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Protesting The Commercial Seal Hunt

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“I would like to see the 6 million seals, or whatever number is out there, killed and sold, or destroyed and burned.  I do not care what happens to them…the more they kill the better I will love it.” – John Efford, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Newfoundland and Labrador, 4 May 1998.

The protesters handed out buttons with the initials “S.O.S.”.  Their plea was not “Save Our Souls”, but rather “Save Our Seals.”

Over 50 Kingstonian activists braved the cold and rain last Saturday to protest the Canadian government’s support for the annual commercial seal hunt.  Standing in front of City Hall at Confederation Basin, the protesters spent two hours waving their signs at passing cars.  Enthusiastic shouts and hollers greeted all motorists who signalled their support with a friendly honk.

The government of Canada supports the commercial seal hunt to the tune of well over $20 million in direct and indirect subsidies.  While the seal hunt’s defenders claim the brutal practice is essential to the economy – in particular, that of Newfoundland and Labrador – its opponents argue that the costs far outweigh any perceived benefits.

Indeed, in testimony before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, some sealers have indicated that the hunt only provides 5-10% of their income, rather than the 35% claimed by the Canadian government.  In 2008, the seal hunt accounted for 1.2% of the total landed value of Newfoundland fisheries, according to a 2006 Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency report.

Official support for the seal hunt has also brought a wave of negative publicity to Canada internationally.  With the European Union considering a ban on the trade of seal products, sealers selling their wares are increasingly looking to China and Korea.  The bulk of seal pelts are used to make luxury fashion garments which have limited market appeal.

Vicky Deodato is a local activist who has been at the forefront of the local animal rights movement with her group Kingston Animal Trust.  Speaking privately at Saturday’s gathering – billed as Kingston’s third annual demonstration against the commercial seal hunt – Deodato fired back at the government’s tactic of falsely portraying protesters as opponents of the unrelated Inuit seal hunt.

“The Canadian government is trying so hard to keep the seal hunt going that they’re misleading people and saying that it has to do with the Inuit seal hunt, which it does not,” she said.  “This is the commercial seal hunt, and they’re doing everything they can to try to mix it up to make protesters look bad, that we’re trying to take money away from the Inuit.”

Event organizer Vicky Deodato.  Photo by Andréa Prins

In reality, the protesters acknowledge seal meat as a necessary staple of the Inuit diet.  Seal, Deodato allowed, is “what [Inuit] have to eat.  I mean, they can’t grow things, they don’t have gardens, they can’t eat oranges and they can’t grow wheat.”

Furthermore, the Inuit take pride in using every part of the seal, whereas in the commercial hunt, “most of the seal meat and blubber is wasted; it’s left on the ice to rot.”  This figure doesn’t even include the 26,000 seals who are “struck and lost” annually – wounded by a sealer’s blow or gunshot, but who escape or sink into water before they can be recovered.

Equating opposition to the commercial seal hunt with opposition to the Inuit hunt is a cynical ploy by pro-sealing forces to demonize and discredit those groups (Sea Shepherd, the International Fund for Animal Welfare) most active in the demonstrations.  Why is the Canadian government so unanimously in favour of the seal hunt?

Predictably, it all comes down to politics.  In order to win seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, all parties support the seal hunt in order to ensure that they have a chance of taking those seats.  The commercial seal hunt mostly involves workers from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

“It’s 6000 fishermen that are out of business, that aren’t working at this time of year, and the government pays for most of this through indirect ways,” said Deodato.

The government’s generous financial support for sealing is a poor match for the comparatively meager benefits earned by the sealers themselves.  Deodato estimated the average sealer will receive a mere $2000 each year for participating in the hunt.  The 2008 landed value of $6.9 million, divided amongst the estimated 7000 active sealers, meant that each sealer received on average only $1000.

Such paltry sums, Deodato felt, do little to justify the massive annual slaughter from either an economic or an animal rights perspective.  Rather than spending tens of millions of dollars this year on promotion, subsidies, and “all the wining and dining they do to the officials,” she suggests a simpler solution – giving the money to poor communities directly.

“Just give them the damn $2000 each,” she said.  “I don’t even understand it.  Newfoundland is capable of so much more.  They could do wind power out there, eco-tourism is huge; there’s so much they could be doing out there to raise money instead of this.”

For Deodato, the immense suffering inflicted on seal populations is indefensible.  Her detailed descriptions of grotesque violence minced no words.

