Response to Kelly Toughill of the Toronto Star

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The Toronto Star has decided to take a pro-sealing stand. In doing so, they appear to have closed the door to those of us who oppose the hunt from defending ourselves. The Star has not published my rebuttal to a recent editorial that contained misinformation about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Therefore, we can only defend ourselves from their mis-information on our website.

On March 26, the Star published a diatribe by a person named Kelly Toughill. Her editorial is published below with commentary by me on her distortions and bias.   


Mar. 26, 2005. 01:00 AM

The big lie about the harp seal hunt
A challenge to the leading activist's views on the hunt


Paul Watson is an idiot.

Paul Watson: This is obviously a well thought out and intelligently presented opening statement. A personal opinion presented as a fact - the integrity of the Toronto Star is open to question here but on to more important things.

Need proof? The famous anti-sealing activist recently compared a hunt for 320,000 harp seals to the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews.

"I would not have compromised with the Nazi over the fate of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and I do not believe in compromising with the thugs who kill these seals," Watson wrote a student at Newfoundland's Memorial University.

The analogy is more offensive to Jews than sealers, but either way it stinks. It also reveals a lot about Watson, a man who sheds the truth like an old pair of shoes when it no longer fits his needs.

Paul Watson: I think this is a good analogy. It is not a question of comparing Jews to seals. It is all about compromising with evil. I, in fact, honour the defenders of the Warsaw Ghetto. They were brave men and women who stood up to tyranny with courage against hopeless odds. In that movement against the Nazi's, those who compromised led their people to defeat and death. The statement was about not giving in to compromise and was not a criticism of the Jewish struggle. If I offended the sealers with the analogy, then that was my point. If I offended anyone of the Jewish faith, then I apologize for the unintended slight.

Here are the lies at the root of Watson's anti-sealing campaign:

 Sealers kill newborn seals. Watson has a picture of a "white coat" baby seal on his website, though he must know that the white coat hunt was banned decades ago.

Paul Watson: Sealers do indeed kill baby seals. 90% of the seals slaughtered are between the ages of three weeks and twelve weeks. They are in fact seal pups. I fail to see the difference between a baby seal of two weeks and a baby seal of three weeks. If the government decides to define an adult seal as any animal over three weeks of age, I have no intention of adopting their definition. The fact is that sealers kill newborn seals.

 Sealers kill young seals in front of their mothers. In fact, the mother seals are long gone from the whelping ice by the time the hunt begins.

Paul Watson: This is not true. I have seen the pups killed with the mothers present. There is plenty of documentation available over recent years that backs-up this statement.

 Seals suffer horribly because they are killed in cruel ways. Not true. Most seals are shot through the head and die instantly. Many animals raised for meat suffer more. Think about crying calves kept perpetually tied up to make tender veal, geese force-fed to fatten their livers, cattle penned in horrid feedlots.

Paul Watson: Obviously, Kelly Toughill has never been to a seal slaughter and is merely parroting the propaganda of the Canadian government. The seals are killed with clubs and rifles, and most shots are horribly inaccurate. Toughill describes the sealers as if they were all expert marksmen, which they are not. I do agree with her that animals raised for meat also suffer and that is why our ship is a vegetarian vessel. She presents here accusations in a way that suggests that I support force-feeding geese and raising veal calves. The hunt is horrifically cruel. I have witnessed the killing for over three decades. Veterinarians have written extensive reports on the cruelty. The slaughter is condemned by humane organizations around the world. Toughill is merely a propagandist with an agenda to discredit the anti-sealing movement.

 The seal hunt is the "largest slaughter of a mammalian species." Not even remotely close to true. In Canada alone, more than 3.2 million cows were slaughtered in the year 2000. That's just one country, one species, and a death toll 10 times greater than the seal hunt.

Paul Watson: Of course I never said this. What I did say was that it is the largest slaughter of a marine mammal species in the world. And in fact, it is the largest mass slaughter of a marine mammal species in the world. Toughill's spin is to remove the word marine from my statement in an attempt to discredit me.

 The hunt is subsidized by Canada. Not true. Sealers can't even use their time at sea to qualify for unemployment insurance. The Coast Guard does patrol the ice where the hunt takes place (partly to make sure kooks like Paul Watson behave), but if that patrol is a subsidy, then so are RCMP patrols on major highways. Unlike agriculture and other industries, sealers get no direct subsidies.

