Canadian Commercial Seal “Hunt”: Learn What It Is & Why It Needs To Be Stopped
The Canadian commercial seal hunt is a contentious subject, with vehement arguments made by both supporters and the opposition, but when a detailed examination is made, it is unequivocally an unethical practice. A careful examination needs to be made of both sides of the argument in order to conclude the ethics involved in this highly charged debate.
The modern Canadian commercial seal hunt primarily takes place off of the shores of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but seals were hunted in Canada well before the modern commercial seal hunt began. It is important to discuss the history of the different seal hunts because they each encompass various sets of ethical issues. Inuits have used harp seals for various necessities for at least four thousand years. Inuits use seal pelts for warmth, the oil derived from seal blubber is used for lamps, cooking oil, and fuel, and they eat the seal meat (“Early Inuit Hunt” Canadian Sealers Association). There is evidence that seals were hunted in other parts of the world even before Inuits and other First Nations began to hunt harp seals. People in eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea hunted seals more than ten-thousand years ago (“Early Inuit Hunt” Canadian Sealers Association).
Migratory fisherman hunted harp seals as early as the fifteen-hundreds (“Sealing History” The Seal Fishery). This led to the popularization of harp seals being used for wider economic purposes rather than for individual survival purposes. The fishermen sold their pelts and used their meat for food when stored food became scarce (“Sealing History” The Seal Fishery). The seals now began to be sold and exploited; however, they were also being used for sustenance, unlike what is seen in the modern commercial seal hunt where harp seals are hunted primarily for their pelts, and their meat is discarded.
There are, of course, arguments to be made against the use of seals even when both their pelts and their meat are used. First, there is the blatant “speciesism” in the attempt to justify the hierarchy which puts humans lording above all other species. Philosopher and author, Peter Singer, points out that using seals and other animals for meat implies “the belief that animals exist for our pleasure and convenience” (“Practical Ethics” 39 Animal Ethics Reader). This assumption of superiority runs rampant when it comes to animal meat consumption by humans. This use of animals by humans suggests that animals are the property of humans, and that humans have some sort of right over animals.
Singer also suggests that an important question to ask is whether or not “animals count in their own right” and, if they do, then “our use of animals for food becomes questionable” (“Practical Ethics” 39 Animal Ethics Reader). However, Singer is also quick to point out that circumstances of humans and the society in which they dwell in must also enter into the equation. For example, “Eskimos living in an environment where they must kill animals for food or starve might be justified in claiming that their interest in surviving overrides that of the animals they kill” (“Practical Ethics” 39 Animal Ethics Reader). The Inuit seal hunt would fall under the category of the latter example, because their use of animals for meat derives out of survival purposes, therefore it may be justified if they have no other alternative in maintaining a healthy diet.
In contrast to the Inuit seal hunt, the Canadian commercial seal hunt can not claim such justifications. The seals are not killed for their meat. In fact, their meat is completely discarded after they are clubbed. The pelts are what the commercial seal hunters are primarily after. They also sometimes seek them out for their oil. The hunt occurs for economic and cosmetic reasons. In seventeen-ninety-three, the harp seal hunt becomes an annual organized economic occurrence with the oil derived from seals being the chief commodity which is gained from this hunt (“Sealing History” The Seal Fishery). The oil is exported to England to be used as lamp oil, cooking oil, in soap, and in leather treatments (“Sealing History” The Seal Fishery). This use of animals by humans again explicitly implies the superiority of humans over animals.
By seventeen-ninety-four, fisherman began using schooners to edge out into the icy caps off of the Newfoundland shore, a practice that still continues today by the modern Canadian commercial seal hunters. The harp seal hunt then became the second largest money maker for Newfoundland and comprised thirty percent of Newfoundland’s exports (“Sealing History” The Seal Fishery). By the eighteen-thirties, kill rates of seals averaged at four-hundred-fifty-thousand seals annually by the commercial seal hunters. The humans profited handsomely by the mass murder of these hundreds of thousands of animals (“Early Inuit Hunt” Canadian Sealers Association). This number drastically rose to five-hundred-forty-six-thousand seals slaughtered annually during the first half of the eighteen-forties, which led to a sharp decline in the harp seal population (“Early Inuit Hunt” Canadian Sealers Association).
