Hundreds Of U.K. Seals Killed Each Year In Secret, Brutal Cull

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Hundreds of seals are being killed every year in U.K. waters in secret seal cullings - and hardly anyone knows about it.

WARNING: Graphic images below

"If people knew the price that was being paid by seals for salmon they wouldn't be prepared to buy them," Andy Ottaway of the Seal Protection Action Group told The Dodo.

Each year, the fishing industry kills hundreds of harbor seals and gray seals in the waters around Scotland. And because the killing is legal year round, many mothers are killed as well, leaving their pups to starve when their mothers never return.

"They are killing, if you like, two seals with one bullet," Ottaway said.

Seal Protection Action Group | Seal Protection Action Group

Despite public distaste for Canada's hated seal hunt, which will permit the brutal clubbing of up to 400,000 seals this year, many of them babies, the U.K. seal cull has received very little attention because the Scottish fishing industry has kept it fairly secret for decades.

Back in 1978, the U.K. planned a massive seal culling similar to Canada's despised seal clubbing season. The organizers brought in Norwegian marksmen and targeted 6,000 seals around Orkney. But when the public found out, they were furious, and the culling was called off.

Seal Protection Action Group | Seal Protection Action Group

Public attention died down after that, as people thought the cancellation of the cull meant the seals were safe. But it was still legal to shoot seals without reporting the killings, and so the Scottish seal culling continued for years - only in secret, Ottaway said. Each year, thousands of seals were shot without anyone, including the government for the most part, knowing much about it.

Protests in 2010 led to the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, a new law that requires seal hunters to be licensed and to report their killings. Seal deaths have since dropped, according to the self-reported numbers; a total of 205 seals were killed in 2014.

But Ottaway said this law is inefficient, as there's no way to tell if people are actually reporting all the seals they kill. He compared the law to Canada's lax marine mammal protection legislation, which does little to stop tens of thousands of the mammals from being killed each year.

"It protects or conserves seals from everybody except those who want to kill them," he explained.

Seal Protection Action Group | Seal Protection Action Group

The biggest question mark is whether these deaths can even be justified by the commercial fishing industry. The Seal Protection Action Group encourages the industry to use seal-proof nets and similar tactics to deflect seals, and says that, when properly used, modern equipment is more than sufficient to keep seals out.

But the real problem is changing fishermen's mindset. As something of an industry scapegoat, seals have long been viewed as pests and are viewed in an unrealistically negative light. After all, Ottaway said, dolphins eat salmon but no one's calling for a massive dolphin cull.

Seal Protection Action Group | Seal Protection Action Group

"The times have moved on, but not the fishermen," he said. "The bullet has long been seen as the traditional and final solution."

And considering all the threats marine mammals are facing, the U.K.'s seal culling also raises conservation issues. Most of the seals killed are harbor seals or grey seals. While harbor seals aren't threatened globally, U.K. populations have declined by 50 percent in less than a decade for unknown reasons.

"It's not just a moral question, whether we should be shooting beautiful, sentient creatures just because we deem them a pest," Ottaway said. "Some of the largest wildlife slaughters taking place today are directed at seals ... and yet very little is being done."