2010 LIVE FROM THE ICE
The ProtectSeals team has arrived in Newfoundland, Canada—the heart of sealing country—to document the commercial seal slaughter set to open on April 8th. Follow HSI/Canada's Rebecca Aldworth** as she documents Canada's commercial seal kill for 2010. With Canada's commercial seal industry and climate impacts pressuring seal pup survival this year is crucial for taking action. Help end this bloody business.
A "Live from the Ice" dispatch from Rebecca Aldworth, Director of Humane Society International Canada.
READ MORE ON THE BACKGROUND AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP STOP THE CRUEL CANADIAN SEAL HUNT
The 2010 commercial seal slaughter is slowly winding down. Spring is marching on and, with the warming temperatures, the harp seal nursery is literally melting away. The sealers have killed almost all of the pups in the areas we observed. What remains are shrinking ice pans covered in crimson blood.
In the coming weeks, the harp seals who have survived the commercial seal hunt and the record-low ice cover this year begin their slow migration back to Greenland. The ProtectSeals team is leaving too, for we have gathered more than enough evidence to help shut down this slaughter for good. Our work to save the seals from the 2011 seal hunt begins here.
We are in a race against time. Just11 months from now, next year's seal pups will face another brutal slaughter—unless we stop it first.
Today, we take our images from the 2010 seal hunt and send them around the world. The baby seal who was shot in the face and suffered horribly did not die in vain. Her death will be remembered, in the halls of the European Parliament and beyond. The seal pup who crawled in agony through his own blood will motivate nations to ban seal products and seafood distributors to avoid Canadian seafood. In the end, the blows struck against the baby seals this year will be like a boomerang, crushing the industry that motivated them.
What we documented this year at the seal slaughter has been horrific. In the 12 years I have born witness to Canada's commercial seal kill, I have rarely seen such cruelty and suffering. The Canadian government's claims of a humane slaughter will be exposed for the cynical propaganda they are in the face of our video evidence.
There is no worse time in my life than the days I spend observing this slaughter. For most people, the approach of spring means happiness and renewal, but for me, it is a time of dread and misery. Each moment that brings me closer to the opening day of the seal hunt is progressively worse, until that awful day arrives. It takes every ounce of strength that I have to bear witness to this massacre.
But as I leave the sealing grounds, I do, somehow, feel a sense of renewal. Another chance to change the fate of these seals, to work together with the best people in the world to shut down the worst slaughter.
We hold the fate of the seals in our hands. And never have we been so close to ending this killing for good. The sealing industry today is a shadow of its former self. This year,fewer than 30 sealing vessels hailed out in an area where nearly 1,000 usually operate. Tens of thousands of seals have died, but hundreds of thousands will live through the slaughter this year. Our campaign to close global markets for seal products has caused prices for seal fur to crash, and most sealers cannot find buyers at all this year.
Our boycott of Canadian seafood has achieved the support of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of individuals. Best of all, a recent poll shows half of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion are willing to consider a federal buyout of the sealing industry that would compensate them for lost revenue and develop economic alternatives.
The end is in sight, but we need to give everything we have to this campaign to save the baby seals in the coming year. With you on our side, I know we can end it. We can restore peace to Canada's ice floes.
Today the ProtectSeals team is once again flying out to the area where the sealing boats are operating. Yesterday, from the air, we filmed horrible suffering, and we are certain that if the sealing boats are still out there we'll see the same today. Clearly, these sealers care nothing about following even the few, inadequate rules that exist to protect baby seals.
But even as we head toward the sealing grounds, we are hopeful that the killing may be winding down. This year, the top buyer of seal fur in Canada reportedly decided not to purchase any baby seal skins. One other seal fur processor did agree to buy up to 50,000 skins—and given the clear lack of market demand this year, I can only wonder what government subsidy facilitated that purchase.
The sealing industry is coming to an end. Despite the posturing of my government, it is clear the only way Canada can keep this outdated, globally condemned slaughter going is through subsidies. (And those subsidies come from a Canadian public that overwhelmingly opposes the seal hunt and the use of their tax dollars for that purpose.)
The low demand this year means hundreds of thousands of baby seals will survive the slaughter. It has been a hard fight to save them, and our work is not over yet. But it's reassuring to know that our campaign is working. And it's working because of you.
Thank you for standing with the ProtectSeals team as we bear witness to the 2010 commercial seal slaughter—and for sharing our unwavering belief that we can and will make it history. We have never been closer than we are now.
There are days like yesterday in every expedition to film the baby seal slaughter. Days when horrible weather conditions keep us from reaching the ice floes but do not prevent the sealers from killing the seals.
Yesterday, the ProtectSeals team attempted to observe the seal hunt from our rigid, inflatable boat. Sadly, after hours of battling high winds and waves, we had to make the decision to turn back. We were devastated—to know this slaughter would go on without witnesses was too much to bear.
But then we received news. Our helicopter, equipped with a high-powered camera, had managed to make it through the high winds to the sealing area. As we were slowly making our way back to port, our helicopter hovered in the sky above the sealing boats, filming everything. And as usual, multiple violations of the law were caught on tape. Yet again, sealers failed to check to ensure the seals were unconscious before hooking, dragging and cutting them open.
