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6 April 2017

Seal Hunters Are Causing Outrage in Canada

As difficult as it might be to accept, seal hunting still goes on in some parts of the world, and it’s just as violent and gruesome as it used to be. The animals (often in their infancy) are shot with rifles, or beaten with clubs and hakapiks (sticks with metal hooks on the end). The only major difference is that sealers have to be trained in humane killing practises before they can do it, which pretty much just amounts to aiming for the head so the animal dies quickly.

In Canada, the Canadian Inuit can still trade seal products freely across most of the world, but Russia, the EU and many other nations have banned all other seal imports in the wake of fierce animal rights campaigning. Despite this, seal hunts still take place in Canada outside of the Inuit community, and this year the hunt started several days earlier than it usually does, on the 28th of March.

This means that, despite claims that the hunters are only targeting adult seals, some of the hunting may take place in whelping areas, placing nursing mothers and newborns at risk. This isn’t legal, strictly speaking, and neither is the hunting of the hooded seals which often live near harp seals, but accidents happen.

Seal hunting is not only legal in Canada, but it’s actually subsidised by the government, despite the fact that net profits have been rapidly declining in recent years. Some have argued that sealing in Canadian waters is necessary to balance out the cod population, but it’s a flimsy argument.

What isn’t flimsy is the claim that fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador rely on sealing for some 40% of their annual income, which is also why the hunts are subsidised, and why the government dropped $500,000 for a seal meat production program in 2013. The hunts themselves are monitored via aerial surveillance to make sure that nothing inhumane (or unlicensed) is being carried out.

Of course, even monitoring so-called humane practices doesn’t stop the killing stroke from being botches. Since the sea ice is much more broken up than it used to be, sealers have taken to shoot the animals from moving boats. At a distance of 40 to 50 metres, a direct shot to the head is anything but a guarantee even from standing, let alone from a moving vehicle.

How bad of an impact this is having on the seal populations is hard to determine. Harp seals aren’t endangered, but local populations could well be suffering for the loss. The government bases the kill count on pup population surveying, but the accuracy of these measures is questionable and it doesn’t account for the adult seals which are taken earlier into the season, when the pups are too young to be taken.

Whichever side of the argument you land on, opposition to the practice continues to rise across Canada, with many residents most strongly objecting to their taxpayer money going on to fund the hunts. Most of the objection comes from the violent nature of the hunting, but animal rights groups are more concerned about climate change. A lack of sea ice is impacting the mortality rate of seal pups, which coupled with the hunting could mean that the seal population could soon fall into real decline. If that happened, it would have a knock-on effect across the entire local eco-system.

It’s a difficult topic. Arguments about climate change and cruelty are certainly warranted, but if rural communities are genuinely reliant on seal meat and fur, it’s unfair and short-sighted to question that. If the government could find a way to support these communities such that they could stop hunting seals, that would be ideal, but if such a solution exists, it has yet to be found. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.