Photo by Andréa Prins

“About 92% of these seals that are killed are 4 weeks old or younger,” she said.  “These are sentient beings whose mothers are 10 feet away watching their babies – that they just gave birth to, that they’re still nursing…being clubbed and skinned.  I mean, this is a horrible thing that we’re doing.  100% at this time of year, I’m embarrassed to be Canadian.

“Forgetting that it’s less than 1% of Newfoundland’s gross domestic product, forget that the government then subsidizes it; it goes right down to how inhumane this entire thing is.  If this was 300,000 puppies being clubbed barely unconscious and then skinned, you would have all of Canada standing up in arms.”

Even more alarming to Deodato was the method for killing gray seals, a hunt which occurs two weeks before the culling of harp seals.

“The gray seal has such a strong skull… a really thick cranium,” said Deodato.  “They have to hit them so hard they break their baseball bats, and then they skin them.”

Though there is an official quota that theoretically limits the slaughter to around 300,000 seals each year, Deodato said there is little accountability.  “Who’s going to enforce it?” she asks rhetorically.  “The Canadian government is totally behind this.

“They consider them fish,” said Deodato, “or they call it a harvest, like they’re a grain for cereal.  It’s a sentient mammal.  They nurse their babies.  This is just completely wrong.  It breaks my heart, literally.”

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17 thoughts on “Protesting The Commercial Seal Hunt

  • March 20, 2010 at 1:56 pm
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    This is a great article! Thank you for showing the public how embarrassing the Canadian politicians are behaving, by trying to trick Canadians into thinking this has anything to do with the Inuit people, by spending our tax dollars to support this barbaric slaughter, and by desperately trying to promote seal meat as an important food item for Canadians. I agree with Vicky – I am also 100% embarrassed to be Canadian at this time of year. The whole world is watching us, it's time to get with the times, and come up with alternatives, such as the eco-tourism that Vicky mentioned. And don't bother to comment on here about the cod stocks – if I hear one more parroted comment about that I will scream. The decimated cod population has nothing to do with the seal population, and everything to do with HUMAN OVERFISHING!

  • March 21, 2010 at 2:18 am
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    Setting aside for a moment the impossibility that any sort of hunt – seal or otherwise – can break someone's heart *literally*, I would to also point out that supporting the seal hunt is cynically painted by anyone on the anti-sealing side as being pro-torture. Which is ludicrous. How many who support the hunt do you suppose actually profess: "yes, indeed, I love it when they twitch". Not many, I reckon.

    My question is: why seals? What makes the seals so special?

    See the rest of my reply (because obviously I can't full express myself in this little box) at the following link: .

  • March 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm
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    Cows, lobsters, fish, chickens, etc. No one goes out in the rain and protest them being killed and eaten. They're not "cute" enough.

    Although they know not to talk about banning the Inuit hunting them. They know that would make them look bad. Which goes against the "it's cruel" part. If it's cruelty for one group isn't it cruel for another? Can't play favourites if they think it's that bad of a thing. And I'm part Native.

    One thing to remember is that a lot of people out east work in seasonal employment. Some months working, with some with nothing at all. 1000 or 2000 bucks to one of them is a chunk of change that will help them out during the lean months. Might be a "paltry sum" to some people but I don't know any of those people. My relatives who live in the province don't have 1000 bucks to throw around.

    By the way, Moose are also sentient mammals who nurse their young. Guessing I won't see any of these people protesting that hunt in Kingston. And for the majority of people hunting those animals it's something they do in their spare time. Not for money. I didn't find a "Save our Moose" campaign on Kingston Animal Trust. Again, not cute enough for them.

  • March 23, 2010 at 1:47 am
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    Actually if you had read my comment I broached the subject of seals being the poster children for these movements based on their cuteness before Robert did, so your quarrel is with me, not him.

    I get confused when I read commentary about the seal hunt because I'm not always certain which argument is paramount to the revocation of access to the activity. Is it the cruelty under which it is undertaken? Is it the life that these young animals are being denied? Is it the vanity of it; the so called "no need"?

    I ask again as I have many times in the past – and thankfully now to someone who may just have the answers I have been seeking for many, many years – why are the seals so special?

    I read dozens of newspapers from East to West to North every day. I stay abreast of local and national details and, tell me please, why are the letters to the editor which bemoan the fact that the Ministry of Natural Resources doesn't enforce duck hunters' collection and usage of the carcasses of their kill? I would be tickled pink if other hunting activities were as well monitored as the seal hunt.

    How long does a deer wait for the inevitability of death after it has been shot?