One of the most common arguments used by proponents of the Canadian commercial seal hunt is that the seal hunt is a tradition and a way of life for the hunters. They list the deeply-rooted history of the seal hunt as justification for the continuation of the hunt, with the claim that the harp seal hunt has become an essential piece of their culture. The Canadian Government website spouts propaganda detailing why all Canadians should support the seal hunt: “In Canada’s remote coastal and northern communities, sealing is an important part of the way of life and a much needed source of income for thousands of families. Beyond fur, seals are also used to produce meat products and oil products rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The revenues generated from this activity are an integral and vital component of the annual income earned by sealers” (“The Canadian Seal Hunt – At a Glance” Fisheries and Oceans Canada). The site claims seals are used for their meat, yet, their meat is not sold or used by the commercial seal hunters. The revenues generated from this “activity” are also not enough to sustain the hunt since most of the world has banned the buying or selling of seal pelts. Even those countries who have not outlawed the practice pay very little for the pelts.
Where a single pelt used to fetch the price of anywhere from fifty Canadian dollars to eighty Canadian dollars in the recent past, that price has drastically plummeted to a mere twenty-five dollars per pelt (“Nunavut Seal Pelt Sale” CBC). One fur company, Fur Harvesters Auction INC, states that they previously would sell most of an average of twelve-thousand pelts a year in the past; yet, in two-thousand-nine, they sold only twenty-five percent of their stocked pelts (“Nunavut Seal Pelt Sale” CBC). This is a continuing trend. Therefore, the claim that the commercial seal hunt provides a lively living for the hunters is no longer valid since sales increasingly deteriorate and the government puts much more money into the annual hunt than is gained from the profits thereafter.
The biggest worry concerning the Canadian commercial seal hunt involves the inhumane way in which the seals are killed. The hunters say they follow a very strict and regulated system of killing their stock. Fisheries and Oceans Canada states: “Sealers must follow a strict three-step process that is as humane – if not more so – than most other methods of dispatching wild or domesticated animals in the world. This process ensures that animals are killed quickly and humanely. This three-step process is prescribed in Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations and applies to all sealers with commercial or personal use licenses. The Regulations also stipulate that only seals that have reached the age of self sufficiency are taken. It is illegal in Canada to harvest so-called “baby” seals, also known as whitecoats or bluebacks” (“The Canadian Seal Hunt – At a Glance”); yet, this system has been shown to be ineffective and not followed by many of the hunters through various video footage obtained by the International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) and by the animal rights advocates, Sea Shepherd.
IFAW has publicly released numerous videos which clearly show the seal hunting regulations not being followed, at best, and blatantly disregarded, at worst. The tests that are supposedly being done by the sealers to ensure the seal is dead before being skinned are not being done; there have been numerous instances caught on video that depict live seals being skinned. Hakapiks, the tools used by the seal hunters, are clubs with spikes attached on the tops. The seals are left to helplessly squirm as the hunters club and spike them to death. This is a most inhumane way to kill their prey. When confronted with claims of inhumane treatment of the seals, Fisheries and Ocean Canada routinely replies that the commercial seal hunt is more humane than other forms of slaughter. The principle problem with this response, aside from the evidence that many of the sealers are not following protocol and regulations, is that this circumvents the issue. This does not absolve the sealers from unethical behaviour. It basically says, “well, sure we mistreat animals, but we’re not the only ones!” When the supporters of the commercial seal hunt cannot think of a better response, there is a problem. This shows the feebleness of their supposed right to continue hunting seals.
When a detailed examination is made of both sides of the arguments that surround the Canadian commercial seal hunt, it becomes clear that there are egregious ethical issues surrounding the seal hunt. Citing that the hunt is a cultural tradition provides no ethical excuse or justification whatsoever. Simply because something has been done for many years and incorporated into society does not release it from doing harm, nor does it raise it above ethical consideration. The argument that it provides the hunters with a way of life is also not effective since the money brought in by the hunt continues to plummet with each year and with the growing list of countries who have outlawed association with the seal industry. In light of these considerations, the Canadian commercial seal hunt must be slated as an unsustainable, inhumane, and unethical practice that needs to be eliminated and discontinued.
Works Cited and Bibliography:
“Canadian Seal Harvest – At a Glance”. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. n.d. Web. 2 April 2013.
“Early Inuit Hunt”. Canadian Sealers Association. n.d. Web. 2 April 2013.
“Nanuvut Seal Pelt Sales”. CBC. 11 Nov. 2009. Web. 2 April 2013.
“Seals”. International Fund For Animal Welfare. n.d. Web. 2 April 2013.
“Sealing History”. The Seal Fishery.com. n.d. Web. 2 April 2013.
Singer, Peter. The Animal Ethics Reader. 2nd ed. Ed Susan Armstrong and Richard Botzler. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.