Canada is largely viewed as a reserved country, which prudently avoids involving its self in issues that do not concern it in the international space. Nonetheless, the successful maintenance of this image does not stop our country from occasionally finding itself in the murky waters of international controversy. An issue that has especially kept Canada in the spotlight of the international community is the policy that permits the annual seal hunt. Our Canadian government allows and even facilitates the massacring of hundreds of thousands of young harp seals (three weeks to three months old) in an annual event that has come to be known as the annual seal hunt. The world seems to be gradually taking cognizance of the brutality with which the hunt is conducted and is beginning to shun the resultant products. Unfortunately, the Canadian government is yet to view the issue from the same perspective. In fact, our government has persistently lobbied the international community against shunning and banning seal products. It holds that the ‘sealing’ is done within morally acceptable and environmentally sustainable limits. This information raises critical questions. Why does our government fight so spiritedly to foster a practice that is obviously brutal, inhumane and environmentally damaging? Despite our government’s efforts to keep sealing alive on the grounds of economic gains, this practice is damaging in all respects and should be curbed.
Reports indicate that the Canadian commercial seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world. Daoust et al. (367) estimate that on average, 270,000 baby seals were killed annually between 1998 and 2007. It is important to note that this is just an average figure, which only includes the number of baby seals that were actually killed and skinned. There are however numerous others that escape into the water with fatal gunshot wounds. They eventually die but are not included in the average figure given above. Therefore, the number of baby seals that are killed annually is upwards of 300,000.
Daoust et al. (367) observe that there are several effective mechanisms that can be employed to kill seals without causing them pain and suffering. However, research shows that sealers are not keen on using those methods. In fact, in a study where sealers were accompanied by researchers who were interested in assessing the extent of compliance with government-approved killing criteria for seals, the sealers still went ahead and flouted the rules despite being fully aware that they were being watched. I am convinced that they tried to follow the rules, but were overwhelmed in some cases.
My question, therefore, is as follows; how do they go about sealing when no one is watching? Any rationally minded individual will agree that when no one is watching, the sealers may not have regard for the government prescribed killing criteria at all. Can you imagine the agony seals endure when being skinned while still conscious? Who would want to use a product that is a result of such maltreatment? The animals deserve better than this. Unfortunately, it is directed at innocent young seals, which are barely aware of the world around them. Their brutality and senselessness are completely unjustifiable.
It is true that humans may need animal products for use in various ways. However, the manner in which the harvesting is done should show that the harvester is conscious of the fact that the animal is also a sentient living being. The Canadian seal hunt would not be controversial if it were done in a way that is seen by the rest of the world as humane and sustainable. What makes the whole thing a controversy is that it is done inappropriately, yet the government insists that there is nothing wrong with how it is done. The Canadian government, our government, should rise from its slumber and start seeing things for what they are and take necessary actions to stop this brutality.
Another reason why the Canadian seal hunt is unacceptable and needs to be stopped is that it upsets the maritime ecosystem and contributes to environmental degradation (Grey Seal Conservation Society par. 2). Nature, as it is constituted, is designed to balance out itself without human assistance. The harp seal population in the Canadian Atlantic might have increased in recent years, but this is not an excuse to interfere with the natural processes of nature. Initially, it was claimed that the collapse of the cod population in Canadian waters was due to the uncontrolled breeding of seals. Research came to show that this claim was baseless. The collapse of the cod population was actually due to overexploitation. Therefore, the political class, to give the traditional fishers an occupation and a means of income, cleverly initiated the commercial seal hunt. Claims have been made that despite the massive killing of harp seals, their numbers keep growing. However, this does not justify the hunt by any means. If anything, it worsens the current state of affairs in the region because it may dawn on the Canadian government when it is too late that the seal population needs to be kept at a given level to maintain a stable aquatic ecosystem. In the environmental sense, over 300,000 seal carcasses are left to rot where they are killed or are dragged into the ocean and left to rot. The decomposition of the carcasses pollutes the ocean and the shoreline may have an impact that will be realized when it is too late. Ocean waters have a limited supply of oxygen especially at the bottom, yet hundreds of thousands of carcasses are left to decompose at the top. The effects of this irresponsible behaviour may not be obvious at the moment, but shall surely manifest. Consequently, this practice has to be stopped forthwith. Proactive action is in most cases quite rewarding.
