March 22, 2006

Tearful Bardot Begs Canada to Scrap Seal Hunt

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA -- French film star turned animal rights campaigner Brigitte Bardot tearfully begged Canada on Wednesday to stop the annual harp seal hunt, during which about 325,000 young seal pups will be shot or beaten to death.

"Before I die I want to see this massacre ended," she told a news conference, sitting in front of a poster that showed a giant seal clubbing a blood-covered human baby.

The hunt, which takes place on ice floes off the coast of eastern Canada, is due to start on Friday or Saturday. Ottawa denies the hunt is cruel and says it helps the local economy while keeping the seal population healthy and in check.

To try to stop the hunt each year, activists release gory pictures of hunters crushing seal skulls with big clubs. Anti-hunt campaigners are calling on some major U.S. restaurant chains to boycott Canadian seafood until the hunt stops.

Bardot, who started campaigning against the hunt some 30 years ago, cried quietly as aides played a video showing graphic shots of young seals screaming in agony and drowning in their own blood after being attacked by hunters.

"Canada is a rich country. It doesn't need to sell skin, oil, fat and powdered seal penises to make aphrodisiacs for countries in Asia ... you cannot continue a genocide of animals like this," said the 71-year-old actress, who peppered her comments with expletives.

Harp seals can be legally hunted once they shed their white coats at about two weeks, though they are not usually hunted until at least a week later.

Canada says the seal population is almost six million, nearly triple the level of the 1970s.

"For outsiders to come and tell sealers that they don't need to participate in an activity that feeds their families shows a deep misunderstanding of the issues," said Phil Jenkins, a spokesman for Canada's federal fisheries ministry.

Earlier this month, former Beatle Paul McCartney and his wife ventured out on to an ice floe and posed with young seals to try to persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper to scrap the hunt.

Harper turned down a request to meet Bardot, who wrote him an open letter in which she said "Only imbeciles don't change their minds."

Officials and sealers say the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is so poor this year that hunters will not be able to kill many seals with clubs and will have to shoot them instead.

"We are kind of worried because the ice is not too good and they are drifting outside the Gulf," said seal hunter Jean-Claude LaPierre.

"We flew over it in a helicopter and there are quite a few seals that went out on the Atlantic," he told Reuters Television in Prince Edward Island.

(With additional reporting by Deborah Gembara in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island)