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April 15, 2008

Safer Fate for Seals

More news from Rebecca Aldworth, our director of Canadian wildlife issues. She's been monitoring the seal hunt and speaking to press throughout the world about the horror of this slaughter.

As we leave Newfoundland—bringing the observation of the 2008 seal hunt to a close—I think forward to a time when this is all over.

When the skin of a baby seal has no value on the international market, and the Canadian government has finally ended the seal hunt.

I imagine coming back here—anonymous again amongst the people of the East Coast of Canada.

Harp seal pup in Atlantic Canada
© Nigel Barker
A harp seal pup seen on March 27.

I’ll charter a helicopter for a few hours on a still and sunny day, and fly out to sea. We’ll land on a pristine ice floe, and I'll walk across to where the seals are, spellbound as always by the brilliant colors reflected around me.

Fat, silvery baby seals will look up at me trustingly, their luminous eyes full of curiosity. I’ll lie down on the ice and slowly move into the group—a temporary guest in their nursery. The pups will touch noses, moving quietly around me. Soon they will begin to fall asleep. For awhile, I’ll lie there with them, knowing that peace has been restored to the ice.

And then I’ll apologize to the baby seals, tears streaming down my face.

For all the seals I saw brutalized and killed and did not intervene because the law prevented it. For all the suffering I bore witness to helplessly. For not being able to end it faster.

But these seal pups won’t know what happened here. They will live their lives as they were meant to, sleeping in their nursery, taking turns splashing in shallow pools on the ice. Becoming more and more confident until they finally slip into the ocean and silently swim away.

I wonder if the images of the slaughter will slowly start to fade, if time will make the suffering of these seals somehow seem more distant. But I know that will not happen. There are some things that can never and should never be forgotten. So instead I’ll hope the pain of the past can serve as a lesson for the future.

Sealer prepares to club a harp seal
© Nigel Barker
A sealer swings a hakapik on March 29.

Coming back to the present, I know that our battle to reach that day—when the hunt is over for good—is at its most critical.

This year, sealskin prices are so low that most sealers are saying it is not worth their while to participate in the hunt. In the Front, less than 100 sealing vessels have hailed out—down from 700 in previous years. Just the thought of an EU ban on seal products has been enough to stop the majority of sealers from hunting this year.

Then days ago, the European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas confirmed he will propose a ban on seal products originating from inhumane hunts. Back in Canada, the ProtectSeals team rejoiced. Because if the EU adopts such a ban, seal products from Canada will never again be traded in the EU.

Our observation out here has been difficult, but we have gathered the evidence we need to prove that Canada's commercial seal hunt remains every bit as cruel as it has always been. That evidence will be provided directly to the European Commission and Parliament.

And we have more good news from the United States, with more major grocery chains and restaurants joining the boycott of Canadian seafood products. Because of this economic pressure, Canadian fishermen are fast realizing they are losing more from hunting seals than they can ever hope to gain.

Thank you for standing with us and bearing witness to the 2008 commercial seal hunt. We are so close to stopping this cruelty—with your support, we’ll make it the last slaughter of baby seals in Canada.

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