This is a radically new scientific insight and one that has serious implications for the future of the fishing industry. This also provides a scientific rationale for ending the seal hunt (Grey Seal Conservation Society par. 7).
If our government is truly concerned with promoting the welfare of its people, findings such as the one above should be a warning that its adamancy on the seal hunt shall bring no good result in the end. Lacking a better alternative should not be an excuse for refusing to seek better livelihoods for us, because either way, our government will have to look for an alternative at some point in the future. I would therefore say that hiding behind the seal hunt is a means of hiding our government’s failure and a show of irresponsibility by the current and past leadership.
While these glaring truths are everywhere, our government and proponents of the Canadian seal hunt continue to argue in its favour. Livernois (42) and many others like him who feel that the seal hunt is too important economically to be discarded claim that for the seal hunt to be ended, it must be Pareto improving. In simpler terms, for the seal hunt to be ended, measures should be put in place to ensure that both the political class and the sealers benefit. This is an almost insurmountable achievement. As the situation is at the moment, there is no way the government can stop the seal hunt and maintain a cordial relationship with the sealers because they consider sealing as their means of livelihood. The economics surrounding the issue of sealing is therefore extremely complex. There are scores of people who live in or around the sealing regions and depend heavily on sealing. Consequently, the government can only stop it after providing an alternative economic engagement. Alternatively, they can choose to compensate sealers for the foregone earnings.
However, such an engagement would be extremely difficult especially due to the logistics that would be required to make it possible. All said and done, the main reason behind the sustained struggles surrounding the seal hunt is the economic aspect. The extent to which the Canadian government has gone to convince the EU to lift its ban on seal products from Canada shows that our government considers the seal hunt economically beneficial.
There are now no subsidies and sales of penises, meat and other by-products (other than the pelt) fetch negligible revenues (Livernois 45).
I believe that for inhabitants of the countryside, the amount was reasonable. It should be remembered that the estimate is for 1996. By this, I mean that had the EU not imposed a ban, the earnings would have grown to equal modern-day value for money. Now that figure, multiplied by the number of people that depend on sealing translates to some significant amount of money, especially considering that the sealer is at the bottom of the ladder and gets a very small percentage of what the sealing industry brings in (reportedly, sealing vessel captains take about half of the earnings; the others to share the remainder). Essentially, what the Canadian government is trying to fight for is a return to the days when there was no restriction on seal products so that the industry can earn at its full potential. Nonetheless, despite earning potential of the industry, the fact that mass seal massacring is inhumane and unsustainable remains unchanged. Even if it were the leading earner of foreign exchange, this fact would remain intact.
In conclusion, it is apparent that our government is unwilling to strike down the seal hunt policy just yet despite the disapproval of almost the whole world. Analysts find it interesting that our country spends ridiculously much more than the sealing industry earns at the moment to try and keep it alive. There is abundant literature showing that the industry is on its deathbed and should just be left to die to end the controversy surrounding the issue. Relentlessly, the country that we embody seems to be looking at the issue from a different perspective and sees some hidden potential. My question now is if you, an intelligent and informed individual, believes that this is a just reason to sit back and watch as the country you proudly represent murders innocent lives.
Daoust, Pierre-Yves, Mike Hammill, Garry Stenson and Charles Caraguel. “A review of animal welfare implications of the Canadian commercial seal hunt: A critique.” Marine Policy 43 (2014): 367-371.
Grey Seal Conservation Society. Advice to Ocean Ecosystem Managers: Trust the seals, fear the microbes…: Position statement against the Canadian harp seal hunt March 14, 2005. Web January 29 2015
Livernois, John. “The economics of ending Canada’s commercial harp seal hunt.” Marine Policy 34.1 (2010): 42-53.Order Now