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January 8, 2013

Fast Facts on Canada's Commercial Seal Slaughter

Humane Society International/Canada

  • Katie Carrus/The HSUS

About the slaughter

  • With more than one million seals killed in the last five years alone, Canada's commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on Earth.
  • It's a hunt for baby seals. Fully 97 percent of the seals killed in the past five years have been less than three months old, and most have been one month old or less.
  • The seals are killed for their fur, most of which is exported for use in international fashion markets. The seal carcasses are normally left on the ice to rot.

Inherent cruelty

  • Veterinary experts say Canada's commercial seal hunt is inherently inhumane because sealers are unable to consitently and effectively employ humane slaughter techniques in the environment in which the slaughter occurs.
  • In 2001, an independent veterinary panel studied the commercial seal hunt and concluded in 42 percent of seals examined, there was not enough evidence of cranial injury to even guarantee unconsciousness at the time of skinning.
  • A 2007 study by an international panel of veterinary and zoology experts found a widespread disregard for regulations by Canadian sealers, a failure to monitor the seal hunt by Canadian authorities, high wounding rates in seals that were shot or clubbed, wounded seals left to suffer for protracted periods of time, and sealers failing to ensure animals were dead in 66 percent of cases. The report concluded that both methods of killing seals in Canada--clubbing and shooting--should be prohibited.

An unsustainable kill

  • The last time Canadian seal kill levels were as high--a half century ago--the harp seal population was quickly reduced by as much as two thirds.
  • Harp seals rely on sea ice to give birth to and nurse their pups, and global warming is fast diminishing ice cover in the Northwest Atlantic. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of seal pups have died when the sea ice melted before they were old enough to survive in open water.
  • Independed scientists warn Canada's commercial seal hunt manamgement plan poses a threat to the survival of seal populations, particularly in light of the impacts of global warming.

A needless slaughter

  • The Canadian government estimates between 5000 and 6000 Canadians derive some income from hunting seals. However, sealers are commercial fishermen and they earn, on average, less than 5 percent of their annual incomes from sealing--the remainder comes from fisheries.
  • In Newfoundland, where the vast majority of sealers live, income from the seal hunt accounts for less than one percent of the province's economy.
  • Animal protection groups, economists and a number of sealers support a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry, a program in which sealers would be compensated for their licenses and alternative economic opportunities developed in their communities.
  • Humane Society International takes no issue with subsistence seal hunting undertaken by aboriginal people. Our concern is exclusively with commercial seal hunting.

Public opposition

  • Nearly 70 percent of Canadians holding an opinion are opposed to the commercial seal hunt, and even higher numbers oppose specific aspects of it, such as killing seal pups (Environics Research, 2005).
  • Two thirds of Canadians holding an opinion support foreign nations banning seal products trade, and 67 percent oppose their government speanding public money to lobby foreign governments on behalf of the sealing industry (Pollara 2007).
  • Fully 79 percent of American voters oppose Canada's seal hunt. Close to 80 percent of people in the UK, the Netherlands and France who are aware of the Canadian seal hunt oppose it (Penn, Schoen & Berland, 2002; MORI 2002).

Government response

  • In 2013, Taiwan passed a landmark ban on trade in marine mammal products, including seal skins, with an exemption for products of traditional indigenous hunts.
  • In 2009, the European Union banned its trade in products of commercial seal hunts, effectively removing a primary market for Canadian seal products.
  • In 2009, the Russian government prohibited Russia's commercial seal slaughter.
  • In 2009, the US Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling on Canada to end its commercial seal slaughter and on the EU to pass a total ban on trade in seal products. In 2007, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Canadian seal hunt and urging the Canadian government to end it. 
  • In recent years, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama and Slovenia have either ended their trade in seal products, or announced their intentions to do so. The US banned its trade in seal products in 1972.
  • In 2006, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling upon its 46 member states to "promote initiatives aimed at prohibiting trade in seal products."
  • South Africa has prohibited commercial seal hunting for more than a decade.
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