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February 26, 2010

HSI Celebrates Hope on Hay Island

Thousands of grey seals likely spared in Nova Scotia as sealers stay home

Humane Society International/Canada

SYDNEY, Nova Scotia — Sealers in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, have confirmed to Canadian media that a grey seal hunt on Hay Island is highly unlikely to occur in 2010. The slaughter officially opened on Feb. 8, but complications in selling the seal products have resulted in the hunt likely being cancelled. While details are unclear, the Nova Scotia government has confirmed it was working with sealers to develop markets for seal products, and it appears the government may have been prepared to provide some financing for the deal.

"Just days ago, we visited Hay Island and its amazing seals, and we were heartbroken to think that sealers could arrive any time to beat the defenseless pups to death with wooden bats," said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada. "It is wonderful to know that there is a strong chance these charismatic, beautiful pups will be spared from this horrific slaughter. It is appalling to learn that the Nova Scotia government was investing time and public money in its misguided attempt to exterminate grey seals."

Hay Island is a provincial nature reserve located off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. With abundant wildlife including seabirds and grey seals, it is one of the most beautiful ecotourism destinations in the world. Yet the Nova Scotia government has actively worked to encourage commercial sealing on the tiny island, amending the Nova Scotia Wilderness Areas Protection Act last year to allow the slaughter, and working to find buyers for the seal products. In doing so, they have put Cape Breton's tourism industry (which is heavily based on ecotourism including whale and seal watching) at risk, and tarnished the international image of Nova Scotia.

Global markets for seal products are closing, with the European Union last year joining the United States, Mexico and Croatia in banning trade in seal products. A boycott of Canadian seafood launched in opposition to the commercial seal hunt now has the support of more than 5,500 establishments and 650,000 people – with every day the commercial seal hunt continues, the boycott continues to expand.

HSI will monitor the grey seal situation closely and will be on hand to document if conditions change and the slaughter does proceed.


  • There are three separate populations of grey seals in the world. Canada holds most of the Western Atlantic population, which is distributed along the shores of eastern Canada.
  • Grey seals have a maximum life expectancy of more than 40 years. They are social animals and gather together for breeding, moulting and hauling out.
  • Grey seals breed on sea ice or, if no ice is available, beaches of small islands. In recent years, decreasing ice cover in the northwest Atlantic has forced more grey seals to give birth on land.
  • Grey seal pups nurse for the first two weeks of their lives, during which time they are covered with white fur. They begin to shed their white coats at two to three weeks of age.
  • Once the pups are weaned, mother grey seals leave the pups to fend for themselves. The pups live off fat reserves for several weeks after weaning, and eventually go out to sea to begin feeding. They are known to wander widely, with distances of over 1,000 km not uncommon.
  • Commercial hunting is one of the greatest threats to grey seals. By 1949, the grey seal was considered extirpated off Canada's east coast as a direct result of commercial hunting.
  • In recent years, the grey seal population has slowly recovered. According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada's grey seal population measured about 250,000 animals in 2004.
  • Today, commercial fishermen hunt grey seal pups for their fur, which is sold in foreign fashion markets.
  • The 2010 quota for grey seals is 50,000, including 2,220 for eastern Nova Scotia (which includes the Hay Island nature reserve), and 39,803 on Sable Island (a federal nature reserve). While the federal government has not yet approved a slaughter on Sable Island, they are accepting proposals from sealers now.


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Humane Society International/Canada is a leading force for animal protection, representing tens of thousands of members and constituents across the country. HSI Canada has active programs in companion animals, wildlife and habitat protection, marine mammal preservation and farm animal welfare. HSI Canada is proud to be a part of Humane Society International — one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world, with more than eleven million members and constituents globally — on the web at hsicanada.ca.

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