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Frequently Asked Questions about The HSUS's
Campaign against the Canadian Seal Hunt

Seal Lounging
©2005 HSUS

Because The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection organizations, as part of the Protect Seals Network, have been working hard to stop Canada's seal hunt, you have likely heard misleading statements by sealing industry spokespeople with a vested interest in continuing this annual slaughter. Take a few minutes to learn the truth about this cruel and unjustifiable hunt—and then log on to http://www.protectseals.org/ to get a glimpse, through words and video, of the gruesome practice that Canadian officials claim is "98% humane."

Why Is The HSUS Using Graphic Pictures?

Most people are unaware that Canada's commercial seal hunt continues. That's why we must work to inform the world that the seal hunt is back—bigger and crueler than ever. It is the barbarity of this slaughter that generates so much opposition. The commercial seal hunt occurs miles offshore, far away from a public that would be horrified to witness it. And that is why we show these images. It is not pleasant to see animal suffering. But it is only through observing that we can understand what is happening, and then work to end to the suffering.

Why Not Just Go After the Markets for Seal Products?

We are actively involved in Europe to close markets for seal products. Recently, the Belgian government announced its intention to ban all trade in seal products, which already is illegal in the United States. Similar initiatives are underway in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, and other European countries.

But more work is needed. With increasingly smaller markets for seal products, the Canadian government may try to subsidize more slaughter, which would still give sealers an incentive to kill seals. We are therefore seeking to pressure the Canadian government through a global seafood boycott; The HSUS, of course, is focusing on the United States, where most Canadian seafood is sold. We believe the Canadian government will soon realize a boycott of its seafood products is too high a price for continuing the seal hunt.

Why Isn't The HSUS Spray-Painting the Seals?

Several decades ago, organizations protesting the commercial seal hunt painted some seals with dye to make their skins valueless to the fur industry. Very quickly, the Canadian government enacted legislation making this an illegal activity. Today, our ability to observe and document this slaughter is contingent upon adhering to the conditions of our observation permits, which do not allow us to disrupt the seal hunt.

Should I Sign the Pledge to Boycott Canadian Seafood If I'm Vegetarian?

This pledge is intended for everybody. Even if you don't consume seafood, please voice your concern by signing the pledge to show both the seafood industry and government of Canada unified opposition to the seal hunt. Also, please ask the managers and buyers in the restaurants and grocery stores you frequent not to buy or sell Canadian seafood, even if you are a vegetarian. Since the seafood industry is in a position to help stop the commercial seal hunt, we need to target all seafood products exported from Canada. For more information on why we think this is the most effective tactic, please go to our main boycott page.

Won't a Boycott Harm Innocent People Who Do Not Hunt Seals?

By permitting this slaughter to continue, the Canadian government has exposed itself to international ridicule and threatened the livelihood of its fishermen. After nearly four decades of unsuccessful negotiations with the government, we are launching a global boycott of Canadian seafood products until the commercial seal hunt finally ends. Several months ago, officials with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans told us this outcome will only come about if Canada's fishing industry requests it. The implication is that everyone involved in Canada's fishing industry can stop the seal hunt. We sincerely regret the impact on those who are not involved in the sealing industry, and we ask them to work with us to end the commercial seal hunt before Canada's fishing industry pays a steep price.

Seal hunting is an off-season activity of a few thousand fishermen from Canada's east coast. They make, on average, about 5% of their income from sealing, and the rest from commercial fisheries. Seventy percent of Canadian seafood is exported to the United States each year, and this gives American consumers some leverage in ending the seal hunt.

If members of the Canadian fishing industry help us in demanding an end to the seal hunt, the government is more likely to listen and stop the slaughter. For more information on why we think this is the most effective strategy, please go to our main boycott page.

Why Is The HSUS Using White Coat Imagery? Is It Legal to Kill Baby Seals?

Make no mistake: This hunt is still very much one for babies. Ninety-six percent of the seals killed are under three months of age. For an animal who may live more than 35 years, these are babies by any standard. No one is saying that white coats (those under 12 days) are being targeted. However, baby seals may be killed when they are just beginning to lose their white fur and still appear to be a white coat. These seals are called ragged jackets, and we use their pictures often in our campaign. Most have not yet had their first solid meal or taken their first swim—and they literally have no escape from the hunters.

