by Anthony Marr
While driving from Toronto to Ottawa Ė a four hour trip at 100 km/h - I
picked up a hitch-hiker on the Toronto end, who, much to my regret,
happened to be a sealer. For want of a more civil remark, I told him that
he should have walked all the way to Ottawa, as an atonement.
"The two cities are 248 miles or 390 km apart. If you line up all the
seals you guys kill every year in a single file, the line of some 350,000
seals, at a bit more than one meter per seal, would stretch from the CN
Tower in Toronto all the way to the Parliament Building in Ottawa. I
think, out of respect for these sentient beings, the least you can do is
to walk a Funeral March for the Hunted, from the first one you kill to the
"A funeral march for seals? Thatís ludicrous. They donít even have
souls, for Christís sake."
"Speaking of souls, I might suggest that you take the Funeral March as
a penance. It would be good for your karma, too. Some cultures would
believe that you will reincarnate as a seal next life, one destined to be
skinned alive, if you donít do something about it now."
"Yeah, right, Iím quaking in my boots already," he sneered.
"Personally, though I do find reincarnation a fascinating concept, I
donít believe this interpretation of it either. I just canít look at an
innocent baby seal and think that it used to be an evil human baby-seal
killer, reborn to be skinned alive by other baby-seal killers, to atone
for that ex-baby-seal-killerís crimes. It would be adding-insult-to-injury
of the worst kind. But I do think that walking the 390 km on the Funeral
March for the Hunted would be good for your soul, if you have one."
"Sorry to say this to you, pal, but your 390 km is way off base. Most
of the seals we kill are just babies as young as two weeks old. They donít
measure up to a meter in length. Your line of seals would be well short of
390 km; 300 km max. So there."
"I rest my case," I said, without bothering to argue that adult harp
seals average 1.8 meters long, which would counter-balance the baby sealsí
shortfall, or point out that the sealers and even the Canadian Fisheries
Minister have been dismissing the word "baby". Instead, I asked, "How can
you justify this kind of carnage? Donít you have feelings?"
"Sure I have feelings. But itís no skin off my back." The sneer
broadened into a lopsided grin. No seal could ever produce an evil
expression as this, thatís for damn sure.
"Do they have feelings?"
"Who? The seals? Why don't you ask them?"
"I don't have to. Their writhing when you skin them alive says they do.
But you don't think that they feel pain?"
"I don't know. And, frankly, I don't care."
"Can't you feel their pain?"
"Not a bit. I hear them scream. I see them writhe, yeah. But I feel
just fine. In fact, the more seals I kill, the better I feel."
"Don't you also feel just a bit cowardly to torture and kill a pup
whose mother cannot defend, who can't defend himself, and who cannot fight
"Better a living coward than a dead hero, is what I say."
"Have you no pride?"
"How much is pride a kilo, eh? How much per kilo do you sell courage
for? Come to think of it, pride and courage are very expensive- to buy.
So, you can keep'm. As for me, I have seal skins, seal oil and seal
penises to sell, at a hundred bucks a pop, or should I say, a pup, haha."
Even-tempered as I think I am, I was beginning to see red. I took a
moment to collect myself. "I believe that deep down you do feel some pain,
however much you succeed in concealing it from yourself. Really, tell me.
Why do you do it? You don't make all that much of money out of it. Youíre
primarily a cod fisherman."
His eyes lit up above the grin. "Aha! I kill seals because they eat
fish, cod in particular. The more seals, the fewer cod, the fewer seals,
the more cod. Plain and simple. There are some 5 million seals out there.
They eat up a hell of a lot of cod. So, I donít get enough.
"I think you got too much. It is called over fishing. And youíre
scapegoating the seals for your own blunder driven by greed," I could have
sounded a little less hostile, but Iím not a seal; Iím human.
"We follow the law. If the law says it is okay, it is okay. The law
says it is okay."
"Only 3% of a sealís diet comprises cod," I pointed out.