    I am baffled by the notion of vanity in these arguments. Who defines vanity? Is that not the purview of some other organization than an animal rights organization? Perhaps the Vice Squad or something. How many fisherman and hunters need stuffed reminders of their exploits nailed to the wall of their den? When, then, shall I read the commentary demonizing the existence of taxidermists. Surely you would also reckon the murder of an animal for no other purpose than its display to be abhorrent? Your letter will be, no doubt, a captivating read.

    "Most of the blubber and meat is discarded and left to rot…" Most by weight? Or by number of carcasses? I ask because this matters. I'm curious to know where this statistic comes from and how it differs from the take in other hunting activities because, surely, there is a defined line that makes seal hunters all the more egregious than their other-hunting compatriots. I look forward to reading the statistics.

    How many other things do you support account for 1/10th of 1% of the GDP of any geographically or politically significant area? Does that, then, make all those individual things irrelevant for that lone fact? I would suspect that a huge percentage of the GDP of Newfoundland & Labrador is made up of 1/10th of 1% items. It is, as the saying goes: "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money."

    I truly want to know through what programs and in what ways – specifically – the seal hunt is subsidized by the Canadian Government. I've heard the numbers 40$ million, 20$ million, etc, tossed around but no one says how. Surely you don't mean that 40$ million is sent out in cheques to hunters so they can buy a more gruesome cudgel? So, I'm curious where the subsidies are being spent. Government spending and programs, of course, are not subsidies and cannot be subsidized, so I'm confused. Also, clearly this so-called funding is exceptional to that of any other hunting program or project? Because if it's not that doesn't that just make it business as usual?

    Also, the Dalhousie University study claimed that seafood – as a source of food – would disappear by 2048. Not that the oceans would be, as you erroneously claim, dead. There would still be life, just not enough for us to eat.

    There are those of us who have plenty of things to do who still believe that consistency is the most effective means to credibility. Not issuing statements calling others comments "moronic". Or incorrectly claiming the oceans will die. Or making nebulous statements about subsidies by unnamed government agencies and programs to unnamed private organizations or bodies. Not to mention being rude: "people like you", etc.

    No on is claiming that you don't make a difference – or at least I ain't.

    And not to quibble on the details, but protesting is an act of objection. Perhaps born of love and deeply held conviction, but not an act of love. And since the seal hunt is entirely legal, it is also not an injustice. And, not to be too anal retentive, given that justice is blind I suspect it is given neither to hope nor despair. Saying no to injustice is actually more the ultimate declaration of… recognition of the judiciary?

    Perhaps you can borrow my dictionary.

  • March 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm
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    Mad Hacktress: Your philosophical rhetoric makes me nauseous. Are you FOR or AGAINST the Seal Hunt? All this unnecessary bantering over a topic that to any soulful being is barbaric and useless. I too am sick of the comparisons to countless atrocities that are taking place, i.e, Factory Farming, Animal Testing, Child Abuse etc… This particular protest was about the Seal Hunt. Period. The motivations of the protest are rooted deeply and with individual twists for each of the protesters. Thank you Vicky for continuing to enlighten everyone!

    • March 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm
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      Now we're talking rhetoric! Asking if I'm for or against the seal hunt and then, in the very next sentence, labelling anyone who's for the hunt as soulless? Well done.

      I am not specifically for or against the seal hunt, frankly – although I tend to incline toward being for anything that is legal, the patriot such that I am. I'm against *bad* seal *hunters* just as I am every other bad hunter of every other variety. I'm against *bad* conservation practices, just as I am for every other species whether mammal, fish, bird or other. I am for consistent messages and true compassion and not trumped up compassion and unsubstantiated propaganda that most effectively pulls at the heartstrings of the public.

      Now more than ever, I think, it would be a good time for us all to take a moment and hug a bluefin tuna. But how many op-eds do you think are there going to be over that issue? I don't recall a single article on this website or in the local newspapers taking umbrage with the recent CITES decisions or our government's poor leadership on the issue. Of course, seals are cuter than tuna, never mind that bluefin tuna is listed as critically endangered. Or, if it's not because seals are cuter then, again, I ask: why do the seals deserve all the face-time? This plain and simple fact, which is still unanswered in spite of 778 words having been written by people who are against the seal hunt (and, I suspect, other hunts and whatnot). It's a simple question, where's the simple answer?

      My issues, as always, are with consistency. Animal rights groups who wish to rail against bad hunters, or bad conservation, or bad (missing?) legislation are entirely within their rights and I wouldn't wish to abridge those rights in the least, in fact I support them; in double-fact I give money to such organizations each and every year so that they can see to their efforts. I do not see, however, where expecting the same accountability of rights groups that they too expect of those they purport to hold to account is wrong. Therefore, I ask questions. I question the methods, I question the motivation, I question the propaganda. And, I suspect, that it is within my rights to do so.

