Many questions divide Canadians: Oil and the environment; globalization; Quebec sovereignty. And resurfacing now: The baby seal hunt.
While the big eyes of these pups appeal to many, tradition and economic arguments have won out so far, so the hunt continues. But should it?
The discussion hinges on animal rights and hunters’ rights. When hunters club baby seals, some pups do not die immediately — up to 42 per cent — and are skinned alive. Many Canadians see such treatment as inhumane and inexcusable. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin apparently agrees. He recently banned the hunt in Russian waters, decrying the hunt as too bloody and inhumane.
Hunters have rights, too. Indigenous people began hunting the harp seal 4,000 years ago, and European settlers continued this tradition. Hunting revenue peaked at $40 million in 2003; the seal hunt is a mainstay to disadvantaged Atlantic Canadian communities.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) treats the hunt as a fishery even though seals are members of the canine family and have a higher cognitive capacity than fish. This impedes the proper management of the hunt to ensure that seals die in a humane way.
In light of the huge opportunity of the 2010 Olympics for Canadian tourism and its economy, it’s worth considering the potential impacts of clubbed-seal images on Canada’s global image. The hunt may not have to end to maintain Canada’s good image, but to be safe, we might as well give seals the same safeguards for humane death as we do cows and pigs.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts with DFO’s minister.
– Kai Chan is an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC; email@example.com. Megan Mach is a PhD student at IRES at UBC, studying how invasive species will impact services provided by our local ecosystems.