Captain Paul Watson Responds to the Labradorian

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Ossie Michelin writing in the Weekly Labradorian newspaper put together a justification for the slaughter of seals in an editorial entitled The Balancing Act.

Captain Paul Watson responds to this editorial below: His comments in bold characters.

The Labradorian (Weekly)
P.O. Box 39
Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL A0P 1E0
Fax: 709-869-8781

The balancing act

(Nice title but the editorial does not say much about balancing)

Ossie Michelin
The Labradorian

To those who oppose the harvesting of seals, the trapping of wild animals, to those who live apart from nature's order in gilded urban cages of concrete, glass and steel, to those who insist on imposing foreign values on a land they know nothing about.

Here we have the arrogant attitude so often used by people who slaughter wildlife. They are a part of nature and we are not. They accuse us of being outsiders living in "gilded urban cages of concrete, glass and steel" and they accuse us of imposing foreign values on "a land they know nothing about."

In fact, the leaders of the movement to oppose the slaughter of seals have originated in Atlantic Canada. Brian Davies who founded the International Fund for Animal Welfare was from New Brunswick. I am also from New Brunswick, from a lobster fishing village in fact. Rebecca Aldworth who is leading the Humane Society of the United States campaign against the slaughter of seals is from Newfoundland.

The outsider argument simply does not wash, Ossie. I have navigated the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador extensively. I have also lived in Alaska, snow-shoed the Yukon in the winter, and led two expeditions to Antarctica. I live in a rural community amongst the trees near the ocean.

I have also made it my business to extensively study the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

My ship which sails on missions around the world is a vegan vessel. We don't eat meat including fish. You see, Ossie, it is possible to live in the wild and not eat meat. Hundreds of species do just that and people who do not eat meat and explore and live in the wilderness just don't fit into your little generalized and simplistic pigeon hole.

Have you forgotten your past? Have you forgotten what life is like where you have to rely on the resources around you for survival instead of buying and selling items in shopping malls and super markets?

No Ossie, I have not forgotten the past. I am well acquainted with the history of species extinction and fish diminishment on the Eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States. It is all very well documented in Farley Mowat's excellent book Sea of Slaughter.  You obviously have not read it. You would like us to think that you don't have supermarkets in Labrador or Newfoundland. You can buy oranges and bananas in the wintertime just like most everyone else in North America. I've been to the shopping malls in St. John's and Charlottetown. Hell, they even have escalators, Ossie. I guess those sealers from St. John's and Charlottetown just can't find the mall.

The difference between an urban environment and a rural environment is that in an urban environment humans adapt their surroundings to suit them, to the point where they believe they have nature beaten; it is a commodity. In a rural setting there is no question whether or not nature is in control.

It is an interesting but true fact that there are more kayakers, mountain climbers, hikers, mountain bikers, canoeists, and sailors living in urban communities than in rural communities. I remember coming out of the bush in the Yukon after snow-shoeing and chasing wolf hunters for a week in sub-zero temperatures (on a vegetarian diet, by the way) when some redneck chawing on tobacco stepped out of his heated four-wheel drive truck and accused me of being a pampered urbanite.

Wilderness areas are not protected by the people who live in them. The movement to protect the wilderness is led by the people who live in cities and appreciate the value of wilderness. My experience of most so-called "people living in the natural wilderness" is that they take what they can get and as much as they can get. Their real wildlife experience is in the bars and pool halls.

I do agree with you that Nature is ultimately in control. You don't break ecological laws and get away with it. The extensive ecological damage done to the maritime ecology along the Newfoundland and Labrador coast is staggering. Cod have been virtually wiped out by overfishing. The Labrador duck, the Newfoundland wolf, the auk, and the sea mink are extinct. Most wildlife species have been much diminished in numbers.  

Sometimes nature hands the urbanites a surprise in the way of a hurricane, an ice storm or an earthquake. Suddenly everyone is shocked and scared. How could this happen? I thought we were calling the shots?

Humans are shocked no matter where they live when struck by natural disasters. The people of New Orleans were shocked and scared by the hurricane, but no more than the non-urbanite peoples of Indonesia and India were by the Tsunami or the rural people of Peru, China, and Turkey by earthquakes. If the people of Labrador were hit with a similar disaster they would be just as shocked and scared. This is a very arrogant attitude you have here, as if you are better than people elsewhere because you live in Labrador.

