Is the Canadian Seal Hunt Worth It?

By November 23, 2011 Ocean Solutions
Hunt Seal
Hunt Seal

There are 5.9 million harp seals in Canada; not even 200,000 are hunted every year. Should people really try to stop the hunt when other animals are on the brink of extinction?

The Great Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said:

“We have to be logical. We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig – the way they are slaughtered is horrible.”

There is world wide pressure to end the Canadian Seal Hunt due to inhumane acts against harp seals.

Seals are hunted in Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia, but Canada gets the most attention because they have the largest hunt. This subject really tears me apart because as a Canadian, I really love my country, but then I see pictures like this…as a Marine Ecologist and Average Joe, I feel hurt that my Country will allow it.

Check out how the video below where I breakdown the hunt and try to rationalize why it still goes on

But emotions aside let us break down this hunt to see what the big deal is all about.

There are 5.9 million harp seals in Canada mostly concentrated in the St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, and the North. The quota is set at just over 200,000 seals allowed to be killed each year starting on November 15 until May 15 with most occurring in late March.

The seals are killed in 3 step process:

Striking – The seal is shot or clubbed in the head to knock it out;

Checking – The sealer must crush the cranium on both sides of the head to make sure the animal is either knocked out or dead; and,

Bleeding – The sealer must cut the arteries under each of the front flippers to bleed the seal out and then wait at least 1 minute before skinning it.

So that is the nasty part and the controversial one. Both sides of the debate brought in veterenarians and other experts to weigh as to whether the killing process was humane. One side said it is humans the other side says it isn’t.

So that doesn’t help the debate at all.

Another side of the argument for the seal hunt is that the seals are stopping the cod fishery from recovering. You may remember the Northwest cod fishery collapsed due to over fishing in the early 1990s largely attributed to the mismanagement of the government…mainly the politicians and industry.

But I digress…Both sides of the argument agree that the harp seal population is not responsible for the slow recovery of the cod population…we just know that we fished them too much and there aren’t many left…but that is a topic for another show…

So let’s go over what we learnt so far…we may or may not know whether the killing process is humane…perhaps we should ask the seals how they feel about it!

We also know that there is no good ecological reason why we should be killing the seals…

So there must be an economical reason for the seal hunt. Some hunters say that the proceeds of the seal hunt may contribute up to 30% of their annual salary. Okay, is it just me or does that not sound like a lot. Figuring that the total catch and bans on seal pelts over the past few years, the contributions should be around 20%. That sounds even worse. I’m sure there are better ways to make money.

I did a bit of research on what kind of products are sold from the seal hunt. Pelts are a big one, mostly sold to Greenland, Norway, and China. Some people in the fashion industry have been known to use seal pelts in the clothing line, like Versace. Other lines stay away from them. So I suggest you stay away from fashion brans that use seal pelts in their clothing line. but, seal fat oil is used in soaps and health products. So if you want to stop the seal hunt, check the labels on your soaps and health oils to make sure you are buying seal free products.

In my opinion, I don’t really think there is a real need to hunt seals, especially the way it’s done, but then again I don’t think I would like the way cows and pigs are slaughtered either.

What do you think of the Seal Hunt? Do you think there is still a valid reason to keep the hunt going? Let us know

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Your infos are old. There’s over 10 millions harp seals out there and still growing out of hand. The quota have been raised to 400 000, but because of bad weather condition, not even 100 000 were hunted in the past two years.
    While all the Maritimes fishing boats are bringing in around 50 000 tons of fish and seafood from the Gulf, that species only eats 15 000 000 tons during the same period. Now, tell me whose putting too much pressure on the ressources…
    If we don’t control those population, there will be no fishing left in the Gulf. With or without market, we’ll have to kill them as they do for overpopulation in foxes, wolves, deers, etc… all around the world.
    And as far as the human killing is possible, it’s proven to be the best way possible.
    Like it or not, that’s the plain and simple truth.

  • Andrew Lewin says:

    Thanks for the correction in the number of harp seals in Canada. I did check the Department of Fieheries and Oceans website and they estimate over 9 million harp seals and around 350,000 grey seals are in Atlantic Canada. So I apologize for the mishap. I am curious as to where you get yout numbers as to the number of tons of fish and seafood harp seals eat in the Gulf. Are we talking about mainly cod or are we including other resources as well?
    As I stated in the video, the big question of whether seals are eating cod, a fishery that collapsed in the early 90s, is still being answered; however, according to a primary journal article in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, the harp seals that frequent the Gulf of St. Lawrence do not eat adults in the area because they are not present during the time the adult cod are present. Therefore, the harp seals, a population of approximately 9 million do not eat adult cod in the area. Grey seals eat cod, but there are only 350,000 in the area so they can’t do too much damage.
    I really do appreciate your comments. I think it is important for Speak Up for Blue community to get both sides of the story, whether they agree with both sides or not. I would be interested in finding out what the harp seals eat and whether the prey is all commercially important.

  • Lauren Donnelly says:

    The question of whether the hunt is humane or not will likely never be answered. I agree that it is important to look to other factors to help decide on the importance of continuing the annual hunt. Why are we killing seals? What is the need anymore? While I am definitely against the hunt, I understand both sides of the discussion. How is killing a seal different than killing a pig? Good point, which is why I am a vegetarian. But I understand that not everyone thinks as I do (and I don’t expect them to). People will argue they need to eat meat to survive, be fulfilled, satisfied, whatever. Well, we don’t really eat seals, so what is it for? Population control? Maybe in part, though vanity is likely the largest reason the hunt still occurs. I personally believe there is no need for this practice anymore, and that a life should not be taken away so that I can wear seal skin boots. Even so, forgetting all of that, there is still the curious issue about the European Union banning seal products from Canada. Why have they decided to do this? I don’t think it is because they are trying to hurt our Canadian markets. Something is wrong here. Surely people in the EU discussed these same exact topics before they imposed the ban. Then, why have they decided to ban seal products if everything is humane and there are no issues? What did they see that we are not seeing? What are we missing from this discussion?

  • Stephen Best says:

    FWIW, the population numbers from DFO are not credible. There may, indeed, be 10 million or more seals. There may be 3 million. The data and analysis are so poor and so politically corrupted in their presentation that the best that can be said is that no one currently has any reliable idea of how many seals there are. Indeed, the policy of the present government is to avoid gathering accurate scientific data for environmental and wildlife management.

  • R Mulder says:
    This link reveals a beneficial relationship between seals and fish stocks. It debunks the myth that seals are responsible for the return of the east coast fish stocks. It also demonstrates the benefit of the seals to the fish stocks.

  • Jeremy says:

    Hey Andrew!
    I see you’re doing some good things back in Canada. I just wanted to let you know that you’ve got a little international fame as well now. Here in Korea I’m teching a social studies unit on the harp seal migration and the ongoing seal hunt debate, in Canada specifically. I showed my class your youtube clip, and despite their general lack of knowledge regarding the topic, it got them thinking and stirred up a good little debate. Keep up the good work, and I hope puck is going well

  • Common Sense says:

    Every years the Canadians take 22,000 aerial photographs of the sea ice. Some one spends months counting the number of seals on each picture. From this data the Seal Population can be calculated. The result is reasonably accurate within 5%. Probably as accurate as any wild animal population is known.

    The European food safety agency studied all the available scientific evidence and reached the conclusion that the killing was humane, but that acts of cruelty did occur, the extent to which this happened could not be established for lack of any peer reviewed evidence. Possibly the best study was by Norway which gave 98.5% of animals rendered irreversibly unconscious by the first shot. Might not sound good but only 96% of animals in an abattoir are rendered irreversibly unconscious with the first shot from a captive bolt pistol. Animals killed for halal or kosher meat have their throats cut when they are concious. If you are concerned about animal cruelty may be you should start else where.

    I believe if you read the report it comes out with a figure for Cod Consumption by Seals in the St Lawrence of between 5,000 and 20,000 tons or ten million pounds to Forty million pounds times the price of cod per pound.

    Seals and Cod eat the same bait fish,cod are cannibals big cod eat little cod to. The Seal population mushroomed after the demise of the cod. Part of this must be attributed to increased nutrition being available without sharing with the cod. Its very hard to see a reasonable argument that Cod would benefit from increased nutrition if there where less Seals eating the common food (Seals eat over a tonne per year).

