Today, baby seals are being slaughtered and skinned alive off the Atlantic coast of Canada. They are clubbed to death with wooden clubs and hakapiks (large ice-pick-like clubs). They are as young as 12 days old. Mothers who defend their young are also being killed. What is the Canadian government doing about it? The Canadian government is paying for it.
Over the past three years, more than a million seals have been killed; in 2004, 365,971 seals were killed. This does not include the number of seals who were wounded and slipped below the surface of the ocean, where they died slowly.
Canada maintains that killing the seals is necessary due to crashing cod stocks. It says the seals are overpopulated and eating all the fish. The fish cannot regenerate, meaning less cod on your dinner plate at Red Lobster.
Fish stocks are dwindling, but not because of seals. Scientifically it has been shown that human overfishing is the true culprit. Seals are opportunistic feeders and eat many different species, including species that are natural predators to cod, like squid. So killing seals would do more damage. A seal's diet consists of only 3 percent commercially fished cod.
The hunt itself is not economically important. There is only a small market for seal furs and skins, and a very small market for seal oil. The meat itself is not used and left to rot. Sealing itself is an "off season" activity. Fishermen make one-twentieth of their income from the hunt; the hunt itself generates less than 1 percent of the province's economy.
What about the pain and suffering the seals go through? Veterinary studies from the hunt indicate that 42 percent of seals studied were skinned alive, conscious and able to feel pain. Sealers do not like to shoot seals because $2 for every bullet hole is deducted from the value, so they club them.
When seals formerly were hunted in these numbers (the '50s and '60s), close to two-thirds of the harp seal population was killed. These are migratory seals that range from Greenland to Canada. This is supposed to be the largest seal population in the world, and is supposed to be in the millions.
Scientists say that this level of killing will be unsustainable to the seals, which have been in decline since 1996, when the commercial seal hunt was reintroduced. Canada has slated nearly a million seals to be killed up to 2006; one can only wonder what the seal population will look like.
Is it moral to cull seals so that people can eat cod? Who has the right to decide that the seals should die? What can you do? Boycott Canadian seafood products and visit www.hsus.org for more information and to see a clock counting down the number of seals killed. There is a Senate Resolution 33 condemning Canada's seal hunt. You can write to our senators.
Aimee Porter lives in Buffalo.