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Canada's seal hunt to proceed amid criticism, but with some support

March 26, 2009 | 12:11 pm


Canada has its reasons for allowing the slaughter of more than 300,000 seals during an annual hunt that remains in progress in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. One is to thin the population of mammals that deplete certain stocks of fish.

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement that Canada's harp, gray and hooded seal population totals about 6.4 million, or triple what it was in the 1970s.

Thus, so the reasoning goes, thousands need to be culled so 12,000 fishermen can continue making a living (and so the furry pelts can be sold overseas for handsome profit). Critics of what many label a barbaric practice abound. But there are supporters, including scientists, who say the killings are justified, that seals are a renewable resource. 

Freelance writer Charles W. Moore, in a story for the Chronicle Herald, wrote: "Aside from sentimental idiocy fostered by the cuteness of whitecoat seal pups (which, as noted, haven’t been hunted in Canada since 1987), there is no rational reason not to hunt seals, and bringing the seal population down from its current record levels is ecologically beneficial."

Interestingly, the same could be said of California sea lions off the West Coast of the United States. They number about 300,000, up from 10,000 in the 1950s, and are believed to be at or close to historic highs. They've impacted salmon runs and are a constant nuisance and threat to the livelihoods of fishermen.

Many fishermen in the U.S., undoubtedly, would favor a widespread culling. But any politician or fisheries chief who values his or her career would never support the shooting and clubbing of thousands of mammals perceived by the majority of the populace to be cute and too intelligent to murder.

(There has been small-scale culling recently off the Pacific Northwest to protect endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead runs.)


Moore's premise is this: "Sentimentality, in the form of sappy animal rights ideology, is all the anti-seal hunting movement and money machine are based on, with no scientific fact or conservation reality supporting their contentions that seals are either endangered or treated less humanely than livestock killed in slaughterhouses to stock supermarket shelves."

But there's a difference between seals and cows: The former are creatures of the wild, with the ability to think and learn.

(This is certainly true of sea lions, which have learned, among other things, that the dropping of a sportfishing boat's anchor is akin to a dinner bell; they can steal a hooked fish from a hook without getting hooked and some captains believe they teach this tactic to their young.)

As for cows, they're raised specifically for dairy purposes or to be processed for meat and wouldn't be among us otherwise. So comparing seals to livestock cows is, if you'll pardon the cliche, like comparing apples and oranges.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos are handouts from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, depicting the ongoing hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada.