15 April 2011, 30 miles south east of St Anthony, Newfoundland
We wake to foggy weather, but our helicopter pilot says he is willing to see if we can find gaps in the fog in order to get up to St Anthony, an hour and a half’s flight away, where we can refuel before heading offshore to look for sealing boats. The flight is difficult and the pilot has to inch his way along the coastline, but we eventually make it. Refueling takes 30 mins and then we are off again, the helicopter straining under the weight of 500 litres of fuel. We head due east and are over the icy ocean within minutes. Large banks of fog obscure our way forward, but we find a gap and fly further. The cold ocean dotted with bits of ice stretches forever beneath us. Luckily our camera system suspended beneath the helicopter has a massive zoom and the camera operator soon locates a sealing boat on the horizon, which we fly towards. The boat is working its way through the loose ice, the marksman on the cabin shooting every seal pup he can see, staining the ice with their blood.
A seal pup just ahead of us is shot, but the bullet only wounds him and he starts writhing in pain. He lifts his head and opens his mouth, and while we can’t hear him 1000 feet up in the air in a helicopter, clearly it is a cry of agony. The sealers, who must have heard the cry, show no pity and the boat moves towards him, a sealer leaning over the side brandishing a gaff, a long wooden pole with a sharpened steel hook on the end. The poor seal bites at the gaff, but the sealer hooks him in the side of the face and hauls him aboard, his mouth opening and shutting.
The sealer dumps the pup onto a pile of bloody carcasses on the deck, which is awash in blood and seal body parts. As we are about shift the camera’s focus to another seal on the ice, I see him lift his head and cry again. The sealer grabs him by the flipper and drags him off the pile of carcasses to the other side of the boat; again he lifts his head and cries as the sealer reaches for his club and smashes it into the baby seal’s head again and again.
The helicopter PA system, normally alive with voices directing the pilot and camera operator, is still for a second as we all try to process the awful scene we have just witnessed. If this is what sealers are doing to seals when they know they are being filmed, one can only imagine what goes on out of sight of our cameras. We continue filming as the marksman shoots more seals, many of whom are only wounded and then gaffed and dragged on board whilst still conscious. All because the sealers are too lazy to jump off the boat onto the ice to make sure the seal is dead before hooking them with the gaff. Yet the Canadian government still has the audacity to call this a well regulated and humane hunt. Notably, there was not one enforcement boat in the area, nor at any time during the three days of filming we did.
With the fog closing in and fuel running low, we turn for St Anthony airport where we refuel before heading for home. Its our last day of filming, but the hunt continues……..