Canada Defends Seal Hunt As Humane

Canada's contentious seal hunt will soon start, the government announced Wednesday, despite protests by Paul McCartney and other animal-rights activists who condemn the killing of the pups as inhumane.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn charged that the media have misrepresented the hunt, and said Canada is committed to ensuring the seals are killed by humane methods.

"Canada's harp seal herd is a conservation success story," Hearn said in Ottawa. "We continue our surveillance and monitoring to make sure that Canada's is the most tightly regulated, closely watched and, above all, most humane seal hunt in the world."

Registered sealers will be allowed to kill up to 325,000 pups in the ice floes off the Atlantic when the annual season opens, up from the quota of 320,000 last year, Hearn said.

Aboriginal and Inuit hunters begin the commercial kill in November in Canada's frozen Arctic waters. The spring leg is slated to begin in the Gulf of St. Lawrence next week and move later to an arc about 30 to 40 miles from Newfoundland.

Hearn said Canada's harp seal population is "healthy and thriving" at nearly 6 million, a threefold increase since the 1980s.

McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills McCartney, took to the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence two weeks ago to frolic with the doe-eyed pups to garner international support to end the hunt. He called the practice a "stain on the character of the Canadian people."

The Humane Society and International Fund for Animal Welfare have posted gruesome videos on their Web sites that show the pups being clubbed to death, some left choking on their own vomit or being skinned alive.

Hearn said these are isolated incidents and federal marine monitors have verified that most of the seal pups that are killed have lost their fluffy white fur as required by law since 1987 and are quickly jabbed through the brain with picks or shot with one quick bullet.

He said fishing communities of Quebec and Newfoundland, whose livelihoods were devastated when the Atlantic cod stocks dried up in the mid-1990s, earn 25 percent to 40 percent of their annual income by selling the seal pelts and blubber for about $70 each.

The pelts used in the fashion industry are mostly sold to Norway, China and Russia. The United States has banned Canadian seal products since 1972 and the European Union banned white baby seal pelts in 1983.

Last spring marked the final season for a three-year federal plan that allowed sealers to take 975,000 seals — most of them harp seals between 12 days and 3 months old.