Earlier this month, somebody said I was from “a nation of seal clubbers”. That’s a fair comment, ’cause they sure club up a storm on the East Coast. It got me thinking, though. Why aren’t we “a nation of seal killers”? Why do they club seals?
I’m lazy, but the folks at Slate aren’t. One of their Explainer podcasts this week addressed this very question.
It’s safe and easy, and it preserves the seal’s valuable pelt. Federal laws in Canada give a sealer three ways to hunt his prey. He can shoot a seal with a rifle or shotgun–provided it’s above a minimum calibre or gauge; he can break its head with a blunt club (like a baseball bat) that must be at least 2 feet long; or he can smash in its brains with something called a hakapik–a 4- or 5-foot wooden pole with a bent, metal spike affixed to the end.
They go on to explain that it’s quite tricky to shoot a seal from a boat that’s bobbing up and down (the seal may be bobbing as well). Plus, should you not kill it with the first shot, the seal’s liable to jump into the water, and there goes your $70 (that’s it?) pelt. So, clubbing’s the preferable method.
We were discussing this subject at a party last night, and my friend said he’d heard that it costs more to police the seal hunt than the hunt generates in revenue. I searched around, trying to verify that fact, and only came up with this article. It’s from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, but cites an independent study (PDF). Unfortunately, it uses old data discussing subsidies which were phased out in 2000.
One point which is relevant is that the hunt only accounts for the equivalent of 100 to 150 full time jobs. We’re not talking about logging in BC or the cod fisheries here–this is a highly niche activity.
So, in summary, here are the facts I’ve gathered:
- On average, clubbing a seal is probably more humane than shooting it.
- While it’s clearly an animal rights issue, there’s no environmental case for opposing the hunt. This year the seal quota is less than 2% of the entire population, which has exploded in recent years.
- As an industry, it’s small potatoes.
Regardless of how you feel about whacking seals, it seems obvious to me that the international perception of Canada’s seal hunt isn’t worth the few million dollars it may generate in GDP. Plenty of other resource workers across the country have had to retrain–can’t we do the same with a few hundred seal hunters?