February 24, 2011
Hay Island: Shattered Peace
The slaughter begins
by Rebecca Aldworth
What a horrible difference three days can make.
On Monday, the ProtectSeals team visited the baby grey seals on Hay Island, a nature reserve off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The scene was stunning: baby seals nursed from their mothers while older pups slept and played in the snow. It was an amazing experience, and one I won't soon forget. Watch a video of the seal nursery.
Unfortunately, we knew the fate of the baby seals was uncertain. Days earlier, the Canadian government had buckled to pressure from the fishing lobby, and opened the commercial seal hunt on Hay Island. Still, bad weather had kept the sealers at bay. This was giving the seal pups precious time to learn to swim—the means to escape the hunters. With a bad forecast through the end of the week, we thought there was a good chance the pups would all be gone before the sealers could do their worst.
We were wrong, and we are devastated. Today, the weather cleared, and at the break of dawn, the sealers set off for Hay Island. The ProtectSeals team followed closely, determined to expose the cruelty. Watch a video of the hunt.
Death at daybreak
As the sealers jumped off their boats onto the beach, the pups looked around, sensing danger.
This year, Fur Institute of Canada Director Pierre Daoust had arranged to use Hay Island as his laboratory. He initiated tests of a new baby seal killing weapon—a low-velocity rifle. But as the sealers shot seal after seal at close range, and still some needed to be shot again or clubbed, it was clear that his macabre test had failed.
In the background, sealers continued with their standard tool—clubs—and beat defenseless baby seals again and again in front of each other. One pup was struck on the side of his head. He flipped around, thrashing in pain, trying to escape the blows raining down on him. But to no avail—the sealers are far faster and stronger than the defenseless baby animals they work to harvest. One of the most disturbing sights was a baby seal huddled next to a dead pup, covered in blood. Too often, I see bewildered babies like this one attempting to seek comfort or safety from those who have already been brutalized beyond hope.
Victims and survivors
This year marks the thirteenth that I have observed commercial sealing in Canada, and it never gets any easier. On Hay Island, it is the hardest of all. Here, mother seals and their newborns are in close proximity to the slightly older pups who are the targets of this slaughter. Those who are slaughtered are killed in horrific ways, in clear sight of those who are too young for the sealers to legally take.
What is left of this former paradise is the blood, stretched in lines across the snowy landscape. The carcasses, lined up by sealers to be winched onto their boat, staring sightlessly towards the sky. And the few survivors, the red blood of their former friends staining their white fur. One of the most beautiful places on earth has once again become one of the ugliest.
But even as I write these discouraging words, I know that a change is coming.
In 2008, sealers killed more than 1,000 pups on Hay Island. Two years ago, 200. Today, half of that. Our campaign is working. Markets for seal products are closing around the world, and the prices for seal products remain very low. Our ProtectSeals boycott of Canadian seafood is hitting fishermen in their pocketbooks, making them reconsider their former unquestioned support of sealing. Here in Canada, we are making progress too—already, half of sealers in Newfoundland with an opinion support a federal sealing industry buyout. That program would compensate fishermen for lost income as the seal hunt ends, and invest funds in economic alternatives in the communities most involved.
Canada can—and will—move beyond commercial sealing. And when that day comes, HSI will be there, on Hay Island, to celebrate with the baby seals.