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April 17, 2012

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The Seal Hunt is All But Dead, Thank Activists

By Margaret Wente,

seal, harp seal,  seal hunt, Canadian seal hunt

Animal-rights activists have a problem: They’re running out of Newfoundlanders to club. For years, they’ve been battling the Canadian seal hunt with propaganda pictures of adorable animals being bludgeoned to death by brutish louts. Those images have brought in millions of dollars in donations. But now they’ve won. Although they won’t admit it, the Canadian sealing industry is all but dead.

This year, there may be more protesters on the ice than sealers. Russia has imposed a new ban on seal pelts, and prices have plunged. As a result, many sealers are just staying home. “We have no indication if anyone is buying,” Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, told the CBC.

seal, harp seal,  seal hunt, Canadian seal huntIn my view, it’s about time the hunt wound down. Commercial sealers have lost the sympathy of most Canadians, who think it’s time for them to enter the modern world like everyone else. Newfoundland is rich in technology and oil, and has long since ceased to be a subsistence economy. The value of the sealing industry has shrunk to about $1-million a year. But it remains a huge black eye for Canada. Who really thinks our government should be trying to defend people who chase down cute, defenceless animals and splatter their gore across the ice? Who really wants to keep subsidizing them to do it?

In Newfoundland, needless to say, the narrative is different. Back in the 19th century, seals were second only to cod in economic importance. Tales of bravery, heroism and death on the ice are the stuff of legend. So are tales of attacks on Newfoundland’s way of life by powerful outsiders. As John Furlong, a CBC broadcaster from the Rock, puts it, Newfoundlanders grow up with a narrative of 500 years of victimhood and exploitation, “finely tuned and handed down from generation to generation.” This narrative is central to the Newfoundland identity. Because the province has so much voting clout, no politicians dare question it.

The major federal parties support the hunt. When NDP MP Ryan Cleary ventured to say recently that the days of sealing might be coming to an end, the backlash was instant and severe. But the truth is that a growing number of Newfoundlanders themselves would like to consign the hunt to history.

seal, harp seal,  seal hunt, Canadian seal hunt

The industry’s defenders are right about a couple of things. Animal activists are manipulative, and the public is hypocritical. Activists persist in using misleading photos of big-eyed baby white coats, even though those seals are protected by law. And killing seals is no more inhumane than killing pigs or cows or any other animal we eat. The trouble is that it’s unrealistic to expect moral consistency from the public. Also, no one eats seals for dinner, because the meat tastes disgusting. Their main value has always been their skins.

Ironically, the demise of the sealing industry hasn’t stopped the activists, who still need the innocent seals as poster animals. As usual, the International Fund for Animal Welfare has denounced the government for setting this year’s quota too high – even though the seal population is booming, and the harvest will be tiny. The U.S. Humane Society is signing up celebrity chefs to help publicize a boycott of Canadian seafood products. It also has a YouTube video starring an American pop singer named Ke$ha, who says: “Every year thousands of baby seals are clubbed to death by Canadian fishermen.” Watch out. She could pop up on an ice floe next to Paul McCartney any time.

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