March 29, 2010

Canadian Seal Hunt Off To Slow Start

The annual Canadian seal hunt got underway on Sunday, but just barely, as a single ship departed from port into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in pursuit of a diminishing harp seal population.

"I know one boat set sail tonight, at around 4:00am in the morning," Denis Longuepee, president of the Magdalen Island seal hunters' association, told AFP on Sunday. "In past years, there were 10 to 40 boats weighing anchor."

The reason, according to a press release sent out by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) over the weekend, is because of poor ice conditions and the decreased demand for seal pelts and other products. Ice floes that normally appear in the Gulf are stagnant, located hundreds of miles to the north, and the price for pelts has fallen to one-seventh of their 2006 rates.

A small group of roughly 1,000 seals were spotted by plane in the region, according to AFP.

"After spending the past week watching the few tenacious seal pup survivors clinging to life, it is heartbreaking to realize that they may now be killed," IFAW senior researcher Sheryl Fink said in the prepared media statement. "On the other hand, I am encouraged that only one boat has decided to go seal killing so far this year."

"The situation this year is dire, and there is no question that the effect of climate change on these individual animals is devastating," she added. "We've seen dead and abandoned pups on beaches, starving pups crying for food and trying to suckle off each other, and whitecoat pups swimming in desperate search of ice on which they can rest."

Fink and the IFAW are calling for Canada to protect the threatened species rather than encourage commercial hunting for them. In July 2009, the European Union outlawed the sale of products made from seal, though the practice remains legal in several countries, including Russia and the U.S.


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