March 25, 2006

Canadian hunters start shooting, clubbing seals

By Paul Darrow

OFF CANADA'S EAST COAST (Reuters) - Canadian hunters
started shooting and clubbing harp seal pups on Saturday at the
start of an annual hunt that is the focus of a tech-savvy
protest by animal rights groups.

This year, 325,000 young seals will be killed on the ice
floes off the East Coast where the animals gather.

Hunters in boats shot the seals on Saturday as they lay on
small ice floes and then dashed over to the bodies in hopes of
retrieving them before they sank.

At one point a hunter, frustrated at the activists'
presence, picked up the bloody carcass of a skinned seal and
threw it at a boat full of protesters and journalists. It hit
the boat and sank.

The hunt started slowly because unusually warm weather
means the ice is breaking up, scattering the seals over a
larger area than usual.

"The ice is not full of seals all over the place. They are
very spread out," said Roger Simon of Canada's federal
fisheries ministry, which oversees the hunt.

There were no reports of clashes between the hunters and
activists, who say the hunt is inhumane and should be banned. A
small group of activists has chartered a boat that is following
the hunt, and has put film of the killings on their Web sites.

Celebrities such as former French film star Brigitte Bardot
and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney called on Ottawa this week to stop
the hunt.

Once the animals are killed, they are skinned and taken
into the hunter's boats. The pelt is used to make coats while
the rest of the carcass is usually left behind.

Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States
said the poor quality of the ice meant her team had found far
fewer seals than usual.

"The few surviving baby seals we've watched for the last
several days are being killed as Canada's gruesome seal hunt
begins again," she said.

"Harp seals now face a double threat to their survival --
the impacts of climate change and historic high levels of
commercial hunting."

Canada says the hunt gives the local economy a crucial
boost and helps keep a harp seal population of almost six
million animals in check.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada was behaving
responsibly and would enforce rules ensuring that the seals
were killed humanely.


"Unfortunately here we're to some degree the victim of a
bit of an international propaganda campaign," he said on

Aldworth repeated calls for an international boycott of
Canadian seafood to protest what she said was "incredible
cruelty at the hunt, including dragging conscious seals across
the ice with boathooks, shooting seals and leaving them to
suffer in agony and skinning seals alive."

The first part of the hunt, which takes place near the
Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, usually takes
about 10 to 12 days to complete and this year will account for
just over 90,000 seals.

The second and larger stage, off the coast of Newfoundland,
starts on April 4.

"We are absolutely committed to making sure this is the
last slaughter of baby seals in Canada anyone will ever have to
witness," McCartney said in a statement on Friday.