For those of us who live in a rural resource based environment we understand that it is alright to draw from nature because we are a part of it. We don't pretend to control it. We know it dictates what we can and cannot do. We understand that we are not an essential part of nature; we need nature, it doesn't need us. That is why we must exploit it to our benefit. If we take too much we will ruin it and we, in turn, will be harmed. It is in our best interest to handle nature with care.

Everyone draws from nature, but there is a difference between drawing subsistence from nature and exterminating entire species and causing massive ecological disruption which is exactly what East Coast fisheries have done. Of course, you will ruin nature if you take too much. We all know that. The problem is that most people don't care, it's abstract. Read Sea of Heartbreak by Newfoundland writer Mickey Dwyer. That book clearly illustrates the callous disregard than many East Coast fishermen have for other species and the environment.

I've seen fishermen in the Maritimes throw damaged nets and gear into the sea. I've seen them catch tons of fish and discard them. I've also witnessed the terrible cruelty and waste of the seal slaughter. The savagery that I have witnessed on the ice by sealers cannot be justified.

People have always lived off of the resources of the land. Without the bounty of nature we would never have made it this far. Over the millennia humanity has become masters of using the resources available to help them survive. Sometime between the industrial revolution and the atomic age we went mad with power, forgetting that if we overuse things, we can kill them.

Very true, Ossie, we would not have made it this far, although I'm not convinced that we've made much progress at all. Our progress was built on laying waste to the environment and wiping out populations of animals and plants.  The question is just how much further can we go the way we have been doing it so far? We are now living in what Richard Leakey describes as the 6th major extinction and we are losing thousands of species to extinction and this process is accelerating. You seem to agree that humanity has gone mad with power and you seem to agree that we are over-using resources. So why do you think that slaughtering 325,000 seals a year, seals no one eats, is not excessive?

It is this mindset that has lead to factory farms where thousands of pigs, cows, and other animals are pumped full of chemicals and treated like meat machines. These animals are not being managed; they are being manufactured. This means of production is especially heinous to those that manage wildlife and treat the animals they kill with the respect every living thing deserves.

I agree with you on factory farms but I have seen very little respect for wild animals by people living in rural and wilderness areas. I hunted elephant poachers in East Africa in the late Seventies and the cruelty practiced by people "living off the land" was horrific. The sealers I have encountered have demonstrated absolutely no respect for the animals they kill. I've seen them kick seal pups in the face and skin them alive. This respect thing is just words that people who kill wild animals use to sugarcoat their brutality. 

Harvests, be it animals, vegetable or mineral, need to be managed so that we can draw resources without destroying them and the surrounding area. However it must be understood that because harvests need to be managed it doesn't mean that nature needs to be managed. It is here where the problem lies.

You harvest oranges not seals. You mine minerals and you kill animals. The use of the word harvest in connection with seals is yet another attempt to negate the sentience of these animals.  I think people need to be managed. We are out of control and the barbarous thugs that go to the ice each year are way out of control.

People that don't understand this begin to think of nature as a commodity that must be sanctioned, identified, divided and controlled. Humanity, and all that it entails, is on this side of the line - nature on the other. If humanity crosses that line, they are either cautious visitors or some sort of environmental poachers.

I agree with you on the above statement, so how do you justify the "poaching" of hundreds of thousands of seals each year?

The people that see the world this way often believe this because they have seen those mad with greed and power exploiting the earth on a daily basis. They think any form of harvest, any form of resource development will be detrimental. They soon believe that any kind of death or destruction to the natural world is harmful. Yet death is an essential part of nature.

The mass slaughter of 325,000 young seals is not natural. It is a wholesale slaughter of animals without regard to natural selection. Every seal seen is killed because they cannot escape. There is no avenue for faster, stronger, smarter seals to escape - they are killed on the ice because they are too young to escape. The sealers that I have seen on the ice are "mad with greed." It's money, money, money to them.

In the wild, things die all the time. A mother wolf kills a rabbit to feed her pups or a hunter does the same to feed his children; either way something dies so that others will live. Is it wrong to kill because we have the choice not to? Some choose to just like others choose not to.

I always find it amazing that mass slaughter of seals can be justified by saying a wolf kills a rabbit. I think it is wrong to kill if you have a choice not to. How many young seals of the 325,000 killed were eaten by humans? Less than 1%. How many seals were killed by non-Native hunters for subsistence reasons? The answer is zero.

Some people choose to take a life to further their own because of tradition, lifestyle or relationship with nature. It is not wrong; it is their decision and is no more wrong than choosing not to eat meat. In Labrador, we do not scorn others for not participating in the hunt, and likewise, those who don't hunt should not scorn others for their choices.

