Every year tens of thousands of baby harp seals and Cape fur seals are mercilessly slaughtered by seal hunters in Canada and Namibia respectively. Russia too undertakes an annual hunt of harp seals, although after succumbing to pressure from animal rights groups, they have recently banned the slaughter of seals under a year of age.
Commercial Seal Hunting
Harp seals and Cape fur seals have been hunted throughout history for their luxurious pelts, which are fashioned into glamorous fur coats, and other luxury fashion accessories. Baby seal pelts are softer and fetch much higher prices than adult pelts, hence baby seals are targeted by commercial seal hunters. The tactics and methods used are barbaric, and inhumane to the extreme.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been spearheading awareness campaigns to end the slaughter for more than 4o years. By creating public awareness of the immense cruelty involved with seal harvesting operations they have reduced the demand for seal products, and have been successful in getting trade bans on seal products in 30 countries. Succumbing to increased pressure by animal welfare organizations and growing public pressure, the European Union implemented a ban on the trade of seal products in 2010, effectively prohibiting all seal products from being imported, exported, or sold in the European Union. This was followed by a ban on the trade of seal products in 2011 by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia – who previously imported 90% of the seal pelts harvested in Canada, effectively shutting down the majority of the market for seal fur products. Although the demand for seal products has dramatically declined, this has not stopped Canada from proceeding with commercial sealing operations. However, commercial sealing is proving to be no longer viable, and is attracting fewer commercial hunters to partake in these annual bloody games on the ice – lets hope they end soon.
Competition with Fisheries
The longstanding – yet scientifically unsupported – theory that seals compete with fisheries for fish is commonly used to justify the slaughter of seals. In Namibia, seals are no longer harvested commercially as there is no longer a market for seal products. While the culling of Cape fur seals ended in South Africa in 1990, Namibia continues to conduct an annual seal cull, where baby seals and adult bulls are ruthlessly slaughtered in a mis-guided effort to protect fish stocks, and to provide employment opportunities. Surely the government can find a more worthy cause to provide employment to the unemployed?
In Canada, grey seals are also considered a threat to commercial fisheries, and consequently are culled to keep their numbers down. According to IFAW, Canada is proposing to undertake a mass cull of both grey seal pups and adults on Sable Island, which will then be disposed of by incineration. This would decimate 70% of the grey seal population, simply because they are considered competition to fisheries.
Climate Change and Ecosystem Dynamics
Seals form part of the marine ecosystem in which they live. They not only prey on fish, they are also preyed on by apex predators, such as sharks, polar bears, and aboriginal people, most of which are already threatened by climate change and human activities.
Climate change is also impacting seals, particularly seals that breed on ice. Thinning and melting ice sheets is reducing the breeding success of harp seals considerably. Reducing the numbers of seals further will only have an even greater impact on polar bears, who are already facing a mammoth struggle for survival. One of the primary reasons for this is because they hunt for seals on ice while the seals are breeding. As the ice sheets continue to melt at the rates they are, polar bears do not have access to their food supply for as long as they used to, and the number of seals is also rapidly diminishing. Take away their food source and they will really be doomed.
Inuit communities living in the Arctic depend on harp seals for their very survival. They hunt harp seals in a sustainable manner, and utilize the fur, meat, and oil. They take what they need to provide themselves and their community with food, clothing and shelter. In contrast, commercial sealing operations undertake barbaric killing sprees, killing everything they can get their hands on in the shortest time possible in order to maximize profits from the ‘hunt’. They use neither acquired hunting skills or humane methods in their efforts; it is pure carnage on ice – mostly of defenseless babies less than three months old. Man’s greed truly knows no bounds.