Paul Watson: The subsidy takes the form of millions of dollars being spent on market research to motivate markets for seal skin products. Canada has spent millions seeking markets in Eastern Europe, Japan, and China. One of the markets developed is that of seal oil, which is heavily polluted with heavy metals and PCB's to China. The sealers were also directly subsidized for years by the Canadian government with large sums granted directly to groups like the Canadian Sealing Association. The Coast Guard breaks ice for sealing ships to gain access to the seals and that is a costly exercise. The Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans also perform reconnaissance flights to locate seal positions and relay them to the sealers. It is interesting that Toughill states that the "sealers get no direct subsidies." What they get are indirect subsidies.

  The hunt is a "threat to the survival of the species." The harp seal population has exploded in the last 20 years, even as the hunt has grown. For those who don't have a few months to independently evaluate the conflicting studies on this issue, consider this: It is the specific mandate of the World Wildlife Fund to protect endangered species, and it has endorsed the hunt.

Paul Watson: I firmly believe that the seal hunt is a threat to a species already threatened by global warming, diminishment of food resources, and heavy metal poisoning. It is also a threat to the recovery of the cod because diminishment of seal populations allows for an increase in predatory fish populations that directly prey upon cod. The largest predator of cod are other fish, the same species kept in check by seals. When there were tens of millions of seals there was no shortage of cod - go figure.

As for the World Wildlife Fund, they can't even protect their own symbol (the panda), because they are so busy taking in donations from corporations that have effectively compromised their objectivity and their effectiveness.

  The seal hunt is economically wasteful. This is the lie that hurts the most. The communities that depend on the seal hunt for survival are among the poorest in Canada, tiny outports devastated by the collapse of the cod fishery. In some areas, the money brought in by sealing literally keeps the town alive.

Paul Watson: The communities that exploit the seals are the most economically-subsided regions in Canada. Toughill presents the Newfoundlanders as some sort of primitive impoverished people when in fact the standard of living in Newfoundland is both comfortable and superior to most places in the world. Would Toughill support the cultivation of cocaine by impoverished Colombian peasants or the lucrative ivory poaching trade by Somali tribal people?

The cod fishery was destroyed by greed on the part of the fishermen and incompetence and mismanagement by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The seals are being used as a scapegoat.

I defy Toughill to produce evidence of just one community where sealing revenues "literally keeps the town alive." This is rhetoric without substantiation. There is no truth in it at all.

Watson recently published a memoir, Seal War! The title is wrong. The battle on the ice is not a seal war. It is a modern-day class war that pits city folk against country folk. Pampered urban warriors are attacking rural subsistence dwellers who have neither the political clout, money nor media savvy to fight back. The victims in this war are not just the seals, but Atlantic Canadians who face one stark option in life: abandon home or figure out a way to pull a livelihood from the sea.

Paul Watson:  I was raised in a Maritime lobster fishing village. I was one of the kids who was considered poor because I took lobster sandwiches to school. I am the eldest of seven children from a very poor Acadian family. Toughill obviously did not read my book and thus ignorantly dismisses me as wealthy urbanite. I don't live in the city today. I live in a rural farming and fishing community.

As for pulling a livelihood from the sea, my hometown is no longer a lobster fishery. The reason why is that the lobster, like everything else, was over-exploited by human greed. There are too many humans and less of everything else. The poverty in the Maritimes is the fault of the Maritimers - not people who live in Toronto or New York.

It is another example of people refusing to take responsibility for their failure to live within the bounds of ecological laws and common sense.

The seal hunt is gory, brutal, and dangerous. Humans mistreat seals ¬and almost every other creature on Earth. Campaigning against the seal hunt allows urbanites to feel the satisfying thrill of righteousness and moral outrage, while risking nothing of their own. Meanwhile, most of them ignore the fact that billions of cows, ducks, chickens, lambs, and geese suffer and die each year for the pleasure of their friends and neighbours.

Paul Watson: Toughill and I agree on the first two sentences. The difference is that I do not accept the cruelty and mistreatment and the ecological diminishment of species and eco-systems on this planet. The statement that we risk nothing is ludicrous. Over the years, I have been beaten, jailed, dragged through icy waters, my life threatened, my ships damaged, and my reputation attacked. So, having risked my life, my health, and my freedom, I can only surmise that it is Toughill who could be considered the idiot for swallowing the government propaganda garbage and maintaining a bias based on disinformation and lack of research.


Paul Watson: Yes, the seal hunt is idiocy. And just what is an idiot? -
someone with whom you disagree? It is a meaningless label.

But as the great Stan Rogers once wrote with reference to justifying why decisions are sometimes made, I guess it's because, "I'm an idiot, I suppose."

I would prefer to be a compassionate and ecologically-correct idiot than a supporter of horrific cruelty and ecological insanity.