7 min read

This Country Just Started Hunting Baby Seals Again

They've killed 30,000 babies already — and it's all funded by taxpayers.

Canada’s annual seal hunt has started up again, much to the dismay of animal lovers around the world. In the past nine days, hunters have killed over 30,000 baby seals on the ice floes of eastern Canada — and they’re planning to kill a lot more.

While seal hunting takes place year-round in Canada, the majority happens in the spring after new pups are born. Instead of allowing these baby seals to grow up, hunters kill them for their silvery gray pelts, which are sold to manufacturers to make fur coats and other clothing items.

Baby seal sitting on ice
A seal lying on the ice during Canada's 2016 hunt | Michael Bernard/HSI

This year’s seal hunt began last week, and it will continue until mid-May or even June, according to Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International (HSI).

Warning: Graphic photos below.

Aldworth has spent 18 years documenting Canada’s seal hunts, and she finds this time of year to be particularly difficult.

“For me, it’s the knowledge of how much those baby seals are suffering,” Aldworth told The Dodo. “Every year, I witnessed wounded seals left to crawl through their own blood, conscious seals impaled on boat hooks, dragged across the ice and cut open; and wounded seals escaping beneath the water's surface, where they die slowly and painfully.”

Hunter stabbing seals during hunt
A hunter killing seals during the 2016 hunt in Canada | Michael Bernard/HSI

The hunters mainly target baby harp seals, although they take grey seals and hooded seals as well. But no matter what type of seal they target, the killing methods remain the same — hunters shoot baby seals with rifles, beat them with clubs and stab them with sharp picks.

Seals only nurse from their mothers for 12 days — then they're left on the ice to survive on their milk reserves, while slowly learning how to dive and swim. When the hunters come after them, the baby seals are defenseless.

In 2018, hunters killed 80,000 seals during Canada’s commercial seal hunt — and a similar number could be killed this year.

Besides the unthinkable cruelty of the hunts, Aldworth points out that sealing doesn’t make sense on a financial level for the Canadian government.

“This annual hunt exists only because tax dollars are used to subsidize the killing, whether through loans and grants to processing companies, funds for market development, or free Coast Guard support at the hunt,” Aldworth said. “In fact, the Canadian government spends millions more dollars facilitating this senseless slaughter than the revenue it generates.”

While there aren’t reliable population statistics for Canadian sea species, the hunts would be putting pressure on these animals, who are already threatened by loss of habitat.

Seal sitting on ice flow
A seal killed during the 2016 hunt in Canada | Michael Bernard/HSI

“Harp seals are ice-breeding marine mammals, and they rely on sea ice to give birth to and nurse their pups,” Aldworth said. “Climate change is fast destroying the seals' sea ice habitat, and the Canadian government has documented unusually high mortality in seal pups as a result. While we cannot immediately mitigate the impacts of climate change on harp seals, a responsible government can — and should — end commercial sealing."

To make matters worse, the Canadian government might lift a current ban on issuing new commercial sealing licenses, which would allow more hunters to go out and kill baby seals.

Hunter dragging dead seals to ship
Michael Bernard/HSI

“HSI strongly opposes this measure because there is no future in commercial sealing and the Canadian government should invest in a fair transition program for Atlantic Canadian sealers, not in recruiting more of them,” Aldworth said.

Amidst the horror of the seal hunts, there’s a glimmer of hope — more and more countries are banning seal fur products, which has helped save over 3 million seals in the past decade, according to Aldworth.

Baby seal on the ice
Michael Bernard/HSI

“We have convinced more than 37 nations to close their borders to products of commercial seal hunts,” Aldworth said. “This has had a direct and significant impact on the Atlantic Canadian commercial sealing industry, with sealer participation in the hunt and seal kill levels plummeting.”

But more needs to be done to help Canada’s seals, and everyone can play a part, even if you live outside Canada, Aldworth explained.

“People can contact the Canadian government to tell them to maintain the freeze on new commercial sealing licenses and end the commercial seal hunt for good,” Aldworth said.

To learn how you can help stop Canada’s seal hunts, go to HSI’s website.