One seal was shot in the chest. As blood poured out from under him, he slowly raised his head and tried to crawl. It took an eternity for sealers to arrive and club him. Another seal—still alive—was thrown onto a pile of bloody dead seals in a sealing boat. Realizing the seal was still moving, a sealer smashed his club down onto her skull, in the midst of the dead pile.
These baby seals are subjected to unimaginable suffering every day that this slaughter goes on. They are dying in the most horrible ways, at the hands of this awful industry.
We come out here to expose that suffering to the world. The sealing industry would like the brutality of this slaughter to remain a secret, for the killing to happen out of public view. But we can't let that happen, and your support ensures it won't. Because of you, the tragic deaths of these defenseless animals will ultimately bring down the sealing industry. As the images of this cruelty are broadcast around the world, global markets for seal products are closing, and consumers are taking action to stop the slaughter.
Because of the images we gather of this horrible hunt, those who would defend this atrocity simply have no defense.
The Slaughter Continues
Sensing danger, one baby seal looked up. As he nervously glanced across the ice, a bullet smashed into his face. He fell back, bleeding. The other seal looked toward him worriedly, and, as she did, another bullet blasted across the ice and hit her in the face. The blood began to pour from her, but she slowly pulled her head up and began to crawl, dragging herself forward. In agony, she slowly moved in a complete circle, blood trailing behind her. From the air, we could see her sliding through her own blood as she cried.
Finally, the sealing boat arrived, and she was shot again. As she collapsed, the first seal rolled over—he too had been alive and suffering all this time. A sealer ran onto the ice, smashing his club into both their heads. Without checking to see if the seals were unconscious, he hooked both of them in their faces, pulling them onto the boat. As we flew over in the helicopter, we could see that one seal was still moving. Unconcerned, the sealers sliced the pups open, one after the other—a grisly and painful death, and just more evidence of why this slaughter must be stopped.
For much of the year, we see opportunistic Canadian politicians organizing increasingly tasteless events to promote the sealing industry and seal-fur markets (along with their own careers). But those politicians are ironically silent now. As the baby seals are brutalized on the ice floes, these politicians seem entirely at a loss for words.
I don't blame them. What words could defend what we have filmed in the past three days? What propaganda could ever counter the cries of a wounded baby seal choking on her own blood? What excuses could erase the image of a baby seal whose face has been torn apart by a bullet as she screams in agony?
They have no words. They have no excuses. Because there are none.
To Be a Baby Seal
Up here in a helicopter, observing Canada's commercial seal hunt, you witness each baby seal subjected to a slow and torturous death. For the sealing industry, the deaths of these seals are just statistics—a percentage of the quota filled, another skin to sell.
But imagine being that pup.
The bullet tears into you. You are only three weeks old, and you don't understand what has happened—why you are in so much pain. You try to crawl desperately, to escape the agony. You see another pup close to you on the ice, and you turn toward her, only to see a bullet rip through her.
Your blood spills out behind you as you drag yourself toward the only safety around—the water. But you don't yet know how to swim, and you stare helplessly into it. Another bullet slams into you, and you scream. And then you hear the roar of the boat engine, the shouts of the sealers. You have never seen a human before, but somehow you know they mean to hurt you. You are far too young to be able to defend yourself, but, pathetically, you try to make a stand, rearing your head back as the sealer approaches. It is all you can do.
But you are not dead. In fact, you're still conscious. The sealer takes a metal hook and stabs it through your jaw, then drags you along. You are in so much pain, and you clench your tail, but no one takes notice. Instead, still another torture awaits, as the sealers awkwardly impale you on a second hook, this time through the flipper.
Together, two men attempt to hoist your body on board, the steel hooks slicing through your body. You are slammed onto the deck of the boat. But you are still not dead.
We must sound the cries of every wounded, brutalized baby seal killed out here, merging them into a single shout loud enough to be heard in the farthest corners of our planet: "End. It. Now.”
Help us expose the suffering of these baby seals to the world. Tell everyone. Help us end it now.
Eyes Wide Open
April 10 2010
There is so much blood. It saturates the ice, slicks across the water, covers the decks of the boats and the sealers. There is death in all directions.
Today we saw so many examples of it. A seal was shot across the back: the bullet created a huge bloody wound, but the seal was still conscious. Another bullet slammed across the ice, and another. Four shots later, and the seal pup was still conscious, bloody and in pain. For several minutes we filmed from our helicopter, waiting for the sealers to come. They left him to suffer for what seemed like an eternity before finally arriving to club the seal. Without bothering to find out if the seal was unconscious, the sealer took a knife and sliced the pup open from end to end. Another seal looked up just as a club smashed into her skull. Still another began to thrash about in a pile of dead bodies on the boat. It took several minutes for a sealer to notice and halfheartedly club her.
Even if we had not been so far away, we are prevented by Canadian law from helping these suffering creatures. All we are permitted to do is watch and document every atrocity.
