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So, A Baby Seal Walks into a Club…

March 30, 2008


Seriously, though. Just this past week, the national embarrassment that is the seal hunt began again in Canada. It is notoriously difficult to get unbiased information on this issue. On the one hand, the images that we see of seals being brutally clubbed or shot, blood turning the ice floes red, are disturbing and disgusting. There is no need for fur clothing anymore, and the fact that hundred and thousands of seals (and millions of other animals) die for fashion is barbaric. On the other hand, the protests smack of “Save the Charismatic Megafauna!” and rely heavily on emotional arguments.

Arguments for the seal hunt include the need to cull the population in order to keep its size manageable, the economic needs of the fishermen/sealers, the food and fuel uses of seal meat/blubber, and the fact that the seal hunt isn’t any worse than many of the other things we do to animals – only more visible.

Arguments against the seal hunt tend to reflect those for: that there is no need to cull the population – nature does that itself if we leave it, that the money from the seal hunt is a paltry percentage of the fishing industry’s income, that it is ecologically unsustainable, and “unacceptably inhumane.”

I’m torn, and it bothers me that I even have to think about it. It is inarguably inhumane that “hunters” stalk the ice for seals between the ages of two weeks and three months old, animals that don’t even have a chance to escape or defend themselves, and kill them for their pelts and blubber. They still use icepicks and clubs, and try to kill them with one blow so that the skin is left unmarred – a practice which means that if the first blow doesn’t kill the animal, it is left to die slowly as to avoid further marks. This is gross and disgusting. We’ve all seen the pictures.

What I wonder, though, is how is this worse that what goes on in fur farms or factory meat farms every day? I’ve read a (possibly unreliable) statistic that 31 million animals die in fur farms per year (if you have a more reliable source, please mention it in the comments). If the Canadian seal hunt quota is 275,000 this year, that represents less than one percent of the total number of animals killed for fur. If we include animals killed for meat, the number goes down to nearly nil.

I know that referencing a larger evil doesn’t make up for a smaller one, but I think it adds perspective. How many activists fly up north at this time of year (air travel being the number-one contributor of carbon emissions, indirectly killing polar wildlife through global warming’s melting of habitats)? How many do the same for fur farms? How many news reports decry the inhumanity of Canada’s hunt, showing images and video of hunters clubbing baby seals? How many do investigative reports on fur farms and feedlots? How many people like me complain disgustedly about the brutality of the seal hunt, and sit down to a dinner of meat?

I don’t have a problem with eating meat, and I am aware that eating meat requires killing animals. I have personally dealt with this and come to the conclusion that death and dying is a part of living. Nature is cruel. That’s life, kiddo. I do have a problem with inhumane treatment of animals. I believe that we can raise animals for meat in such a way that the lives they do have are full and happy, and I think this should be our goal. Seals that get killed in the seal hunt are better off than animals raised in fur or meat farms (assuming these farms are cruel. Who knows? Maybe the animals in farms get better food and more medical treatment than wild animals) – wild seals have completely natural lives up until the moment they are killed. As long as they are killed humanely, which has not necessarily been established.

I do, however, have major problems with the killing of animals for fur, which the seal hunt is. I have heard that meat and blubber also get used, but I have also heard that this is untrue and the skinned carcasses are left on the ice. So, I still have two objections to the seal hunt: the reason for the hunt, and the (possible) cruelty of the methods. It disturbs me to come down so close to supporting the seal hunt. Emotionally, I feel that supporting (or at least, not condemning) the seal hunt is akin to saying “Well, think of all the good things Hitler did!” Logically, though, I can’t muster the indignation I used to. Yes, the seal hunt is gross, but gross is not the same as wrong.

Sure, it may be wrong, but you can’t argue that it’s wrong because it’s gross. “Ick” is not an appropriate basis for judgment, and when the protesters and the media flood us with bloody photos of mean men and cute baby seals I resent them for trying to manipulate my emotions rather than convince me rationally.

As a side note, Canada’s seal population is only so large and robust since the government started regulating the seal hunt in the 70s. If Canada ended the seal hunt, would seal hunting stop or would unregulated poaching take over? My money is on the latter. Also, we don’t have to go and club seals to kill them: the quota has recently decreased because global warming is melting the ice they live and breed on. Baby seals are drowning to death and that is our fault too.

Have I made you all hate me? I hate me a little.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gareth Owen permalink
    May 24, 2008 1:01 pm

    I have been researching into the seal cull because I’m getting a kilt for my wedding and I am trying to decide whether or not to buy a seal-skin sporran.

    I agree with most of what you’ve said. Principaly i am for the killing of animals for food or pest control, including that of foxes and baadgers here in Scotland becuase of there impact on farming, but I am against unecessary killing purely for fasion purposes. I am trying to work out what the case is for seals. Do you, or anyone else reading this post know what percentage of seal meat and/or blubber is used for food or animal feed?

    Hope someone can help


  2. May 25, 2008 4:58 am

    Seals aren’t as ‘attractive’ as Siamese_n_Oriental Cats but refusing them entry to Bars in Canada does seem extreme.


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