      And so I do, whether nauseatingly soulless or not.

  • March 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm
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    No reason to use 20 exclamation marks. That tends to come across as yelling. Fact I counted each one does equal research.

    For myself, killing baby seals years ago purely for their white coats was stupid. Hunting something just for the sake of "fashion" didn't make sense. Bet you weren't expecting that opinion from me. Hunting of those seals in particular has been illegal in Canada since 1987. Which is something that a lot of people don't know.

    However you can see one of the protestors with a poster of a "whitecoat" on it. Isn't that using the cute factor? At the least it's dishonest to have a picture of something that hasn't been part of this issue for 23 years. That's a long time. Not saying you do that Vicky, whoever that Queen's student did in the front row. I know he used it to get sympathy, but should be time to stop using pictures of baby seals which no one can hunt.

    Brought up the Moose since the province on Monday increased the length of this year's hunt by 3 weeks. And also increased the amount of hunting licenses given out. Said the reason was "overpopulation". Parks Canada earlier in the year said it might allow Newfoundland and Labrador's first cull of those animals inside two national parks. Their reason was that they were eating too many young trees. Chance of seeing anyone complain about those animals getting killed is pretty low.

    Be nice to know your opinion on the Moose issue Vicky.

    • March 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm
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      Well stated, Robert. You're absolutely right about the propaganda issue – and I do loathe using that word, but it's accurate. If hunting them is off limits then so should misrepresenting the hunt with their images be.

      One of the quotes I most take exception to in this article is: "These are sentient beings whose mothers are 10 feet away watching their babies – that they just gave birth to, that they’re still nursing…being clubbed and skinned." This clearly shows a lack of knowledge of the species because nursing lasts only 4 to 12 days (seals have the shortest nursing period of ANY mammal) and ends around the same time as the molting period begins – which is the point at which the seal pups are then able to be hunted. So, in most cases these stricken seals are not still being nursed and the mothers have weaned them; that sentence, however, is loaded with emotional triggers intended to draw you in and make you mist up just a little bit.

      In truth, after the mother is finished with her feeding her thoughts turn immediately to making next year's pup and so she's off a-courtin' and not worrying about junior and his plight. That's not just as effective as a sound-bite, however.

      Last week CITES – a group whose job it is to decide how much of an endangered species can be captured, bought and sold for trade (the TES stands for Trade in Endangered Species) – voted against and ban on the critically endangered bluefin tuna and the "vulnerable" (quote marks used to denote officialism, not scepticism) polar bear. Both votes against, incidentally, were lead by Canada.

      The bluefin tuna ain't just Endangered (capitalization required) it is Critically Endangered. Critically. Now I'm not a doctor, nor am I an animal rights activity so maybe I'm not qualified to make this judgment… but isn't critically endangered more urgent than, yknow, not endangered? And the fact that our government voted against the protection for this critically endangered creature, shouldn't that be appalling?

      Shouldn't it also be the sort of news that one learns from an animal rights activist (or a doctor) and not from some soullessly nauseating commenter at the Kingstonist? But where, dear Robert, is the outcry for the tuna? Or for your majestic moose?

      Mayhap I have missed it, although I have duly searched.

  • March 23, 2010 at 8:11 pm
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    I sometimes think the seal thing stands out as it is killing the animal for a purpose that 99% of us see no need for. The average person doesn't use any by-products of the seal hunt, you don't buy seal meat or whatever from the supermarket, people aren't wearing seal skins. So since no one actually wants anything made or produced from the seal, it's hard to get to grips with why the seal hunt even exists. It seems as out of date as the fox hunt in Britain.

    Sure we all know of the atrocities of what happens to cattle, chickens, etc – but the majority of us also eat these animals and wear leather goods and so on. At least there seems to be a reason and it makes sense to a degree, Plus, it's hard to hate something so much when you use it all the time, no one would want to look like a hypocrite :P

    I agree though, the protesting of the seal hunt does seem to smack of chest beating a bit. I am curious what 50 people outside of Kingston city hall hope to achieve? I doubt it's awareness, since the media has had that tied up for years. And I don't think Kingston's city hall will be in much of a position to change things either.

    Protests are a right I suppose, but best to perform them where change can be affected, otherwise you aren't really gaining anything.

    Hmm, I usually avoid these types of discussions and with good reason… oh well.