Why Does The HSUS Demand an End To the Hunt and Not Just Better Regulations and Enforcement?

The HSUS wants an end to this hunt because it is unconscionable to kill seals for their fur and skin. Moreover, the participation of a civilized nation like Canada in the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth sets an atrious example for the treatment of our fellow creatures on earth. In addition, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not lodged any charges to date in response to the cruelty complaints it has received, despite the hard work of animal advocates who have documented violations and abuses.

Does the Average Canadian Support or Oppose the Hunt?

According to a 2004 poll by Ipsos Reid, more than 70% of Canadians believe the commercial seal hunt should either be banned or limited to seals over one year of age. (Ninety-seven percent of the 365,000 seals killed in the 2004 hunt were babies under three months, and the majority were less than three weeks old.)

Many Canadian groups are working with us to stop the hunt, including the Vancouver Humane Society, Nova Scotia Humane Society, Animal Alliance of Canada, Environment Voters, Global Action Network, Greenpeace Canada, International Fund for Animal Welfare, World Society for the Protection of Animals-Canada, The Green Party of Canada, and many other Canadian organizations.

You can read some of the many positive comments from concerned Canadians about our campaign on this page.

Will the Hunt Harm the Harp Seal Population?

Though the harp seal population has increased since the 1970s when they were severely over-hunted, their current numbers are just recovering from an all-time population low in the 1950s. Government scientists estimate that the harp seal herd has been declining since 1996, and the current plan is predicted to reduce the population even further. Poor ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where many harp seals give birth, may already be affecting the species as well.

Harp seal experts, The HSUS, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace, and our Protect Seals Network cite a wealth of scientific evidence showing the insustainability of the seal hunt. Ice cover off the Atlantic coast, where seals give birth, is rapidly thinning, and there is evidence of rising seal mortality rates. Furthermore, cruelty to wildlife, whether rare or abundant, should not be tolerated.

Greenpeace recently came out with a thorough report on the Canadian government's extreme mismanagement of the harp seal population.

Won't Stopping the Seal Hunt Hurt the Cod Population?

The decline of cod and other fisheries is caused by over-fishing, not marine mammals. Please see this page for a report from the internationally respected harp seal biologist, Dr. David LaVigne, who gives evidence that the Canadian government is mismanaging the seal hunt population, and that it is more concerned with its own economic interests than the health of the seal and cod population.

Is the Seal Hunt Humane and Is Clubbing Still Allowed?

The seals are clubbed as well as shot. Hakapiks (primitive clubs) are legal and commonly used. If you watch the footage of this year's commercial seal hunt at http://www.protectseals.org/ you will see the hunters frequently using clubs. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, clubs and hakapiks are the killing implement of choice, and in The Front, guns are more widely used. The DFO has shown little interest in reducing the inherent cruelty of the hunt and enforcing its own regulations.

In 2001, a report by an independent team of respected veterinarians, who were invited by IFAW to observe the hunt, also concluded that governmental regulations were neither being respected nor enforced, and that the seal hunt failed to comply with Canada's basic animal welfare regulations. The veterinarians found a disturbing number of seals (as many as 40%) probably were skinned while alive and conscious. You can read the full report here.

As for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association study claiming that only 2% of the seals were killed inhumanely, some have questioned the reliability of a survey in which those carrying out the killing knew they were being observed.

Is Shooting Seals Humane?

Shooting, like clubbing, is extremely inhumane; because hunters shoot at seals from moving boats, the pups are often only wounded. The main sealskin processing plant in Canada deducts $2 for each bullet hole on a pelt. Therefore sealers are loath to shoot seals more than once. As a result, wounded seals are left to suffer in agony and many slip beneath the surface of the water where they die slowly and are never recovered.

Isn't the Canadian Seal Hunt an Aboriginal Hunt?

