000 for gray seals on Hay Island, Eastern Nova Scotia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence combined, and 400,000 harp seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, The Front and Labrador).
The first questions that leap from these numbers have to do with the discrepancy between the TAC and the actual number of animals killed. Why is the TAC so high? Why is the actual number of animals killed so low? Much of the answer really does have to do with politics. Local sealers - who are themselves off-season fishermen - would have you believe the seals have eaten all the fish in the region and have to be culled in order for the fish to return. But aside from the abundant research that points to over-fishing as the reason for this (not to mention the necessity of seals to the ocean's ecosystem), seals are ice-breeding mammals, and there was virtually no ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last year. In fact, a recent Toronto Star article suggested that anti-sealing activists were finding a strange ally in climate change, since the lack of ice means fewer seals are able to give birth and fewer seals are available to be slaughtered. Leading DFO scientist Dr. Mike Hammill made much the same assertion when he recommended the harp seal TAC be lowered to compensate for the impacts of climate change on the region, and yet Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield ignored his recommendations when he allowed the TAC to carry over from last year. In short, the Canadian government is ignoring its own scientists, the lack of sea ice, the dwindling seal population and research that supports the vital link between seals and fish in the Atlantic ocean's ecosystem in order to appease Atlantic Canadian fishermen.
Further, the seal slaughter is so demonstrably cruel that the products created from it are banned all over the world, which is the economic and perhaps the more salient reason for the decline in slaughter numbers. Russia was the most recent country to ban the import of seal products, and that country accounted for roughly 90% of the market. So there's just no money in it anymore, and yet the Canadian government is considering the provision of industry loans for the sake of stockpiling seal products against the hope of future business. This in the face of a nationwide call for a seal industry buy-out that would ultimately benefit sealers and the Canadian economy alike.
So nobody wants these products of cruelty, and even if they did, there aren't enough seals left to provide them. It's time for this chapter in Canadian history to close and for us to come to an understanding about the relationship between the dwindling ice, the dwindling seals and the dwindling numbers of fish in the North Atlantic. It's time for the Canadian government to buy the sealing industry out and focus its efforts on protecting the ocean ecosystem in its care.
What You Can Do
Animal rights organizations worldwide are hopeful that the annual seal slaughter is coming to an end, but it isn't over yet. Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do to keep the pressure on until it does end, and fortunately for me, the Humane Society International has prepared an activist's tool kit broken down by country. So rather than my usual round-up of links and advice, I'm pointing you to the professionals. Click on the Seals Action Toolkit link, scroll down to your country and roll up your sleeves for a few minutes. If you need more information, take a look at the organization's Protect Seals Resources page. Finally, check out the new Protect Seals app written by the Humane Society of the United States for help putting your money where your values are in support of permanent end to the seal slaughter.
∗ As a result of my commitment to writing these updates, I've begun sifting through dozens of appeals for money and signatures from all over the Internet. I've mentioned before that I tire of them easily; it isn't that donations aren't important, and it isn't that petitions don't sway public opinion, but in the sea of information we receive from so many places every day, these requests often become a drone that we tune out or respond to with the briefest flicker of our attention. My hope here is to write about things that are (a) genuinely informative in some way and (b) actionable on an individual level. I want us to use our natural compassion, our natural inclination to end suffering in ways that produce measurable results. Failing that, I at least want for us to feel like we're making a genuine effort. That doesn't mean I'll never write about donations and petitions, but it won't be the primary thrust of this blogging effort.
∗∗ Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I will sadly not be attending the very fine permaculture workshop I mentioned in my last update because of a conflicting family commitment. If any of you go, however, I'd love to hear what you thought of it! I'm fairly grumbly about not being able to attend...