The Orwellian World of the Canadian Seal Hunt

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the government of Newfoundland, and some Canadian media will never understand the real motives of those of us who oppose the annual slaughter of harp seals. We have explained our position over and over again on our website and in media interviews yet they continue to attempt to demonize us with absurd accusations and confusing misinformation.

It is amusing that those who condone the horrific slaughter of baby seals think they can demonize volunteers who protect seals and at the same time they attempt to sympathetically portray seal-bashing thugs as saints. George Orwell would have understood this instantly. The logic seems to be twisted into the idea that the sealers who kill seals really love the seals and those who protect the seals really mean to harm the seals. Why else would there be a set of regulations called the Seal Protection rules that make it illegal to witness, photograph, or film a seal being killed.

This last week I did interviews with some Canadian media that thought they had the "goods" on us seal savers. One reporter wanted to know why we had white-coated baby seals on our website and suggested that this was misinformation because the government no longer allows baby seals to be killed and this is misleading. I replied that a baby seal is a baby seal and the seals being killed were less than a month old and still remain as cute as ever. The reason we have been using pictures of whitecoats is that these were the last pictures we were legally able to get. So what we have here is a government that makes it illegal to photograph three- and four-week old seals being killed and then accuses us of inaccuracy because we post pictures of seals under two weeks old. We will soon be able to start posting new pictures, the ones we have taken in the last few weeks and eleven of my crew were arrested for taking these pictures.

The next accusation is that we are only defending seal pups because they are cute. What they are saying here is that we should not be protecting animals that are cute, the logic of which defies me. We, at Sea Shepherd, protect lots of species that are not cute like sharks, sea-cucumbers, and plankton, and we have noted it is difficult to get media coverage of our defense of these species. The reality is that it is the media that covers the seal campaigns because the seals are cute. We, at Sea Shepherd, do not discriminate on the basis of the attractiveness of a species.

Another favourite accusation is that we are all outsiders, in fact foreigners coming to Eastern Canada to force our views on local communities. But the fact is, that I am from New Brunswick. Brian Davies, the founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare was from New Brunswick. Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States is a native of Newfoundland. This is, of course, an international movement and people around the world are disgusted at Canada's cruelty, but the leaders have always been Canadian and from the Maritimes.

Another favourite media thrust is to ask how we can justify eating meat and fish and condemn the killing of seals. This accusation makes the assumption that we do in fact eat meat and fish, and then concludes that we are hypocrites. The truth is, of course, that my ship the Farley Mowat is run with a vegan menu. I am a vegetarian, and well, on my ship, all crewmembers are vegetarian.

CBC in Newfoundland recently dug up a tape of an interview that I did with Barbara Frum of CBC way back in 1978. In the interview I did criticize the Greenpeace Foundation for exploiting the seals to make money and I did say that it was relatively easy to raise money defending seals compared to many other species. That was 27 years ago, but Maureen Anderson of CBC Newfoundland used this to say that I was being hypocritical and that I was admitting to exploiting seals for money. I pointed out that the difference is that we raise funds to protect seals and every penny we raise on seals is spent on seals. Greenpeace has, and is, raising money on seals and they have not come within five hundred miles of the ice floes for over two decades. And the fact is, that people do donate to save cute seals and smiling dolphins but what is wrong with that? People can donate their money however and to whatever organization they please and for whatever reason they choose. I wish it was easier to raise funds for sharks and sea-cucumbers but we work with what we have.

This accusation is usually followed by the charge that all of us who are working to protect seals are making large salaries. I wish this were so, but alas, the sealing captains make more money than I do. My crew are volunteers who pay their own transportation costs and expenses to join the ship. Many people, of course, do not comprehend how people can do things like this without being paid and thus they conclude that there must be some sinister financial motivation behind what we do. In other words, they project their own values onto our actions.

So, why do we risk the dangers, suffer arrests and trials, work for little or nothing, and come back year after year to defend the seals? The reason is simple. We are passionate about our compassion for these animals. I have spent my entire life protecting animals, primarily marine species, although I have hunted down elephant poachers in Africa and defended wolves in the Yukon. This work has given me great satisfaction and I very much enjoy the selfish pleasure of saving lives and protecting habitat. There, I admit it. I do it for selfish reasons. Now I'm sure someone in the media will make a federal case of this confession.