April 12, 2011
Seal Slaughter Fades with the Ice
Global warming, global disapproval erode the butchery
by Rebecca Aldworth
Thirteen years ago, I flew to the harp seal nursery for the first time.
I remember thinking then how vast the ocean was. It stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction, and we flew for miles before we finally saw the sea ice that formed a thin white strip on the horizon.
As we drew closer, I remember being amazed at the way the ice seemed to go on forever. How it formed an entirely new landscape on the ocean. You couldn’t see dry land from any direction—just the stunning hues of blue and gold and the seals lying across it. At the time, the ice felt solid enough to drive a truck over.
Now, as we fly over the same areas, it is devastating to see the change. Where once we landed our helicopters on solid sea ice, there are now just tiny ice pans—often too small to support the weight of a baby seal.
Killing the survivors
Climate change is causing the sea ice here to disappear at an alarming rate. The past decade has seen markedly below average sea ice formation off Canada’s east coast, and the situation is getting worse. What we are witnessing is part of a devastating trend—one that is seriously threatening the survival of seal populations.
The seals who are the target of Canada’s commercial seal slaughter are, like polar bears, ice-dependent animals. Mother seals need the sea ice to give birth to and nurse their pups on, and the pups need the ice to remain intact until they are strong enough to survive in open water.
As the ice vanishes, we see fewer and fewer baby seals. This year, a government scientist predicted half the seal pups born in Atlantic Canada would die. I believe he was being conservative. Where we should be seeing hundreds of thousands of pups, only a few dozen can be spotted.
But instead of taking action to protect this struggling population, the Canadian government just set the highest seal quota in history—allowing sealers to kill more than 468,000 seals. It was a pointless gesture, in that the sealers can’t find many live pups out here to kill anyway.
It is shameful. I wonder how the few fishermen participating in the seal slaughter this year can stomach what they are doing, for they are seeing firsthand the ice disaster and the desperate struggle of these baby seals to live. Yet one by one, they are killing off the survivors.
Today, the Protect Seals team has been held back from the killing grounds by high winds and fog. But tomorrow, the weather is expected to clear, and we will be back to expose the cruelty of Canada’s seal slaughter to the world.
Help seal pups survive. Join our campaign to end the slaughter.
Rebecca Aldworth is executive director of Humane Society International/Canada (HSI Canada).