Canadian government opens seal slaughter weeks early, pups likely still nursing

Humane Society International

  • Mothers will be targeted even if they’re still nursing. Michael Bernard/HSI Canada

MONTREAL—The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has confirmed it will open the commercial seal slaughter in Newfoundland two weeks early, on March 28th, even though there are mother seals that are likely still nursing their pups. Sealing areas are closed to hunting on March 15th by the Canadian government “to allow time for seal whelping and nursing.” Usually, the Newfoundland commercial seal hunt reopens in mid-April, after the pups have been weaned.

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, said, “This is outrageous. Harp seals give birth over several weeks and there are almost certainly mother seals still nursing their pups on the ice floes off of Newfoundland. Adult harp seals are apparently being targeted, male and female harps are indistinguishable from a distance, and nursing mothers often swim away from their pups. Thus, nursing mothers could be killed and their unweaned pups left to starve. The noise of multiple sealing vessels smashing through the ice, gunfire and wounded seals will further disrupt the nursery. The closure of the commercial seal hunt during the birthing and nursing period is one of the only protections for seals in this country. It is shameful to see the federal government discard even this minimal measure to appease commercial sealers.”

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Phocalux, one of the only remaining seal processors in Canada, has been the recipient of over a million dollars in government handouts in recent years. The company demanded last week that the hunt be opened early this year, so that sealers could slaughter thousands of adult seals.

Because fur is the most valuable seal product, and the skins of very young seals fetch the highest prices, more than 98 percent of the seals killed in the commercial seal hunt are pups less than three months old. In past years, adults have occasionally been targeted by commercial sealers when government subsidies have been provided for seal meat. Ken Jones, a senior fisheries management officer, testified about the seal meat subsidies in the House of Commons in 2006, stating that, “We were propping up markets that didn’t exist. Meat did end up being destroyed.”


  • With more than 2 million seals killed since 2002 alone, Canada’s commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on Earth.
  • Veterinary experts have concluded that all legal methods of hunting in Canada’s commercial seal hunt are inherently inhumane, and the slaughter should be ended as a result.
  • Climate change poses a threat to ice breeding seal populations, as their sea ice habitat diminishes each year, causing higher mortality rates in seal pups.
  • More than 36 nations have prohibited trade in products of commercial sealing for humane and conservation reasons, and prices for seal fur produced in Atlantic Canada have declined dramatically. As a result, only a few hundred sealers continue to participate in the annual slaughter off of Canada’s east coast.


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