AR-News: Article and poll Humane? Canada seal hunt centers on
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Mon Apr 26 18:56:23 EDT 2004
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Humane? Canada seal hunt centers on question
Video of hunters used in battle between government, activists
By Miguel Llanos
Updated: 1:57 p.m. ET April 23, 2004Ever since Canada enacted reforms to
make seal hunting more humane, the annual seal hunt this year's quota is
350,000 pups hasn't gotten much attention. But is the reality living up to
Activists monitoring the hunt say it's not, and use video of hunters to make
their point. Canada says it is, citing a report by animal vets to back its
position and noting that officials are ready and able to crack down on any
Most hunting is for young pups, whose pelts fetch more on international
markets than seals more than a few months old. Canada's biggest reform was a
ban on hunting pups before they shed their white fur, usually about 12 days.
Images of those cuddly pups became icons of the 1970s protests against the
hunt, which takes place on ice floes across eastern Canada.
The debate today comes down to this: Do the young seals die a quick, humane
death before hunters skin them?
Roger Simon, who oversees the hunt for Canada's Department of Fisheries and
Oceans, says activist video purportedly showing seals being skinned alive is
actually showing unconscious or dead seals going through a "swimming reflex"
involuntary movements that mimic swimming. It's akin, he says, to seeing
the final seconds of a chicken running with its head cut off.
"It's impossible to skin a live seal, or a conscious one," he says. "Can you
imagine trying to skin a live animal ... it would scream and claw."
Besides, he adds, why would you "when you can kill it in one second."
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, which has monitored the hunts for
years, counters that hunters often are in such a hurry that they club or
shoot as many as possible before going back to check their condition and
"Mr. Simon cannot dismiss every instance simply with reference to a swimming
reflex," says IFAW science advisor David Lavigne, a former zoology professor
at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
Video turned over to Canada shows scenes like "pups being skinned alive and
reacting by doing things like lifting up their heads and crying in pain or
trying to grab the knife with their front paws," Lavigne says. "These
behaviors are not a swimming reflex, these are wounded animals. This year we
filmed one seal, left wounded in a pile of dead seals, crying out for nearly
an hour while sealers stood nearby."
Simon doesn't doubt that incident but adds "you cannot describe the whole
industry based on one observation. The fact that some people commit
violations is the reason we have fishery officers, helicopters, and
surveillance vessels out there to enforce the regulations.
"If you see a video where a pitcher is trying to bean a hitter would you
conclude that this is a fair portrayal of Major League Baseball," he asks.
Canada's 12,000 seal hunters should "be judged on the vast majority of
sealers doing their job properly, not on some selected clips from a video."
Canada has issued 322 violations over the previous five years, most of them
for small infractions.
The activists say that in that time they've documented on video what they
feel are 660 serious violations of Canada's marine mammal rules.
IFAW adds that, while it would prefer to see all hunting stop, it would be
satisfied with what it considers compliance with the law. "A subsidized hunt
for baby animals is like paying people to kill kittens with a claw hammer,"
says IFAW spokesman Chris Cutter, "we are simply asking Canada to abide by
and enforce its own rules. ... "A quick death is much preferred if that's
Skinning live seals would violate Canada's marine mammal rules as well as
its criminal code, which makes it a crime to willfully cause "unnecessary
pain, suffering or injury to an animal or bird."
Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to
embrace all living creatures. Albert Einstein
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