There’s another reason to lament Arctic ice melting; as soon as floes break up off the shores of Labrador and Newfoundland, fleets of Canadian seal killers will arrive to initiate the largest marine mammal hunt in the world.
275,000 seals will be killed in the annual bloodletting–up from 270,00 last year–and 98 percent of them are babies.
This year, Canada wants no trouble.
It has banned ships belonging to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose Canadian citizen founder Captain Paul Watson, has protested the hunt for 30 years, from its waters.
“If this order is not complied with you will be subject to prosecution under Canadian law,” Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities told the marine mammal defenders through a fax.
“Do your worst Mr. Minister,” replied Watson. “If we are ready to risk our lives on the high seas to defend marine wildlife, the fear of imprisonment is hardly a deterrent. The seal hunt is a perverse abomination that has no place in the civilized world and certainly no place in Canada in the 21st century.”
Atlantic Canada sealers constitute only one percent of the population yet are highly subsidized by the government, says Sea Shepherd. Besides paying for regulation, market research and public relations, the government provides ice breaker ships, search and rescue operations and surveillance help in locating the seal herds themselves. Nice subsidies, if you can get them.
The biggest seal product junkies are Norway, Russia, Eastern Europe, Japan and China where seal penis is also used as a “cure” for impotence.
There’s also a hot market for seal oil sold by companies like Barry Group, Inc. and Costco as a health supplement despite its high PCB, mercury, arsenic, and DDT content says Sea Shepherd.
And don’t forget seal fur using “luxury” fashion houses Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Versace who don’t mind the clubbing of baby mammals if the price is right.
Animal welfare groups are hoping a pending across-the-board European Union seal pelt import ban will keep Canada from using its ports to ship to China and Russian markets. The recent Rotterdam and Hamburg bans aren’t effective, they say, if British ports remain open.
But some, like Canadian Sealing Association founding member Jim Winter, see the anti-hunt movement running out of steam.
“There was absolutely no media,” he said gleefully of a tepid anti-sealing protest he and two other sealing advocates attended in Trafalgar Square, London. “What we need to do is take that kind of encouragement and build on it.”
The Canadian government is also evincing a new aggression.
Last September, it launched a challenge to the World Trade Organization to persuade Belgium and the Netherlands to reverse their bans of seal products arguing the governments were misled.
“I applaud the efforts of industry, as well as the governments of Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador to up the ante in addressing the unfounded claims of anti-sealing groups,” said Loyola Hearn, Canada’s Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, calling the seal hunt. “humane, sustainable and responsible.”
At a gala in St. John’s, NL in March to kick off the seal hunt, Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout also relied on oxymorons to leaven his rhetoric.
“We want to tell the world that we have a sustainable hunt, a humane hunt, a hunt that’s based on economics, that there’s no cruelty. >From here on in, we’re going to try to tell the other side of the story,” he vowed.
More than two hundred people attended the festival of seal skin coats and flipper pie sponsored by the Fur Institute of Canada including Mark Small, a sealer for 27 years.
“I want to say to the protest movement today, we are not dead. We are on our way up. People think we got a dying community, but you go down on that wharf and we got pride,” he affirmed while cautioning fellow sealers, “The eyes of the world are upon us and when you go to the ice, be a professional.”
Michelle Dawe, Small’s niece took up “tradition” cudgel. “This is a livelihood that the sealers are entitled to,” she explained. “This has been for hundreds of years what Newfoundlanders have done.”
“They lived and died for it on the icefields,” elaborated her brother, Randy Dawe.
So have millions of seals, critics say.
MARTHA ROSENBERG is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org