Frequently Asked Questions about Canadian Seals and Sealings


Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is involved with seal conservation projects in Europe, North America, South America, and Africa. This page is concerned specifically with seal conservation issues in Canada and primarily the campaign to oppose the largest seal slaughter in the world, the annual massacre of hundreds of thousands of harp seal pups.

What species of seals are being killed in Eastern Canada?

Canada is killing three different species of seals on the East Coast. The largest number of a seal species killed are harp seals (Phoca Groenlandica). The average length of an adult harp seal is 1.7 meters or 5.6 feet for both male and females. The average weight of an adult is 130 kilos or 287 pounds. The population is between 2.8 and 3.8 million according to the David Miller of the Scottish Natural Heritage Trust. A harp seal has a life span of approximately 30 years. They feed on crustaceans and small fish. Ironically, they do not feed during the birthing and mating season between February and May. They return to Arctic regions for feeding. Canada has set a quota of 325,000 for 2006 for this species, 5,000 more than were killed in 2005

For the first 7 days of a harp seals life they have a yellowish-white coat and are called yellowcoats. During the 2nd and 3rd week of their life, they are called whitecoats. Although the hair follicles are actually transparent and hollow they appear white. In the 3rd and 4th week of their life, they are called raggedy jackets as they lose their whitecoats. Once they have lost their whitecoats completely they are called beaters. The pups are weaned by about the 4th week and begin to learn to swim in the 4th and 5th week.

10,000 hood seals are also allowed to be killed by the Canadian government. The hood seal (Cystophora Cristata) is larger than the harp seals with the males measuring 2.5 meters or 8.2 feet and the females measuring 2.2 meters or 7.2 feet. The males weigh an average of 300 kilos or 661 pounds and the females weighing 200 kilos or 441 pounds. The estimated population is around 300,000. Hood seal pups are referred to as Bluebacks. The killing of Bluebacks is now prohibited.

Canada also encourages the killing of grey seals in the Atlantic coast region with a quota of 10,000 set for 2005 and 2006.

Walrus were once found on the Atlantic coast with evidence found on the Magdalen Islands, Sable Island, and the coast of Nova Scotia and Maine but this species has been extirpated from this region.   back to top

Who are the sealers and how many are there?

There are 14,000 registered sealers of which 9,000 are considered professional sealers.

The sealing season lasts only a few weeks each year. Not all registered sealers kill seals. Some people register as sealers without having ever gone to the ice and they have no intention of going. Wearing their seal license button gets them free drinks in some areas of Atlantic Canada. All it takes to get a license is CAD$2.00. The Canadian government states that about 6,000 people receive some income from sealing. This amounts to about 1% of the population of Atlantic Canada. It is limited employment and highly subsidized. In 2005, the seal hunt brought in $16.2 million* in gross revenues. This amounts to $2,700 average per sealer before deductions for fuel, vessel maintenance and operation, provisions, gear and clothing. Some like sealing boat owners may make over $50,000 and some working as crew may only make a $1,000 or less.

Subsidies are provided by the Canadian government in the form of ships which break the ice to assist the sealers in reaching the seals; search and rescue by the Coast Guard; surveillance and location of the seal herds for the sealers; regulatory costs; marketing research; and public relations.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) states that there are no subsidies by DFO. There is if the regulatory and surveillance cost are considered. Most of the costs for supporting the seal slaughter are from the Department of Transport for ice-breakers and search and rescue. Subsidies are also given by the government of Newfoundland.

Overall, the sealing industry is negligible and costs more in tax dollars to support than it brings in.

A few individuals do make large amounts of money. Bill Barry of the Barry group, (a close friend of Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams), does quite well processing seal oil into a purported health supplement. Former federal Fisheries Minister John Crosbie is a millionaire heir to the fortunes made from the Crosbie Sealing Company.   back to top

*All figures quoted in Canadian dollars.

How are the seals killed?

The club and the hakapik are the primary weapons used in the Gulf. The rifle is used as the primary weapon at the Front.

However, both rifles and clubs are used in both areas. The reason for this is that if the seals can be approached on the ice the club or hakapik is used. If the seals are in the water, the rifle or shotgun is used.   back to top

Are the sealers killing baby seals?

