The End of the Canadian Baby Seal Slaughter is in Sight

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

When I was a little boy growing up in an East coast Canadian fishing village I had a dream.

That dream was to end the horrific slaughter of baby harp and hood seals in Canada. Seeing seals killed as a boy haunted my dreams and shaped my life as an activist.

I was not some big city raised privileged child protesting the seal hunt because it was the politically correct thing to do.  Where I lived it was the politically incorrect thing to do. As for privileged, an accusation that many sealers have spat at me, well, I was the eldest of seven children raised primarily by a single mother and I brought fish, clams and lobsters home that I caught myself to help feed the family starting at the age of eight.

I also spent time freeing fur bearing animals from leghold traps and then destroying the traps and snares. I sabotaged deer and bear hunts and defended wildlife, a stand that placed me in numerous fights with other kids and disapproval from the fishermen and the hunters. Fortunately for me I was not a frail child and I won most of the fights and discouraged ridicule. I remember one kid asking me what right did I have to stop him from killing birds. My answer was simply, "I'm bigger than you."

In a community of kids armed with B.B. guns, I used mine to persuade other kids to not shoot birds and snakes. I quit cub scouts after seeing a scout master stomp a snake to death and then dissect a struggling frog.

And the moving force behind my young activism was the image that I see as clearly today as I did in 1960 - the sight and sound of a spiked club cracking in the skull of an innocent snowy white seal pup on a New Brunswick beach. I still see his pleading desperate eyes and I can recall the dull thud of the club as the blood gushed out over the ice.

Since 1975, I have led continuous campaigns against the obscenity of the Canadian seal slaughter. I brought the first ever ship to the ice to protect seals in 1979, returning in 1981, and 1983. We shut the commercial part of the horror down in 1984 but returned again in 1994, bringing the ships back in 1998 and 2005. We will return again with our ship Farley Mowat again this year in March.

I have never given up on these seals vowing that the slaughter would end in my lifetime. And now at long last, after a lifetime of confrontations, battles on the ice, blockades, ship rammings, riots, beatings, imprisonment, fines, assaults, death threats and the danger of shifting ice and hostile weather in remote stretches of ocean I can see the light at the end of this long struggle.

We are winning and we will win! The seals will win and I believe that we can at long last put an end to one of the most perversely evil chapters in Canadian history.

I believe we can abolish the seal slaughter once and for all!

This movement that so many of us have built over the last four decades is about to bring an economic club down on the thick headed skull of the sealing industry. We now have the potential to wipe out the Canadian sealing industry and we need to give it a final push.

The Canadian government and the sealing industry are admitting that they are facing a crisis because of escalating import bans. Europe is on the verge of a blanket ban on all seal products including Canadian harp and hood seals and South African fur seals.

On January 8th, Bruce Williams, the Chairman of the Canadian Fur Institute informed a gathering of over 100 sealers that the future of the seal hunt is looking bleak.

"Unfortunately, the animal rights organizations around the world have come to realize that the easiest way to kill something - for maybe lack of a better term - is to kill the market," Williams said. "If you can't sell the product, if it has no commercial value, then I would say that it is doomed."

Belgium and Holland have approved legislation prohibiting the sale of seal products. Germany, Italy and Austria are drafting similar legislation, prompting pressure for the European Union to adopt a ban.

While those countries aren't Canada's biggest importers of seal products, they serve as a critical shipment and manufacturing point to the larger markets of Norway, Russia and China.

Williams said there's an additional effect an EU-wide ban could have on the sealing industry.

"One thing I can tell you is that if fur is not fashionable on the runways of Paris and Milan, it's not going to be fashionable anywhere," he said. "The simple reality today is the big markets are China and Russia, but they want things that are in style, and style is not dictated by those countries. It's dictated by the countries in Europe."

Loyola Sullivan, Canada's fisheries ambassador, acknowledged Tuesday that efforts to overcome the anti-sealing lobby in Europe would be tough.

"It's difficult because it's advanced so far," Sullivan said. "It's got a tremendous foothold in Europe, and most people close to the situation feel that a ban by other countries is imminent, that it's gone too far. It would be unpopular now for a member of parliament in a European country to support the hunt."

In September, Canada launched a challenge to the World Trade Organization in an effort to persuade the Belgian and Dutch governments to reverse their bans. Ottawa's complaint remains before the WTO and is not expected to obstruct the Dutch or the Belgians.

Mark Small, a former president of the Canadian Sealing Association has finally admitted that Canadian sealers have been sloppy and have not lived up to the propaganda of the seal hunt as being humane.

"I'm definitely sure that, as a sealer myself, we can do a better job than we've been doing in the past," Small said. "We've got to make some compromises if we're going to protect our future industry in this province."

It's difficult to understand How Mr. Small intends to improve on methods that for years he has argued are 100% humane.

Now that the writing is on the wall the sealers are making promises to improve their killing methods but the truth is that there is no humane way to slaughter seals. And opposition to the seal hunt is more than just opposition to killing methods. I have always opposed the killing itself. Canadian east coast seal populations have been diminished from some forty million seals of all species to less than four million. The seal populations have been reduced by 90% and now the harp and hood seals are being faced with threats of ice melt and increased pup mortality because of global warming.

The seal slaughter has no place in a civilized society and no place in the 21st Century. It is a hold-over from the days of mass wildlife plunder and the decimation of seal populations has grossly altered the entire marine eco-system of the Northwest Atlantic region. The diminishment of the cod to less than 4% of it's original levels at the time of the European invasion is partially because of the removal of so many predators (seals) that kept the predatory fish species of the cod in check.

If the European wide ban holds it will end sealing and all of us in this movement must do everything we can to encourage the European Parliament to continue with their legislative efforts to ban all seal products.

Towards this end, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is intending to send our ship the Farley Mowat to the seal slaughter for hopefully the last time. The Farley Mowat will depart from Bermuda in March for the Eastern coast of Canada.