The 2011 southern Gulf of St Lawrence seal hunt officially began on Sunday 27th March, but got off to a slow start due to poor weather. Unfortunately, once the storms in the region cleared up, four boats set sail for the only area in the southern gulf where there was ice and the few pups that had survived this year’s record low ice cover and recent storms. As of 1 April these four boats had killed 966 seal pups and were back in port, signaling the end of the southern gulf hunt. Normally tens of thousands of pups are slaughtered for their pelts in the southern gulf, but depressed markets resulting from the EU ban and the Canadian government’s inability to find new markets is clearly taking its toll.

The next phase of the hunt is due to start between 8-12 Apr off the north east coast of Newfoundland where there the ice conditions and numbers of seal pups lead us to believe that the kill levels will be significantly higher. Certainly, this year’s record quota of 400,000 pups set by the Canadian government, indicates a desire on their part for a greater death toll. We will be on the ground in Newfoundland to gather evidence of the inherent cruelty of the hunt, which we will use to shut down markets for seal products.

Currently there’s confusion about why the quota for the seal hunt is the highest since 1971 when there are clear indications that the international markets for seal products are in decline and the second year of diminished ice means a large number of seal pups will drown as the ice melts before they are able to swim.  MEP David Martin, who campaigned successfully for a ban on the import of Canadian seal products into the EU, addressed these issues and the political nature of the quota decision in a comment piece which can be read here.

As if the seal hunt wasn’t bad enough, the past few years have seen lower and lower ice cover as a result of global warming. Harp seals rely on solid ice upon which to give birth to their pups and nurse them until they are able to survive in open water. The ice is so bad this year that Canadian government biologists are predicting 100 percent mortality for seal pups in some key whelping areas.  The ecological impact of mass slaughter combined with high natural mortality could pose a serious threat to the Canadian seal population. More information on the dangers faced by harp seals giving birth on shore can be found here and here.