"3% of the total amount of fish eaten by 5 million seals is still a lot
I pressed on, "In other words, 97% of the sealís diet consists of other
fish species that prey on cod. Without the seals controlling the
population of the predatory fish species, the amount of cod eaten would be
many times greater."
"Iíve heard that before. Itís just a theory, and a vague one at that.
There is no proof."
"I donít know about you, but we on the west coast have proof," I
"What proof? Your harbour seals there eat salmon. Iím sure the same law
of nature applies. More seals, fewer salmon; fewer seals, more salmon."
"Thatís just it. Itís just the opposite. On the west coast, it is more
seals, more salmon, fewer seals fewer salmon," I sought to humbly inform
"Thatís ridiculous. Whereís your proof?"
"Before I provide the proof, could you tell me what fish species the
harbour seal preys on?"
"Salmon, of course, and some others, maybe herring, smelt, hake,
mackerel, something like that."
"There are about 20 major fish species on which the harbour seals feed.
In descending order of volume consumed, they are rock fish, Pacific sand
lance, Pacific herring, Pacific staghorn sculpin, smelt, Pacific tomcod,
lamprey, flounder, shad, flatfish, Pacific hake, Shiner surf perch, gunnel,
prickleback, juvenile salmonids, Northern anchovy, adult salmonids,
Peamouth chub and Pacific Macheral, as well as cephalopods like squid."
"Where are the salmonids on this list?"
"I thought you were going to give me some kind of proof," he said
evasively, but in doing so, jumped from the pan into the fire.
"Do you know that there used to be a commercial seal hunt on the west
coast too, combined with a bounty hunt?" I asked him.
"Canít say that I do."
"Well, it happened in the late 30ís through into the 60s. By the late
60s, the seal population had become so decimated that the hunt was banned
in 1969. The ban stays in force today. The seal population has recovered."
"Good news. According to your formula of more seals, fewer salmon,
fewer seals, more salmon, the salmon population in the 30s, 40s, 50s and
60s should be high and that in the 70s, 80s and 90s should be low.
"Well, just the opposite is true."
"More seals, more salmon; fewer seals, fewer salmon?"
"I donít believe it."
"What do you have to back this up? "
"Could you open the Road Atlas to British Columbia?"
He did, reluctantly. "This better be good."
"Pick a river. Any river."
"Just do it."
"Alright. The Kitimat River."
"Do you know about escapement?"
"Sure. It is the number of adult salmon that make it all the way up to
their spawning ground to spawn in a salmon run. What about it?"
"Now, letís see. For the Kitimat river, the 1950s escapement of Chum
salmon averaged 16,700; 70s, 26,400; 90s, no mistake, 129,000. For Chinook
salmon, 1950s, 4,100; 80s, 9,900; 90s, 16,700."
"Youíre making things up as you go."
"No. Just photographic memory. Try another river."
"I donít particularly want to play this silly game."
"It is no game. Why donít you write down these numbers, and check them
in a government library in Ottawa when we get there?"
"A waste of time."
"So, you are afraid to find out?"
"Not at all, Ďcause I know you must be wrong. So, lie some more. Here.
The Babine River. What numbers are you gonna make up?"
"1950s, Babine River escapement of even-year Pink salmon average
11,800; 60s, 41,000; 70s, 106,000; 80s, 202,000; 90s, 214,700."
"The Kishwan River."
"1950s, escapement of Chum salmon 4,000; 60s, 1,150; 70s, 7,350; 80s,
13,200; 90s, 21,000."
"The Pinkut River."
"Escapement of Sockeye salmon in the 50s, 27,200; the 60s, 40,500; the
70s, 73,900; the 80s, 241,000; and the 90s, 260,900."
"Enough of this crap! Even if these are true, they are west coast
harbour seal and salmon, not the east coast harp seal and cod."
"And the natural law is different in the west than in the east?"
"If your figures are correct, it damn well is."
"So, are you going to do a funeral march for the seals you slaughter or
"Why should I? They eat my cod."
*Note: The above numbers were exacted from BC government and academic
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