Subsistence seal hunts are not the target of the Protect Seals campaign. Fewer than 1% of harp seals last year were killed by aboriginal people in Canada. The truth is that the commercial seal hunt near Newfoundland and in Gulf of St. Lawrence is a large scale, industrial slaughter conducted by non-native people. Powerful ice-breaking boats and sophisticated aerial-spotting techniques enable hunters to pinpoint seals with relative ease. This year, the combination of high-tech equipment and old-time brutality will translate into more than 300,000 dead seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Isn't The Hunt Acceptable Because It Is Not Wasteful—All the Products Are Put to Use?

The commercial hunt specifically benefits the fur fashion industry. The seals are skinned for their pelts and fat, and virtually all of the seal meat is left to rot on the ice. A very small amount of meat is sold to Canadian factory fur farms. These seals are killed primarily for the European and Asian fur fashion industry, and used by such major designers as Versace and Prada. That is not for subsistence by any means.

The use of seal oil is insignificant, and the Canadian government promotes its use to justify the hunt. There are plenty of alternatives on the market, including flax oil, which does not entail cruelty.

For more information on the fashion industry's use of seal fur and skins, please see our Designers Who Use Seal Fur page.

Is the Hunt Well-Regulated and Are the Regulations Monitored or Enforced?

Enforcement of hunt regulations is spotty and inadequate at best. The HSUS Protect Seals team witnessed first-hand the terrible cruelty and brutality of the hunt on March 29. They saw animals being clubbed and left for dead, when the animals were still alive and struggling to survive. One seal, in particular, was clubbed, and she dragged herself around for 90 minutes while suffocating in her own blood. In past years, witnesses have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of animals skinned alive on the ice. They have rarely seen the blink reflex test administered.

The blink-reflex test is very simple. It involves leaning over and touching the dead animal's eyeball. If the animal doesn't blink, it is in fact dead. If it does blink, it's an indication the animal is alive and possibly conscious. Unless sealers administer this test, they have no way of knowing if the animal they're skinning is dead. Last year, witnesses did not see the test administered at all. This is a clear violation of the marine mammal regulations, but one that the government appears unable to enforce.

Does the Canadian Government Subsidize the Hunt?

The commercial seal hunt receives many forms of subsidies from the Canadian government. The Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment reports that the government provided more than $20 million in subsidies to the sealing industry between 1995 and 2001. They are made in the form of interest-free loans and grants to cover wages and capital costs for processing companies, for companies to develop seal products, and for product marketing trips overseas.

Why Is The HSUS Trying to Hurt the Economy of Poor Coastal Communities?

Economic analysis shows that the seal hunt has very little positive economic effect on Newfoundland. The Canadian government and fishing industry are promoting the hunt in spite of worldwide opposition that has led to a boycott of all Canadian seafood.

The HSUS is urging the government of Canada to help individuals caught in the tragedy of slaughtering seals to develop livelihoods in other occupations and in other segments of the economy. Few believe that killing seals will continue to be a viable livelihood for the next century.

When the Canadian government banned whale killing, some discovered that whale watching tours were more profitable. In the same respect, The HSUS believes seal and other wildlife-watching excursions would be better for the economy and the ecology of the east coast.

Why Isn't The HSUS Working to Stop Cruelty to Animals Who Are Less "Cute" Than Seals, Such as Farm Animals?

Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States work to make the world a better place for animals, regardless of how appealing the public perceives those animals to be. The Canadian commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth, and we are working with groups all around the world, including in Canada, to stop it.

In addition to our campaign to save the seals, The HSUS has an entire department devoted to protecting farm animals. We also work to protect many other animals not considered to be as appealing as baby seals, including rattlesnakes and rats used in laboratories.

Why Isn't The HSUS Working to Stop America's War in Iraq Instead of Focusing on Seals?

We are the world's largest animal protection organization, and our mission is to help animals. If you have concerns about the Iraq war, you can find many organizations that work on peace issues. Since Canada’s seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world, The HSUS is working vigorously to oppose it.

Why Isn't The HSUS Working to Stop Sealing in Its Own Country?

The HSUS worked successfully to end the last commercial seal hunt in the United States in 1985. It was conducted on the Pribilof Islands in Alaska, and the same arguments were made then that are used to justify the seal kill in Canada. In the end, the United States government provided economic assistance and retraining to help citizens who took part in seal killing. That program was successful, and the same methods are needed now in Canada.