  • March 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm
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    How unfortunate that we find ourselves debating an issue of suffering and anguish. The fact remains, that regardless of what animal is being slaughtered, we condone these barbaric actions with our silence and our Big Macs. I thank Vicky and her team of advocates for being the voice of those who are silenced by our behaviour…for creating awareness so that others can make informed decisions – or at the very least search for their own truth …for using their passion in action and not merely to type from their comfortable couches in protest. Do I need statistics to prove to me that the stopping of another’s heart is inhumane? Do I need proof to conclude that bashing the skull of an animal is tortuous? Do I need to discredit the foresight of a group of people sacrificing their time and energy to “be the change they wish to see in the world”? Certainly we could all debate current statistics and the argument of ‘why seals and not lobsters’ – I say log off of your computers, place a sign in your hand instead of a chicken leg, and protest against all forms of cruelty.

  • March 25, 2010 at 12:51 am
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    I am truly thankful that there are people like Vicky, Tracy-Lyn, Sharon and the KAT members in this world who stand up for what believe in and try and make the world a better place for all living creatures. I am also so sick of hearing that the only reason people protest the seal hunt is because they are cute! I believe that all life is precious no matter how cute and fluffy or cold and scaly. This protest was for the seals just like the walk last fall was for farm animals, they all deserve to be treated humanely and none deserve to suffer they way they do.

  • March 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm
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    If there isn't a cute factor then why do protestors have pictures of those baby seals that haven't been hunted for over 2 decades? I see there's no reply to how that's dishonest.

    Good point Ryan on people not ever using seal products. I have had Moose meat before. Not many people have. Mooseburgers taste different, a bit more gamey. I'm shocked there is no love for Bullwinkle on here. Well, I'm not really that surprised they haven't responded.

    • March 26, 2010 at 2:23 am
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      Personally, I find this argument a little weak. "Why aren't you protesting the treatment of lobsters and moose too, huh?" Um…because this was a protest against the seal hunt? I don't see what's so hard to grasp about this.

      Still, good point about the baby seal pictures. I'll have to do some more research into that.

      • March 26, 2010 at 3:38 am
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        It's not that they aren't protesting it "too", but it's the fact that there are principles more egregious than the specificity of the legal seal hunt – such as lobsters being boiled alive, 4-day-old calves (younger by half than "baby seals" and nowhere near close to being weened by their mothers, unlike the seals) being killed for veal, critically endangered tuna having their protection status voted down by representatives of our government to name a few. Each of these animals is in more need of awareness and protection than the seals.

        I'm not saying don't protest against animal cruelty, or against baby animals being killed, or against bad conservation – those are all important things to protest against – but protest against those PRINCIPLES, not against the seal hunt. Do you not agree that it makes people think a little more about animal cruelty if you mention that lobsters are boiled to death as a matter of routine? How many people do you suppose don't really think of that and yet consider it to be horrible!?

        I, for one, don't even kill spiders (even in winter, I keep them indoors until spring) and mosquitoes. I get ridiculed for it, but it is my way. Just today I found an ant on the newspaper after bringing it in and I walked the little guy back outside and set him down.

        That said, I truly believe that if one calls one's self an animal rights activist then one organizes protests and events that are inclusive of all animals who need activism. Protesting the issues at issue makes a far more helpful, and consistent, statement.

      • March 26, 2010 at 3:57 am
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        Regarding the pictures:

        The picture that the young man is holding in the larger picture (the top one) is of a whitecoat harp seal, a very, very common image in anti-sealing protests. After about 12-14 days they begin to molt their coat and begin to show their grey fur underneath when they're called "ragged-jackets" at which point they are able to swim and, therefore, escape and are legal to hunt.

        The other picture, that the caption claims to be Vicky herself, is, from the look of it to me, a young hooded seal called a blueback. In fact, I would dare say that the exact picture of the blueback can be found by doing a very easy Google Images search for "blueback hooded seal". Bluebacks are also illegal to hunt and have been since 1987, just like whitecoats. (image link:

        The fact that the first image is that of a whitecoat and not a ragged-jacket (or certainly an adult seal) is very clearly discovered by looking at images of ragged-jackets (Google 'em). The first thing that you'll notice that's similar about ragged-jackets is that the first place that they tend to start to molt is at the top of their head just behind their eyes and in a line down the middle of their backs. It would, therefore, stand to reason that if this picture was of a ragged-jacket then you would see the molt line running down the animal's back.

  • October 3, 2010 at 10:52 pm
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    I dont get why people would do this ITS HURTFULL!!! and unneccasarry!!!!!!

    • March 1, 2011 at 8:51 pm
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      i have to agree with u. the government should spend the money educating the sealers to get another job instead of wasting it on seal hunts!

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