Death on the Ice: The Atlantic Seal Hunt Debate
Feb 2, 2011 Shawn Hayward
The EU ban on Canadian seal products endangers an ancient way of life and import
source of income for thousands.
Rex Saunders goes out to hunt. He doesn't hunt deer, or moose, or rabbit, or
boar. He hunts seals. He goes out in his open boat when the North Atlantic is
still gripped by winter's chill. With a rifle and knife he claims his prize, and
points his bow home, slaloming between ice chunks floating in the dark blue
Mr. Saunders' expedition took an unexpected turn when it struck one of those ice
chunks, sending him into the icy water. For two days the 66-year-old man lay on
ice in the Strait of Belle Isle, the narrow strip of the Atlantic that divides
Newfoundland from Labrador.
Today Mr. Saunders' is on solid ground, saved by rescuers after bravely
withstanding elements that would have bested many of us.
It's not a profession many could or would follow. But it's part of a time-worn
way of life, and it's probably going to follow the Great Auk to extinction,
thanks to an EU ban on seal exports
The EU's move has given new life to an old debate, one that stirs strong
emotions on both sides. If you search the CBC website for the article on the
subject, you'll find seal hunt articles easily by looking at the most commented
on. The article to generate most comments was, of course, the seal hunt article.
Activists and sealer hunt supporters must understand that "humane killing" is an
oxymoron. There is nothing fair about killing something. It's probably the most
unfair thing you can do to another being.
That fact brings strong implications for both sides. Seal hunt protesters who
declare the hunt inherently cruel because it is conducted on ice floes and not
in slaughterhouses have to understand that a blow to the head is as little
painful as a cattle gun to the brain. Even those streamlined factories of meat
production have their slip ups.
But the tiny seal hunting industry presents such an easier target than the big
bad cattle ranchers, abattoir owners, and meat packers across the nation. If the
animal rights activists win this one and sealing is stopped altogether, it will
be quite a coup for the whole movement. It'll be something to hang their hats
on, to take down an entire industry.
Sealer hunt supporters who say the hunt is humane are playing a game they cannot
win. Even under the best circumstances there is no way to make the act of
killing totally painless. Shooting a seal dead on bobbing ice floes takes skill
and luck. This makes a gun less reliable than the abhorred hakipik for killing
seals quickly and cleanly.
But appearances are everything, and as the white-coated seal pup is a better
rallying force than the darker, uglier adults, the gun is seen, in the eyes of
landlubbers who've never been sealing or hunting, as a more lethal weapon than
the hakipik, with its skull-crushing hammer and skin-slicing hook, more
resembling a medieval polearm than a modern hunting tool. It doesn't look
humane, but the seal that's shot in the tail and has to die slowly and painfully
It's really a shame we have to kill things to live. The doublethink exhibited by
seal hunt protesters in opposing the seal hunt while tolerating slaughterhouses
shows why those not personally familiar with the hunt have no business dictating
how it's conducted.
If you asked Mr. Saunders, he probably wouldn't say he kills seals for fun. He
does it because it's one of the few ways to make a living in the only place he's
called home. Let's start considering the humans too, particularly the ones who
risk their lives to make a living, shall we?