Every year, nearly a million seals worldwide are subjected to painful and often lingering deaths, largely for the sake of fashion.(1) Despite a worldwide outcry over the cruelty of the slaughter and a ban on seal products in many countries, the massacre continues.
Scenes From the Slaughter
Seals are slaughtered in Greenland, Namibia, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Britain, Finland, Sweden, and the U.S. The majority of the animals die in the Arctic regions of the Atlantic.(2)
During Canada’s annual commercial seal slaughter, as many as 400,000 seals can be shot or bludgeoned.(3) Canada halted the slaughter of so-called “whitecoats” in 1987, but seals lose their white fur at around 2 weeks of age, so most seals are still shot or clubbed to death before their third month of life.(4)
Sealers use a variety of weapons, including clubs, “hakapiks” (heavy wooden clubs topped by a barbed metal hammer head), and rifles. Sealers often hook baby seals in the eye, cheek, or mouth to avoid damaging their fur, then drag them across the ice to skin them.
A senior research fellow at the University of Bristol was part of a veterinary team that observed a seal slaughter in Newfoundland in 2007. He reported “widespread disregard for the requirements of Canada’s marine mammal regulations” and sealers who did not check for vital signs before skinning the seals. Nearly half of the seals documented by the team showed “some response to stimuli after being hooked and dragged,” and the majority of seals who were shot were not immediately killed by the first bullet.(5)
Worldwide Disapproval of the Seal Slaughter
Seal products are banned in the U.S., and the U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a resolution calling for an end to the seal slaughter in Canada.(6,7) After Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared the seal slaughter a “bloody practice,” Russia banned the slaughter of harp seals under 1 year of age.(8) Calling the seal slaughter “inherently inhumane,” a European Parliament committee endorsed a bill to ban the trade in seal products from member countries, which the European Union subsequently approved (except for Canadian Inuit items traded for cultural, education, or ceremonial purposes).(9,10) Citing “public moral concerns” about the hunt, the World Trade Organization upheld the EU ban in 2013 and recommended that the exceptions be “revised.”(11) In 2014, the WTO rejected Canada’s and Norway’s objection to the ban in an unprecedented ruling th noted the necessity to “protect public morals.”(12)
What You Can Do
Canadian Senator Mac Harb introduced legislation to phase-out the commercial seal slaughter. Although the bill was defeated in 2013, you can still help seals by contacting Canadian lawmakers and asking them to support ending the seal slaughter.
The Senate of Canada
1) Catherine Salmond, “Dressed to Kill,” Evening News (Edinburgh), 11 May 2009.
2) Agence France Presse English Wire, “Faced With Possible EU Ban, Canada Defends Seal Hunting,” 3 Mar. 2009.
3) Fisheries and Oceans Canada, “Sealing in Canada-Frequently Asked Questions,” 20 Mar 2014.
4) CBC News, “The Atlantic Seal Hunt—FAQs,” 5 May 2009.
5) Andy Butterworth, “Practicalities and Problems,” The Parliament Magazine 16 Feb 2009.
6) Vanessa Mock, “Outcry From Inuits as EU Bans Seal Products,” Radio Netherlands, 5 May 2009.
7) Senator Carl Levin, “A Resolution Urging the Government of Canada to End the Commercial Seal Hunt,” S.Res. 84, 24 Mar. 2009.
8) Agence France Presse English Wire, “Canada Seeks EU Approval for Seal Hunting Code” 24 Mar. 2009.
9) The Press Association, “Canada Defends Annual Seal Hunt,” 23 Mar. 2009.
10) Vanessa Mock, “Outcry From Inuits as EU Bans Seal Products,” Radio Netherlands, 5 May 2009.
11) Suzanne Goldenberg, “World Trade Organisation Upholds EU Ban on Imported Seal Products,”The Guardian, 25 Nov. 2013.
12) “WTO Rejects Canada, Norway Appeal Against EU Seal Import Ban,” Agence France Presse, 22 May 2014.