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Animal-rights groups ready their cameras for Canadian seal hunt

A young harp seal rests on the ice off the coast of Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia, on March 31, 2008.


Another showdown over baby seals is set to begin on a tiny island off the coast of Cape Breton.

The hunt for grey seals is expected to begin Monday and representatives of the Humane Society will be there to film the kill, standing the required 10 metres away as demanded by their permit from the Canadian government.

This year, the animal-rights organization is also bringing a photographer from a European-based wire service so pictures of the young seals being clubbed to death can be transmitted to the bloc of countries that has banned Canadian seal products.

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Gail Shea, the federal Fisheries Minister, said this month the government will ask the World Trade Organization to intervene in that dispute.

Sealing is a legal, multi-million-dollar industry that provides the main source of income for about 6,000 families, Ms. Shea said at the time. It's time to take the emotion out of the issue, she said, adding that the hunt "responsible use of a sustainable resource."

But Rebecca Aldworth, the director of the Humane Society International/Canada. who will be one of the observers to make the trip to Hay Island on Monday, says it is impossible to talk about the hunt without emotion.

The island was, until 2008, a nature reserve where commercial seal hunting was prohibited, she said in a telephone interview on Friday. Then the government of Nova Scotia collaborated with the department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow the clubbing of the grey seals that are born there.

"In 2008, we filmed it as it was going on. By the time we left there were maybe one or two pups left on that island," Ms. Alworth said.

Although she is a veteran observer at seal hunts, she said that year's kill on Hay Island was the worst she has ever seen.

"What they were doing was herding the mothers and newborns and pups about a week older who had shed their white coats and who had been weaned together into this big group. And then they would club the slightly older pups just inches away from the newborns and the mothers were trying to protect their newborns and the newborns were crawling through blood."

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The Hay Island hunt marks the start of the sealing season, which will eventually move to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and then to Newfoundland.

Although the federal government prohibits the killing of newborns, Ms. Aldworth said 97 per cent of the seals killed in Canada are less than three months old and most are less than one month old.

"In Canada, baby harp seals are protected when they still have their white coats but those white coats begin to shed at just 12 days of age at which point they can be and are legally hunted," she said.

"At the time that they are killed, with the harp seal hunt, most of these seals are not eating solid food yet, most of them haven't begun swimming yet, they are completely vulnerable. They have absolutely no defences against the hunters."

The government says it will permit the harvest of 50,000 grey seals this year.

Ms. Aldworth said just 1,900 of those can come from Hay Island because that's the total number of pups that are there.

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The only way the sealers could harvest 50,000 seals, she said, is if sealing was permitted on Sable Island, a remote, windswept spot of land that is about to become a national park where there is a massive seal breeding ground.

"What they were talking about doing is clubbing 50,000 seal pups and then incinerating them on the island," Ms. Aldworth said. But "they can't carry it off this year, it's just too logistically difficult."

Editor's note: The Humane Society International/Canada is observing the seal hunt on Hay Island. An earlier version of this article missated the name of the organization; this version has been corrected.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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