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May 26, 2011

More Than 98 Percent of Seals Killed at Less Than Three Months of Age

Humane Society International/Canada

  • A beater seal. HSI

Harp seals, the primary target of the Canada’s commercial seal hunt, give birth to their pups on ice floes located off Canada’s east coast over a period of three weeks (Stenson et al 1993). Pupping in the Gulf of St. Lawrence begins at the end of February, and commences five days later in the Front (Lavigne 1988). In recent years, diminished sea ice cover on Canada’s east coast, an impact of climate change, has likely caused delays in harp seal pupping.

As illustrated in the following table [1], in the past five years, more than 98 percent of the seals killed in Canada’s commercial seal hunt were pups slaughtered before the end of May—and they were therefore less than three months of age when killed.

View Newfoundlanders’ views on the Canadian seal hunt: Ipsos Reid Research Poll [PDF]

Year Total ragged jackets [2] reported killed by end of May Total beaters [3] reported killed by end of May Total seal pups killed by end of May Total kill reported at the closing date of the commercial seal hunt [4] Percentage of pups less than three months old when killed
 2011  1696  36,089  37,785  37,917  99.65%
 2010  641  65,412  66,053  67,303  98.14%
 2009  0  69,751  69,751  70,643  98.73%
 2008  0  202,879  202,879  204,642  99.14%
 2007  0  208,525  208,525  213,328  97.75%


1. All figures sourced from official Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans seal kill reports. Reports available upon request.

2. Ragged jackets are harp seal pups between about 12 and 19 days of age, who are shedding their white fur.

3. Beaters are harp seal pups over about 19 days of age, who have fully moulted their white coats. While these pups remain beaters until they are just over a year of age, they leave Canada’s east coast when they are just a few months old in their annual migration to Greenland. Thus, only young beaters are killed in Canada’s commercial seal hunt.

4. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans reports are produced from sealing vessel hailouts and by reconciling this data with reports from processing plants. Months after the sealing season ends, a final kill report may be produced, with slightly revised numbers, to account for discrepancies between the hailout reports and the processor information. However, the processor information does not capture the date of slaughter. Therefore, the most reliable way to determine age at slaughter is by using the reports based on sealers’ hailouts during the seal hunt, as detailed above.


Stenson, G/B., R.A Myers, M.O. Hammill, I-H. Ni, W.G. Warren, and M.C.S. Kingsley. 1993. Pup production of harp seals, Phoca groenlandica, in the northwest Atlantic. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 50: 2429-2439

Lavigne, D. M. and K. M. Kovacs. 1988. Harps and Hoods Ice Breeding Seals of the Northwest Atlantic. University of Waterloo Press, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 174 pp.

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