One of the lesser known holidays for March 22nd is the International Day of the Seal. I could only find one reference with any information. Other sites list March 15th as the date for the International Day of Action Against Seal Hunting (or some variation of this name). It is a pity that there is not a more unified effort to settle on a specific date to bring attention to this cause. Canada's harp seal hunt is one of the most brutal spectacles anyone could witness. Thousands of baby seals are bludgeoned senseless, then skinned for their hides, and not all are dead before this is done. The very thought is horrendous. Despite international protest the hunt continues, subsidized by the Canadian government which insists on trying to create a market for a product that is not really necessary. Perhaps if the hunt was left to the native people as a subsistence effort the way it was in the past it might be considered necessary, but if the industry must spend time and effort creating demand for the skins and now the oils of these baby seals then it is time to rethink the value of this business to the Canadian nation.
In 1987 the government of Canada did ban the harvest of "whitecoats", the fluffy white babies often seen in pictures, but this phase only lasts about two weeks -- as soon as this coat is lost the baby seals, now known as "ragged-jackets" like the seal pup above, are fair game. The argument is often made that the seals are plentiful and need to be harvested to keep population levels sustainable, but this still does not justify harvesting baby seals. If the population must be controlled then older animals are the more logical choice for harvest. The seals' habitat can be variable -- some years food is abundant and others it is not. The only way an animal population can remain viable in an uncertain habitat is by producing large numbers of young. In good years many will survive, but in bad years many perish, meaning that there are no excess numbers to keep the population levels up. If there are consecutive years of little food, populations levels could drop quite dramatically and the excess young produced in good food years are the only way the species can survive. The inability to take into account the long-term dynamics of animal populations has led to a number of extinctions over the years, and it is about time that we humans finally learn from our past mistakes. The attitude that the ocean possesses limitless resources must be changed, as it has led to overfishing in the Atlantic Ocean. Overfishing also affects harp seals, as they and the fishing industry harvest some of the same fish species. Rather than trying to put the blame on seals for decreasing fish populations, better regulation of the fishing industry would be a much more effective way to ensure sustainability.
If you feel as I do that any demand for sealskin coats or seal omega-3 oils (oils which can easily be found from other sources) does not justify this cruel slaughter, there are steps you can take to help end the practice. Three internet sites that have information about seal hunts and what you can do to help end them are Harpseals.org, The Humane Society of the United States, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. There is even a click-to-give site that will donate to the effort to stop the harp seal slaughter. In addition to donations, you can join the protest by boycotting Canadian seafood. All seafood must be labelled with country of origin, so it should be relatively easy to avoid buying any product from Canada. The seafood industry is much bigger and more important to Canada than the seal hunt, so if enough people participate in the boycott eventually the government of Canada will get the message.
I realize that this is a bit of a soap-box issue for me, and many may feel that other causes are a greater priority. Nevertheless, I do feel the need to bring attention to this cause, especially at this time of year when Canada gears up for yet another baby harp seal hunt. Some day this hunt will be a thing of the past -- I am hoping I will be around to see that!