Humane Society International/Canada applauds the European Union for its ban on trade in seal products from commercial hunts, which formally enters into force today. Newly released video evidence of cruelty at the 2010 seal slaughter recorded by HSI/Canada shows that commercial sealing remains inhumane and the EU ban is a necessary measure to protect European values.
"Given the inherent cruelty involved in commercial sealing, banning seal product trade was the only adequate measure the European Union could have taken," said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada who has observed the hunt for 12 years. "Despite Canadian government claims that the seal hunt would be tightly regulated this year, we witnessed some of the worst cruelty we have ever seen at the 2010 seal slaughter. Baby seals died slowly and very painfully, and we recorded hundreds of apparent violations of Canadian law and conditions of sealing permits."
In the opening days of the commercial seal hunt off Newfoundland, only about 30 sealing vessels left port compared to more than 700 in recent years. HSI recorded consistent violations of the few, inadequate rules that exist to protect seals even though authorities were on site to monitor the killing. HSI/Canada footage shows wounded baby seals crawling through their own blood for several minutes, crying out and clearly in agony, while sealers failed to end their misery as required by law. In many instances sealers failed to perform the mandatory test for unconsciousness before cutting open and skinning seals. Clubbed seals were sliced open and could be seen thrashing around alive on bloody boat decks amidst seal carcasses.
"I have reviewed Humane Society International's video evidence from the 2010 seal hunt, and I am appalled by the cruelty I witnessed," said Mary Richardson, DVM, a leading Canadian veterinary expert in humane slaughter methods. "These seals suffered visibly while sealers looked on and did nothing to end their misery. This kind of killing is a clear violation of Canada's animal protection laws, and shows that even with a high ratio of enforcement agents to sealing vessels, Canada's commercial seal hunt cannot be made humane."
As the EU market for seal products from commercial seal hunts disappears, and organizations throughout Asia initiate campaigns to end seal product trade, it is clear that there is no future in sealing. A 2010 Ipsos Reid poll shows that two-thirds of sealers in Newfoundland believe the industry will never recover from the historic low value it achieved in 2009. Notably, half of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion support a federal sealing industry buyout – a plan in which the federal government would compensate sealers for lost income and invest in economic alternatives in communities involved. In recent weeks, Sen. Mac Harb has urged the Canadian government to work with stakeholders to transition sealers into more viable employment, and cease counterproductive political posturing on behalf of the sealing industry.
Dr. Mary Richardson is a past chair of the Animal Welfare Committee for the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and the Animal Care Review Board for the Solicitor General of Ontario and board member of the Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph.
Canada's seal slaughter targets defenseless baby seals. Canadian government kill reports show that 97 percent of the seals killed in recent years have been less than 3 months old, while most have been just 1 month old or less at the time of slaughter.
Veterinary experts argue that Canada's commercial seal slaughter is inherently inhumane because of the extreme, uncontrolled environment in which the killing operates and the speed at which the killing must occur.
Global markets for seal products are closing. Canada's two largest trading partners — the United States and the European Union — have both prohibited trade in seal products. Mexico and Croatia have also ended their trade in seal products, and animal protection groups the world over are urging more nations to follow suit.
The Canadian sealing industry achieved record low economic returns in both 2009 and 2010. While the industry brought in roughly $1 million in each of these years, the Canadian government estimates the cost of enforcement at the slaughter to be up to $3.6 million annually. In addition, the Canadian government has invested millions of dollars in promoting the sealing industry internationally and working to block prohibitions on seal product trade.
A boycott of Canadian seafood, that will continue until the seal slaughter ends for good, has already cost the Canadian economy many times the value of the sealing industry. More than 5,500 establishments and 650,000 people have pledged to avoid some or all Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends for good. Recent polling conducted by Ipsos Reid shows that two-thirds of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion are concerned about the impact of the boycott.