Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Make this year's seal hunt (baby seal slaughter) the last

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from the March 18, 2005 edition -

Make this year's seal hunt the last

By Rebecca Aldworth

MONTREAL - Right now, seals are giving birth to their pups on the ice
floes off Canada's East Coast. The seal nursery that forms is one of
the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth. The sun gleams across icy
landscapes and open water, the only sounds are the soft cries of the
newborn seals. In this magical scene, serene mother seals lie
contentedly and peacefully with their nursing pups.

It is a sight that tourists from across the globe pay thousands of
dollars for the privilege of witnessing - one that brings substantial
revenue to coastal communities in eastern Canada.

But just days later, the peace of the ice is shattered as seal hunters
descend on the defenseless pups, and the nursery is turned into an
open-air slaughterhouse.

Beginning in the last week of March, hundreds of thousands of seal
pups will be clubbed and shot to death in Canada's annual commercial
seal hunt. It is an industrial-scale slaughter that targets the
animals for their fur, and leaves their carcasses to rot on the ice.
With more than 300,000 pups allowed to be killed this year, it has
become the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth.

Though while I was growing up in a Newfoundland fishing community,
like most Canadians, I never saw the seal hunt. The slaughter of harp
and hooded seals is something that occurs far offshore on the ice
floes - well away from the eyes of the public.

But for the past six years, I have traveled to the ice floes and
observed the seal hunt at close range.

The majority of the seals killed are less than one month old; these
pups, newly separated from their mothers, are defenseless and have no
escape. And they are treated brutally. In 2001, an independent team of
veterinarians was escorted to the ice floes by the International Fund
for Animal Welfare. They studied Canada's commercial seal hunt at
close range. Their report concluded that up to 42 percent of the seals
they studied had probably been skinned alive while conscious - a clear
violation of Canada's criminal code and marine mammal regulations that
govern the hunt.

The violent images of the hunt - gunshots, clubbings, and the sounds
of animals in pain - are vivid memories I can never erase. I carry
them with me as I work to end this slaughter. And it is my hope that
goal is finally within reach.

Sealing is an off-season activity conducted by a few thousand
fishermen from Canada's East Coast. According to media reports and
government data, they make, on average, only 5 percent of their total
incomes from sealing - the rest comes from commercial fisheries.

When the first pup is clubbed or shot to death on the ice at the end
of March, the Humane Society of the United States, with a network of
powerful organizations that includes the Massachusetts Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Born Free Foundation, will
launch a global boycott of Canadian seafood.

We are asking Americans not to buy Canadian seafood products, such as
snow crabs, until the commercial seal hunt is ended for good. American
consumers can easily identify Canadian seafood products, which are
labeled clearly in all major grocery stores.

Such a boycott - if well supported - would show the Canadian
government and fishing industry that continuing the seal hunt is not
worth the potential impact of this campaign.

As I and many others leave for the ice floes next week to again bear
witness to this slaughter, we are asking Americans to stand with the
Humane Society of the United States in our campaign to save the seals.

Together, we can put this cruel, outdated slaughter back into the
history books where it belongs.

Rebecca Aldworth is director of Canadian wildlife issues for the
Humane Society of the <> United States.

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