You might think that after seeing countless seals brutalized at the commercial seal hunt, this would all get easier. But, it doesn't.
When you watch this kind of casual violence day after day, year after year, it has a cumulative effect. For some people, the anger turns to despair. They burn out, unable to continue the fight.
For me, it is different. Each death I see is as hard to witness as the first one I saw twelve years ago. But the anger I feel is like a fuel: It builds and builds, giving me the strength to wage our campaign throughout the year to shut this industry down forever.
This year, I will fight harder than ever for these seals. I will not stop until the slaughter is stopped. We are battling a ruthless industry and political opportunists in my government who care nothing for truth, decency, or basic compassion.
The ice floes off Canada's east coast are a place of death right now. But just as the seals are dying, so too is the sealing industry. Every club the sealers bring down on a stricken baby seal, every bullet that tears into a defenseless pup—each one is a deathblow to the future of the slaughter.
Please join me in being a witness. Together, we'll make the sights and sounds of clubs and rifle blasts echo around the world—until the seals are finally safe.
April 9 2010
My government tells the world that the commercial seal slaughter is humane, closely monitored, and tightly regulated. That's a lie, and our footage from today proves it.
The baby seals are so helpless out here. So young that they are not yet swimming, these three-week-old pups are visible targets on the tiny pieces of ice they're floating on. The sealers, out to make a quick buck, are clubbing and shooting every one they find. It is unimaginably hard to be up here—in a helicopter 1,000 feet in the air—bearing witness to what is happening.
Today, unlike on the first day of the slaughter, we saw a Canadian coast guard boat and an enforcement plane in the area. But the government representatives did nothing to stop sealers from shooting seals and leaving them to suffer.
Nothing to prevent sealers from impaling seals on metal hooks and dragging them across the ice, throwing seals onto boats, and cutting open seals—all without checking once to see if the seals were unconscious. The Canadian government did nothing to enforce the few inadequate regulations that are on the books.
In front of us, two pups lay on one ice pan, blissfully unaware of a sealing vessel bearing down on them. One of the baby seals was shot but not killed. He thrashed around in agony, lifting his head. Just feet away from him, the other seal was shot seconds later and lay bleeding on the ice. The first seal continued to suffer, raising and lowering his head in a pool of his own blood. The sealer finally arrived and then clubbed the wounded seal just once before impaling him on a metal hook and dragging him away—without ensuring the seal was even unconscious.
It is this evidence that is ending Canada's commercial seal slaughter.
How many Canadian politicians can continue to stomach the cruelty we witness out here? How many will continue to try to claim the slaughter is humane in the face of our irrefutable evidence of abuse, year after year?
The ProtectSeals team will not let them do it. We will expose the cruelty on these ice floes to the world.
Slaughter opened in the “front” (waters northeast of Newfoundland) just before sunrise
“Sealers are flagrantly violating the few inadequate rules that exist to protect seals,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada.
"There were no government enforcement officers in the area we were filming. One baby seal was shot in the face, and was shaking her head in agony as she crawled across the ice for several minutes, blood trailing behind her, before a sealer clubbed her. Sealers were not checking to ensure seals were unconscious before impaling them on hooks and dragging them across the ice, throwing them onto boats, and cutting them open. In the 12 years I have observed the commercial seal slaughter in Canada, this is some of the worst cruelty I have witnessed. These images prove that Canada'sseal slaughter is cruel and inhumane.”
As we flew in yesterday over the mountains, my heart sank. Each year I come here it is the same—the stunning beauty of this place contrasts so sharply with the bloody violence we are about to see. We are preparing to bear witness to the word's largest and most atrocious slaughter of marine mammals, and the thought is devastating.
This year will be harder to witness than most.
2010 has seen the lowest sea ice formation on record off of Canada's east coast, a disaster for the ice-breeding seals who are the target of the commercial seal hunt. In some key seal birthing areas, virtually no ice formed. In others, the ice that did form melted before the pups were able to survive in open water.
There have been reports of starving seal pups on beaches throughout Canada's Atlantic Provinces, tragic victims of their mothers' desperate attempts to give birth on land. Today we surveyed the rocky beaches of the west coast of Newfoundland and found many dead whitecoats. This heartbreaking scene was hard enough to bear, but even harder knowing the 2010 commercial seal slaughter will proceed.
Unmoved by the mass seal pup mortalities we are witnessing, the Canadian government has raised the seal quota by 50,000. This year, sealers will be allowed to slaughter 388,200 seals—one of the highest quotas in Canadian history. Unbelievably, the few seal pups who have survived the ice disaster are now about to be beaten and shot to death for their fur.
It doesn't have to be this way.
A recent poll conducted by a leading Canadian polling firm Ipsos Reid reveals that half of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion support a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry. Such a plan would involve the federal government compensating fishermen for their sealing licenses, and investing in economic alternatives in communities involved. There is every reason for sealers to support such a plan.
**Rebecca Aldworth is director of Humane Society International Canada (HSI Canada). For more than a decade, she has observed first hand Canada's commercial seal hunt—escorting more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to bear witness to the largest marine mammal slaughter on Earth.