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April 10, 2011

A Young Seal Faces Tough Odds

Pre-hunt flyover shows melting ice and defenseless pups

Humane Society International/Canada


by Rebecca Aldworth

I am flying with the Protect Seals team over the harp seal nursery off Canada’s east coast.

It is sunny today, and baby seals, more than anything, love the sun. They lie, sleep, and play in the warmth, and the babies here are no exception.

One pup basks in the sun on an ice pan for a few minutes as we film. Thrilled with the sunny weather, he alternates between napping and stretching his flippers and waving at us. He is one of the funniest and most charismatic seal babies I’ve ever seen. We name him William in honour of Bill Maher, who supports our fight to protect seals.

But pulling our camera lens back, we see the broken ice and open water that surrounds him.

Daunting threats

We have searched for hours in this area and found only a few seal pups here. Baby seals need the sea ice to remain until they are strong enough to survive in open water, but climate change [PDF] is causing the sea ice to disappear at an alarming rate and the seals are suffering. According to a Canadian government scientist, half the seal pups born in Atlantic Canada will die in 2011 because of the lack of sea ice.

Help stop the slaughter

Looking back at William, we know that too soon, these fragile ice pans will be gone, and he will be forced into the water. Or worse, the sealing boats will find him.

As we fly back to land, we are solemn, struck by the overwhelming obstacles to this poor baby seal’s survival.

William's habitat is melting from under him, and the sealing boats are on their way. Half an hour before dawn tomorrow, the nightmare that will cover these remaining ice floes with crimson blood will begin.

We wonder with quiet desperation if William can survive.

Give seal pups like William a fighting chance. Take action to help.

Rebecca Aldworth is executive director of Humane Society International/Canada (HSI Canada).

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