May 27, 2009

Canadian Governor Eats Raw Seal Heart

Canada's governor ate a piece of a raw seal's heart after it was slaughtered during her official Arctic trip to show solidarity with embattled Inuit seal hunters.

Many Inuit people gathered for a feast in Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, which was the first stop on Governor General Michaelle Jean's trip this week to different remote northern communities as Canada's head of state and representative of Queen Elizabeth II.

Jean stood over the carcass of a freshly slaughtered seal and used a traditional ulu blade to slice through meat.  After that she asked one of her hosts, "Could I try the heart?"

According to images broadcast by CTV she thought it was "absolutely delicious" and tasted "like sushi."

"And it's very rich in protein," she added.

Once she wiped the blood from her fingers with a tissue, Jean talked about her support for Canada's traditional Inuit seal hunt and trade, which some fear will be hurt due to a European ban on seal products.

Recently the European Parliament voted to endorse a EU ban on seal products in a protest against commercial hunting methods.

Although the Northern aboriginals are exempt from the ban, they are worried it will eventually affect their livelihoods once it takes effect in 2010.

Mary Simon, Inuit leader, praised Jean for her support.

"Once you destroy a market for one group, it is destroyed for all," Simon said in a statement.

Defense Minister Peter MacKay, who is anticipating a trip to monitor annual Arctic military exercise, said that he looked forward to some "delicious seal."

"I would encourage all Canadians to try some," he said.

However, animal rights groups were critical of Jean's appearance for supporting Canada's commercial hunt.

The Canadian government says that the 350-year-old commercial hunt is crucial for about 6,000 North Atlantic fisherman that rely on it for 35 percent of their total annual income.

But animal rights groups consider it barbaric and have started an aggressive campaign in recent years to stop the annual hunt.

"I was deeply disappointed," said Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society. "I felt that (Jean's) actions were inappropriate given the controversy over commercial seal hunting.

"It's my hope that the governor general will clarify her actions and tell Canadians that her intent truly was to show solidarity with Inuit seal hunters and not with the commercial side of the industry.

"Nobody opposes subsistence hunting by Inuit people. We're opposed to the industrial-scale slaughter of seals," said Aldworth, echoed by Sheryl Fink, spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Ottawa allowed 338,000 seals to be killed this year, insisting that the hunts do not threaten the species.

A slump in pelt prices, however, leads to fewer hunters on ice floes off Canada's Atlantic coast.  A fisheries spokesman told AFP that less than 65,000 seals were expected to be killed, which will generate about $6.4 million for sealers.