Animal Aid

SEAL SHAME - Bludgeoned for vanity

Posted 1 April 2004
Daily Express clipping

The slaughter of Canadian seals is once more in the headlines. Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler was asked by the Daily Express to describe the barbarity and greed that are the motivating force. Read his article here and please support the boycott campaign orchestrated by Respect for Animals (

Images of helpless baby seals being clubbed to death on the ice pans of Newfoundland unleashed global protests during the 1970s that finally stopped a branch of the fur industry in its tracks. No more would these animals have their sculls cracked open and their skins ripped from their backs in the name of fashion.

Or at least that's the way it seemed.

Sanctioned slaughter

This week's announcement that the Canadian government is sanctioning the slaughter of around one million of these mammals over three years should serve to remind us that, while the numbers killed are going up, the bloody, merciless business never actually went away. In order to pacify the outraged masses, a de facto ban was introduced during the early '80s on the killing of the very youngest baby seals - so young they still had their white fur. But after 12 to 15 days, when their coats turned grey, they became fair game.

Of course, with all such projects, 'sophisticated' justifications have to be offered up - i.e. the victim must become the villain. The rationale in this case is: 'preservation of fish stocks'. It seems that seals are daring to eat the cod that are, by rights, the property of our own species - not only eating them but decimating the remaining 'stocks'.

Human greed

The reality is that human greed and folly wiped out the local cod population. Through the introduction of industrialised fishing methods the annual catch in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland soared to some 800,000 tonnes a year in the 1980s... then it dropped like a stone and has never recovered. This is in no small measure due to a refusal by Canadian politicians to heed scientific advice and keep the fishery closed so that it might recover.

Blaming seals is wrong for other compelling reasons. Whereas we humans ravage and plunder what takes our fancy until eco-systems are disasterously thrown off balance, other species are in harmony with nature. Their numbers are controlled by available food sources and suitable habitat.

In fact, seals probably have a beneficial effect on Atlantic cod, given that they eat a lot of Arctic cod, who eat their Atlantic cousins.

Who cares?

As well as blaming the victim, the public also needs to be told that what is being done doesn't actually hurt and, in any case, there are lots of these animals so we don't need to worry.

Killing baby seals can never be sold to the public as the equivalent of taking a dog to the vet and having him put to sleep. As a second best option, the Canadian government is content for it to be reported that the baby seals will, from now on, be shot instead of clubbed to death. I don't know how many readers will be cheered by this news. But not only is clubbing going to continue during the main phases of the slaughter (which take place in the Gulf of St Lawrence and then in in the north of Newfoundland) shooting can actually be the crueller - if aesthetically more palatable - of the two options.

As for the argument that there are lots of them so who cares: During five of the last nine years, global warming has meant that huge numbers of baby seals have fallen through the melting ice and drowned. Mothers give birth in March and for four weeks their youngsters lack the body fat and stamina to survive the freezing waters. Normally they have the safety of the ice pans, but when this cannot support them they plunge through to the icy depths and a certain death. The Canadian government's confident assertions that the seal population is in a robust state fails to take account for this wretched development.

The crudest, most grotesque 'justification' for killing baby seals is that the style fascists require that the animals' coats be used to adorn and accessorise. They repeat with dulling monotony that fur is now chic once again and that all those tragic opponents of the practice of killing animals for their skins are... well, simply tragic. No matter how often they repeat it, fur - in the form of full-length garments - is as unpopular as ever. There is, however, increasing use of fur in the form of trimmings, collars and other unostentatious - though equally deadly - manifestations.

And this is where that bludgeoned seal might next turn up - as an entirely pointless dangly item on your new bag or coat.

Opposing the cull

Is there anything we can do to halt the carnage? Consumer power is a fine thing that never fails to jolt complacent and cynical politicians - especially when the sums are so clear-cut. The UK annual tourist business is worth some $1billion to Canada whereas income from the seal hunt is worth just a few million.

The British government, in the person of Trade and Industry Minister Mike O'Brien, formally opposed the Newfoundland slaughter but the opposition has all been rather languorous and gentlemanly. A parliamentary Motion (number 611) calls for our government to shout in the ear of their Canadian counterparts and make them understand that there will be a price to pay if the slaughter is allowed to continue. Already, more than 100 MPs have signed it. Please get your own MP to join them.

Do we care today about the cowardly slaughter of seals as much as that generation who mobilised in the '70s and '80s? I believe we do! You can demonstrate your own commitment by supporting the anti-slaughter campaign being orchestrated by seasoned fur opponents Respect For Animals.

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