    Never mentioned in the debate is the seal worm. The cycle is that the worms host the Seal leaves some faeces on the sea floor, these contain nematodes (eggs) The faeces are eaten by prawns and shrimps which in turn are eaten by fish. The worm grows as a parasite in the fish, until the fish is eaten by a mammal,a seal or you when it reproduces. It will give you a bad stomach ache, why you must cook fish. The frequency of the parasite in fish is dependant on the size of the seal population.

    The European Parliament was tasked with harmonising trade within member countries when Holland and Belgium passed bans on the trade in seal products. The original bill was for the act to require the labelling of products containing seals to be labelled as coming from a sustainable and humanely conducted hunt.

    What followed was a disgrace to democracy. A Cabal of animal rights atavist MEP’s with considerable help from animal rights groups, created the present act.

    The Recitals, which are meant to guide the MP’s contained lies, emotive words and where completely misleading. The measure was passed without debate. As the measure impinged on National Sovereignty the European Parliament acting as a federal parliament which it is not, then the act should be repulsive to all the nations of Europe.

  • Common Sense says:

    I started to read the link on fishery crises, not worth reading it.

    The claim is that Seal Pooh increases the nitrogen in the sea thereby increasing the seas fertility. Actually the Seal does not increase the nitrogen in the sea only concentrates it in dense small patches. The same amount of nitrogen was in the fish before the seal eat them, and further down the food chain before the fish eat it. Plants fix nitrogen not animals.

    Toxic or Harmful algal blooms occur when there is a high level of nitrogen and phosphates in the sea. They are harmful to every creature. A Seal Colony will provide such a concentration.

    Animal rights and conservation are different things, although animal rights claim to be conservationists they are not. Making use of a Seal which is a renewable resource is good conversation.

    If you talk to Inuit and ask them to forgo their traditional and controlled cull of the bow head whale, then animal rights have muddied the waters for you. The Inuit will think that you are trying to stop him hunting full stop. Not just leave Bow Heads alone because there are very few. The Inuit’s impressions conservationists has been generated by the antics of animal rights believers, its a severe handicap for the sensible majority.

  • Karleen says:

    As an aspiring marine biologist, I have very negative feelings towards the seal hunt. However it was in my Natural Resource Policy course in my final semester of undergrad that I actually learned what was really going on. Not what the activists feel is wrong. It was interesting to actually learn the history of the fur trade and that the seals were actually considered fish under the Fishery Act. The Seal Hunt, was actually allowed to continue because of all the income and jobs lost from the cod fishery. That being said, just because we have a history of seal pelts does not mean we need to continue it. I believe that the natives should be allowed to hunt seals since it is their traditions but to allow non First Nations to participate in the hunt is just offensive. I think the seal hunt is a mockery of native tradition. Canada again is taking a resource from the natives, over harvesting and exploiting it.

    Now on the biology standpoint, the ongoing argument about the seals eating the cod, and culling the seals will even out the cod. What sense does that make? I enjoyed Roy’s link. I disagree with Common Sense that a seal is a sustainable resource.

  • Common Sense says:


    If you are an as an aspiring marine biologist. and you enjoyed the link that you should have spotted a serious flaw. Seals do not put nitrogen into the sea they only concentrate it into patches. Nitrogen is placed into the sea by plankton and then successively absorbed up the food chain.

    Concentrating the nitrogen is not a good thing, a concentration of phosphorous and nitrogen can lead to a toxic algal bloom, fatal to all marine life.

    Seals guts have Seal Worms, seal pooh contains nematodes the worms eggs. The pooh is eaten by shrimps, and the shrimps are eaten by fish. Inside the fish the worm will grow. When the fish is eaten by a mammal including you, the worm will produce more nematodes. You must cook fish to kill the worm, otherwise the worm will give you stomach pains.

    Have given you that insight into marine biology how do you regard the rest of the article ??

  • Timothee says:

    Attacking defenceless baby seals on ice shores, hence to sell its fur and fat, is just a cheap easy commercial cash grab. It has nothing to do with seal population control whatsoever. This is much like the milk industry telling you to drink milk to avoid osteoporosis meanwhile countries who have lowest to no animal milk consumption have no osteoporosis at all.

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