It was four decades ago that Brian Davies, our founder, pioneered the campaign to end the slaughter of baby seals in Canada. His work to expose the cruelty on the ice floes made headlines around the world, and the battle to save the seals became an icon for the animal protection movement.

Brian Davies with one of the 2.5 million saved seals
Brian Davies with one of the 2.5 million saved seals

In 1983, Brian’s work culminated in a historic victory when the European Union prohibited imports of the skins of newborn harp seals (whitecoats). Close on the heels of this success, the Canadian government bowed to the threat of a boycott of Canadian seafood products and banned the killing of whitecoats in 1987. This ban saved 2.5 million seals – larger than the population of Houston, Texas.

Sadly, the Canadian government invested massive subsidies into the sealing industry in the mid 1990s, allowing the sealers to kill the pups when they were just a few days older. Today, the Canadian seal hunt is twice as large as it was, and in reaction Network for Animals began campaigning again in Europe – this time to ensure the Canadian challenge against an EU ban on the seal product trade remained in place.

We are proud to report that in late 2013, the World Trade Organization dealt a mortal blow to the renewed Canadian hunt of non-whitecoat seals. They upheld a European Union ban on the importation of all seal products, basing their decision on the ethical and moral principles held by EU citizens: People like you, who love animals.

A Brief Overview

Canada’s commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth and has been a long-time battleground for animal welfare groups. Here we provide a background to the main issues surrounding the annual hunt.

Current annual quotas allow roughly 350,000 defenseless baby seals to be brutally clubbed and shot to death for their skins, which are destined for international fashion markets. At just 12 days of age – as soon as they begin to shed their fluffy white coats, baby harp seals can be legally killed in Canada. Official government kill reports show that 97 percent of the seals slaughtered over the past five years have been less than three months of age, and the majority have been under one month old. At the time of slaughter, many of these pups had not yet even eaten their first solid meal or taken their first swim…leaving them with no escape from the “hunters”.

Sealing is an activity conducted by a few thousand fishermen over a few days each year. They earn, on average, less than 5 percent of their annual incomes from sealing – the rest from commercial fisheries. Even in Newfoundland, where 90 percent of sealers live, sealing revenues account for less than one tenth of one percent of the economy, and only 2 percent of the fishery.

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Each year, independent journalists, scientists and parliamentarians report horrific cruelty at the commercial seal hunt, including conscious seals dragged with boathooks across the ice, dying seals left in stockpiles to suffocate in their own blood, seals shot and left to suffer in agony, and even seals skinned alive. In 2001, an international team of veterinarians studied the commercial seal hunt, and concluded it results in ‘considerable and unacceptable suffering’. Their report noted that 42 percent of the seals they examined had likely been skinned alive. Dr. Mary Richardson, a Canadian veterinary expert and former chair of the Animal Care Review Board for the Solicitor General of Ontario, asserts Canada’s commercial seal hunt is inherently inhumane.

Over the last ten years, sealers have slaughtered up to half of the baby seals born. This level of slaughter is a serious threat to the species as a whole. The last time Canada allowed this many seals to be killed – back in the 1950s and 60s, nearly two thirds of the harp seal population was wiped out. To make matters worse, the ice-breeding harp seals face a new threat to their survival – global warming.

The threat doesn’t end there: In 2002, the Canadian government estimated 75% of the pups born in the Gulf of St. Lawrence died because of the lack of ice. Then in 2007, scientists estimated close to 100% mortality among the more than 260,000 seal pups in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. The government still authorised a cull quota of 270,000.

International polling consistently shows the majority of Canadians, Americans and Europeans surveyed are opposed to the commercial seal hunt and many countries are working to ban the import of all seal products.

The United States and Mexico have already banned the import of seal products, and as noted in 2013 the WTO upheld the EU import ban on non-whitecoat seal products, yet still the Canadian government continues to press for the continuation and expansion of seal culling.

2016: Huntwatch

In 2016, look out for the film ‘Huntwatch’ which shows much of Brian Davies’ work to save seals: