Demonstrators protest Canada's seal hunt during the International Day of
Action Against Seal Hunting outside the Halifax Public Gardens in 2009.
Anti-sealing groups are keeping an eye on Cape Breton's western coast this
week as fishermen prepare to harvest grey seals. (CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / Staff)
UPDATED 6:27 p.m. Tuesday
Anti-sealers have pretty well killed the industry so they might as well go back to their homes in Upper Canada, says one sealer from northern Cape Breton.
'They haul out their pictures of pretty little white-coat seals that we haven't harvested in over 24 years and they call it a slaughter,' said Robert Courtney, president of the North of Smokey-Inverness South Fishermen's Association.
'And some people in the media call it a slaughter ' it's no more a slaughter than a deer harvest or cows.'
Courtney and a handful of sealers plan to harvest some juvenile grey seals on the west coast of Cape Breton over the next few days, and a group of anti-sealers is lying in wait.
Rebecca Aldworth of Humane Society International/Canada said she and a film crew are ready to capture the harvest on film.
'We're not going to disclose our location right now because we don't want any damage to our equipment; it's happened before,' Aldworth said during a telephone interview Tuesday.
'There are only a few sites where (the sealers) can go and we're keeping an eye out.'
Aldworth said Margaree Island and Henry Island, just off the coast of Port Hood, could be likely sites for the harvest.
Courtney would only say the Gulf of St. Lawrence would be the logical area.
'This is a good industry being ruined by a bunch of people who don't know anything about the rural life,' he said during a telephone interview from his home in Dingwall.
'In a slaughterhouse they use a gun on the cows and a knife to cut the heads off chickens and there's nothing pretty about that, so why come after us?'
The optics of the seal hunt have never played in favour of sealers and they're very much aware of the bad publicity, which has attracted worldwide attention.
'They're pretty little animals but they grow into 1,000-pound garbage cans that eat just about anything in the ocean,' Courtney said.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada set an allowable catch of 60,000 grey seals for 2012 in the Atlantic region.
Courtney said he knows only of local buyers interested in the seal meat, flippers and other parts.
'There's no big buyers right now but we're ready if we get any big orders.'
Aldworth said when she and her crew visited Hay Island, on Cape Breton's eastern coast, they spotted an unusual number of dead seals last week.
'About half the seal pups were dead and they appeared to be fat, healthy animals who died for no apparent reason. We've been visiting Hay Island every year since 2008 and we've never seen that before.'
Aldworth said she reported the finding to scientists at Dalhousie University, fearing the deaths could have been caused by a virus.
Boris Worm, a marine ecologist at Dalhousie, said although it is not his area of specialty, he believes a virus could have caused the deaths and they warrant investigation.
Calls to other experts were not answered Tuesday.
Courtney said he figures he knows what killed the animals.
'It's those people going on the island and stirring up the herd when they shouldn't be on the island when they're nursing. The big animals moving around probably led to the deaths.'