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Commercial Sealing Industry Diminishes

Credit: HSUS, Brian Skerry

Special Guest Blogger, Rebecca Aldworth
Executive Director, Humane Society International/Canada

Days ago, I stood amidst the beautiful baby grey seals on Hay Island – a remote wilderness area off of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. As the trusting weeks-old pups played on the snow, touched noses and drifted off to sleep, I felt truly privileged to be there and to witness firsthand this stunning wildlife spectacle.

It wasn’t always this way. At this time of year, sealers normally descend on this tiny island with wooden bats and beat the defenseless pups to death. But in 2012, no companies stepped forward to purchase the furs of these baby seals, and the sealers decided to stay home.

The Hay Island seal pups are likely safe for this year. But within weeks, the much larger slaughter of baby harp seals is set to open on the ice floes off Canada’s east coast. If buyers emerge, sealers will set a deadly course for the seal nursery–and if that happens, we know what we will see.

For each of the past 13 years, I have witnessed the commercial seal hunt firsthand. This is a slaughter in which baby seals are routinely beaten and shot within view of each other, wounded and left to suffer in agony. Conscious seals are often impaled on metal hooks, dragged across the ice and cut open. The suffering is almost unimaginable.

The seals are killed for their fur, which is exported to fashion markets around the world. The skins of very young seals are the most valuable, and 98 percent of the seals slaughtered in the past five years have been less than three months old.

The Humane Society of the United States’ Protect Seals team is standing by, ready to expose the cruelty of this government-sanctioned carnage. We are doing so on behalf of the overwhelming majority of Canadians and people around the world who oppose the slaughter.

But as much as we dread the weeks to come, there is every reason for hope. Two and a half years ago, the European Union banned its trade in products of commercial seal hunts, and the impacts in Canada were immediate. The prices paid for seal fur plummeted and sealers said it wasn’t worth their while to participate in the hunt. More than 850,000 seals have been spared a horrible fate as a result.

Then, a few months ago, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus banned their trade in harp seal fur – the primary product of the Canadian seal slaughter. Government officials said the decision could spell the end of commercial sealing, and the largest seal fur buyer in Canada immediately cancelled a plan to purchase 100,000 harp seal skins.

The closing markets aren’t the only reason to end the seal slaughter. Sealers are commercial fishermen who earn almost all of their incomes from selling seafood, and only a tiny fraction from killing seals. To give them a clear economic choice, nearly 6,000 companies, and more than 650,000 individuals, have pledged to avoid some or all Canadian seafood until the seals are protected for good.

Climate change is yet another factor sealing the fate of the industry. Harp seals rely on sea ice to give birth to and nurse their pups, and climate change is causing sea ice cover in the northwest Atlantic to diminish. In recent years, the lack of ice has caused up to 100 percent mortality in pups born in key whelping areas. Ultimately, the sea ice, and the surviving seals on it, is receding north, beyond the range of the commercial sealing industry.

The Humane Society of the United States is proposing a plan to move Canada beyond commercial sealing. Through a government buyout of the commercial sealing industry, the seal hunt would be ended, sealers would receive immediate compensation, and economic alternatives would be developed. The good news is, polling shows a large percentage of Canadian sealers are already in support of the plan.

We are so close to winning this campaign, and with your help, we know we can restore peace to the ice floes. Help us stop the slaughter. Please take action for baby seals today.

About Rebecca Aldworth & HSI Canada

Rebecca Aldworth is Executive Director of Humane Society International Canada (HSI Canada). For the past decade, she has been a firsthand observer of Canada’s commercial seal hunt, escorting more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to witness the slaughter. Ms. Aldworth has founded two animal protection groups in Canada, and she is a recipient of the 2004 Jean Taymans award for animal welfare and in 2006 was named one of nine Eco Heroes by Alternet.

HSI Canada is a leading force for animal protection, representing tens of thousands of members and constituents across Canada. They are an effective voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals, wildlife and habitat protection, marine mammal preservation and farm animal welfare. HSI Canada works to protect all animals through education, investigation, litigation, legislation, advocacy, and field work. HSI Canada is proud to be a part of Humane Society International — one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world, with more than 11 million members and constituents globally.

About Dr. Annie Harvilicz & Animal Wellness Centers

Dr. Annie Harvilicz is proud to serve on the Leadership Council of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Annie and her team of veterinary medicine professionals are revolutionizing animal healthcare with her forward-thinking integrative approach to health and wellness. The Animal Wellness flagship veterinarian hospital in Venice – Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, is a state-of-the-art clinic designed from the ground up with your pets’ perspective in mind.