by Stuart Millar
from The Guardian (London) - April 7, 2001
submitted by CAFT13@aol.com
Skinned alive: seal cull shocks vets: Thousands of
animals are suffering a long, painful death in Canada's annual hunt, a
new report claims
It was once the cause celebre of animal activists around
the world. But for a decade, the annual Canadian seal hunt has managed
to continue uninterrupted by claiming a new air of respectability and
concern for the welfare of the animals.
Now a damning report from an international panel of
wildlife vets is set to reignite demands for a crackdown by the Canadian
authorities on barbaric killing methods used by the sealers.
The report, produced by the International Fund for
Animal Welfare (IFAW) and passed to the Guardian, concludes that the
2001 hunt is causing "considerable and unacceptable suffering" to the
harp seal population of Canada's Atlantic coast.
The five eminent vets - two British, two American and
one Canadian - who monitored last week's hunt in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence found that more than 40% of the seals caught were unlikely to
have been unconscious, let alone dead, when they were skinned.
The Guardian has also learned that the Canadian
Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA), whose support for the hunt has
been used by the Canadian government and the sealers in an attempt to
persuade the public that it is humane, is considering demanding tougher
welfare regulations in the light of the latest evidence of cruelty.
The organization has already contacted Fisheries and
Oceans Canada, the government department responsible for regulating the
hunt, demanding that it stop citing the CVMA's support in media
interviews and on its website.
Ian Robinson, one of the two British vets on the panel,
said: "The Canadian government insists that this is an animal production
industry like any other. They say that it might not be pretty, but
basically it is just like any abattoir except on the ice. But we found
obvious levels of suffering which would not be tolerated in any other
animal industry in the world."
Mr. Robinson, a Norfolk-based RSPCA vet with 10 years'
experience treating large marine mammals, added: "We accept that the
hunt is going to continue and we are not condemning the sealers out of
hand. But we want to see tough regulations, enshrined in legislation and
enforced, to avoid this suffering."
According to official records, more than 91,000 harp
seals were killed during last year's Canadian hunt, which is the only
commercial mammal hunt in the world to take place in spring, at the
height of the birthing season. A further 100,000 were caught in the
Greenland hunt, which is almost completely unregulated.
The killing of newborn seals - those that still have
their white fur - is outlawed, but because the animals lose their white
coats just 12 days after birth, up to 90% of those caught in the
Canadian hunt are between two weeks and one year old.
The new evidence is unlikely to lead to the hunt being
banned, but opponents hope that it will at least force the Canadian
government to act to prevent suffering. Each year, animal welfare
charities document instances of cruelty but prosecutions have been rare.
The vets carried out postmortem examinations on 76 seal
carcasses left behind on the ice after being skinned, and their findings
have shocked even the most hardened anti-hunt campaigners.
Examinations of the skulls revealed that 17% showed no
signs of any cranial injury which would have caused the animal to be
unconscious when its pelt was removed. A further 25% showed only minimal
or moderate signs of injury which the vets conclude would also have been
unlikely to cause unconsciousness.
The panel also reviewed video evidence of this year's
and previous hunts. It found that in almost 80% of kills recorded, no
effort was made by the hunter to check that the seals were unconscious,
while in 40% of cases, the hunter left the animal on the ice before
returning to club it a second time, suggesting that it was conscious and
suffering in the meantime.
"Based on our observations, it is obvious that there is
a tremendous lack of consistency in the treatment of each seal, and the
existing regulations are neither respected nor enforced," the report
In their report, the vets say that there is only one
process for ensuring the humane killing of a seal. It must be rendered
unconscious with a single blow or shot, the corneal reflex should be
checked by poking it in the eyes to ensure that it is unconscious, and
the seal should then be bled immediately. This is standard practice in
"Any method for killing a seal which does not allow for
the above process of stunning, checking and bleeding to be performed has
an enormous potential to create suffering and is therefore
unacceptable," the report says.
It continues: "As this process cannot be followed in
open water, we consider that shooting seals in open water can never be
humane. Any method of taking a seal which requires the seal to be
recovered by gaffing or hooking before the process can be followed can
never be humane."
Monitors at this year's hunt have documented dozens of
examples of cruelty, from seals being hooked and dragged across the ice
while still alive for skinning, to others being shot in the water and
dragged by hooks on to the ice, with no attempt made to check for
Rick Smith, the Canadian director of IFAW, told the
Guardian: "The most valuable thing about this report is that it puts
numbers to the cruelty being suffered. Even after five years monitoring
the hunt, the results shocked me."
Support for the seal hunt among the Canadian public
hinges on government claims that it is humane. A government survey last
year showed that 54% of citizens were initially opposed to the hunt. But
when they were assured that the hunting was carried out humanely, almost
70% voiced support.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada last night brushed aside the
findings. Ken Jones, resource manager for the Atlantic region, said:
"The findings do not match with our experience at all.
"We have had CVMA vets out on the ice and all the skulls
they have found have severe fractures, suggesting a quick death."
There are clear signs, however, that the CVMA's attitude
is changing. Last weekend, the organization's animal welfare committee
met in Toronto to discuss the new report.
Bob van Tongerloo, a member of the committee and
executive director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, said:
"My understanding is that the CVMA will announce that it is no longer in
a position to give its support to the hunt. That decision will be
crucial to how the government handles the hunt in future."
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