Give me a break - of course you scorn others for not participating in the slaughter. This very editorial is scornful of those who oppose the killing. I will always be scornful of the cruelty and the waste of the seal slaughter.  You are asking that we turn a blind eye to cruelty, that we ignore the slaughter simply because you say it is your choice. The Nazi's chose to slaughter Jews. Should we have respected their choice?

The mass slaughter of seals is an abomination, a crime against nature and it is wrong. If we are to survive as a species we must forsake traditions that include inflicting death and destruction both against human animals and other animals.

Groups such as Greenpeace and PETA need to realize that those harvesting wild game care about these animals; they are a part of their way of life, their home, and their history. The survival of these animals is directly linked to their own survival.

It helps to know your opposition. Greenpeace has not opposed the killing of seals for over two decades. The primary opponents of the seal slaughter are the Humane Society of the United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare,, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

As a someone raised in the Maritimes whose family goes back 12 generations, I reject a tradition that no longer has a place in the 21st Century. There were once over 40 million seals representing the harps, the hoods, the greys, the harbour, and the walrus. The walrus is now extinct on the East Coast and the others have had their "traditional" numbers much diminished.

We don't "need" to realize that these killers "care about these animals." That is just simply ridiculous. Of course, they don't care about animals. What sort of double think hocus pocus statement is this? This is right out of Orwell's Ministry of Love, the place where they torture people - why because the State loves them. 

Outstanding programs like Ducks Unlimited prove that animals can be hunted while managing their numbers. The seal population off the Grand Banks has nearly tripled since all the protesting began back in the 1970s; this proves that animals can be harvested without harming the population. There have been some examples where the animals harvested were not properly managed, such as the cod, but this does not mean that the harvesting of any animal is wrong. Examples like this emphasize why proper management is needed.

Ducks Unlimited, yes, the guys who save the ducks so that they can kill them. First, we destroy the majority of duck habitat and then we restore a small fraction of this habitat to allow enough ducks to survive so we can blow them out of the sky with shotguns.

I see that Ducks Unlimited did not save your Labrador duck. Labrador hunters exterminated them pretty darn fast.

What do you mean that the seal slaughter has proven that animals can be "harvested" without hurting the population? Harp seal populations are now only 10% of their original numbers. And this, by the way, has a lot to do with why the cod has declined. Seals and cod mutually benefited each other for tens of thousands of years until the sealers and fishermen arrived.

The Canadian government insisted that the cod were properly managed. They insisted right up until the crash. Now, these same morons are "managing" the seals.

The seal population has not tripled since the seventies, but it certainly has been drastically reduced since this slaughter began hundreds of years ago. Seal numbers are now only 10% of their numbers at the time Jacques Cartier sailed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

People are animals as well and we have the right to draw from our environment for survival, despite the ignorance of others; it is a beautiful and ancient way of life. In a time when the modern world is busy destroying the planet for everyone, perhaps it is time to take a lesson from the past, and live according to the balance nature intended.

People do not have the right to violate the laws of ecology. The law of diversity which states that the strength of an ecosystem is dependent upon the diversity of species within it. The law of interdependence that states that these species are interdependent and the law of finite resources that states there are limits to growth because there are limits to carrying capacity.

Human numbers are out of control and there is no longer enough fish in the sea to continue to feed these expanding populations. Our activities are restricting interdependence by diminishing diversity. We are out of control, a rogue species within ecosystems that can not repair the damages we cause faster than we can cause damage.

Why do you insist on claiming that people in Labrador are exempt from the accusations you make about the modern world destroying the planet? Do you not drive trucks, snowmobiles, and cars in Labrador? You have airplanes, helicopters, electrical generators, and hydro-electric dams with reservoirs. You heat your houses with oil and electricity. You build with concrete, steel, and glass. You publish newspapers and have television and radio stations. You import food from around the world. Just how is it that you are not part of the modern world?

I will tell you. Your only disconnection with the modern world is this antiquated participation in the mass slaughter of wildlife. You benefit from modern conveniences. Yes, you have wash machines, fridges, sewing machines, and slot machines in Labrador yet you seem to be able to justify the killing of wildlife for recreation as something you need to do because well, you're special.

Ossie, it's time for Labradorians to recognize that they do live in the modern world and that perhaps it's time to throw the clubs away, drag the knuckles from the ground, and learn what respect for nature is really all about.

You respect nature by not destroying it and you respect animals by not killing them.

Very simple really.