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Death on the Ice: The Atlantic Seal Hunt Debate

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 waves.

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 would disagree.

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?

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