The Canadian government keeps insisting that only adult harp seals are killed. Yet, the following questions marked "#8 and #9" are taken verbatim from the DFO website:

8. How old must harp and hooded seals be before hunters can take them?
Harp seals can be legally hunted once they have moulted their white coat, which occurs at about 12-14 days of age. However, they are not usually hunted until they reach the "beater" stage of development at around 25 days old.

9. Why do hunters target young animals?
Young harp seals between approximately 3-4 weeks and one year of age are called beaters - so named because they tend to slap the water when they swim. Beater seals provide the most valuable pelts and market conditions are stronger for this type of pelt.

Twelve to fourteen days is not the definition of an adult seal. Nor is 25 days (which is three-four weeks). The seals from birth to four weeks old are helpless and cannot escape or defend themselves from their killers. These are seal pups. Seal pups are baby seals.

So when seal defenders state that the sealers are killing baby seals, what they mean is that sealers are killing baby seals

When the Canadian government states that the sealers kill only adult seals, they are redefining the meaning of baby seals. Baby seals cease to be baby seals and become adult seals at 12 days old according to the government definition. So when government and industry spokespeople say that the sealers are killing adult seals what they really mean is that sealers are killing baby seals.   back to top

Are they killing too many seals?

According the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission: The TAC (Total Allowable Catch) levels in the Canadian Management plan in combination with the Greenlandic harvest exceed the estimated replacement yield and would, if taken, lead to a decline in the size of the stock. -- 2004 annual report of the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission [3.1.3]

The Management Committee noted the conclusion of the scientific committee that the likely effect of the harvest levels outlined in the Canadian management plan was a slight drop in total abundance in the short term (3-5) years and an accelerating decline if these harvest levels are maintained over a longer period (10 years) and that the availability of seals to Greenland hunters would likely decrease as the total population decreases. --2004 Annual Report of NAMMC [7.2.1].

The quotas are being set by politicians for political reasons. This year the quota was raised to 325,000 from 320,000 in 2005 despite diminished ice conditions in the Gulf and the Front which caused excessive natural mortality amongst pups. However, this mortality was not factored in. The Gulf quota was exceeded by more than 1,000 for 2006. The quotas do not include strikes, (i.e. seals shot in the water and not recovered). It is estimated that unrecovered seals may amount to 20% to 40% of the total taken and reported.

The Canadian commercial seal hunt is the largest mass slaughter of a wild marine mammal population in the world. It is the 2nd largest commercial slaughter of a wild mammal population in the world exceeded only by the slaughter of kangaroos in Australia.   back to top

What parts of the seal are used?

According to the Canadian Government regulations: Sealers must also land the entire carcass or pelt to ensure the fullest possible commercial use of the animal and to prevent seals from being harvested strictly for their organs.

Look at the wording. They must land the entire carcass (OR) pelt. In practice, this means only the pelt. Of the 320,000 seals taken in 2005, the flippers of only 37,000 were landed as meat. There was a limited take of seal penises. All the rest of the remains of the seals were left on the ice.

The pelts yield seal oil (also called train oil) and the fur. The fur is used for fashion production and the oil is used as a health supplement and for industrial purposes. Except for the flippers of just over 10% of the bodies killed, all 325,000 seals plus the overkill and the struck and lost seals will be left on the ice or in the sea. It is incredibly wasteful and quite different than the Inuit utilization of seals which the Canadian government attempts to compare this commercial hunt to.   back to top

Where is the market for seals?

Seal products are 100% banned in the United States. Seal pelts are now banned in Italy, Croatia, Belgium and the Netherlands, and soon to be in the United Kingdom. Canadian seal pelts are banned in Greenland and Denmark.

The markets for fur are primarily in Norway, Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and Japan. There is a market for the seal penis for use as a snake oil remedy for impotence in China. The processing of seal penises is done in Dildoe, Newfoundland. [This is an actual town in Newfoundland].

There is a growing market being developed for seal oil as a health supplement despite the fact that the product contains PCB's mercury, arsenic, and DDT. The primary producer of seal oil capsules is the Barry Group of Companies. They have produced 900 tons of oil in 2005 and his marketing is being helped along by his close friend Premier Danny Williams.

Sea Shepherd has called a boycott of the giant retailer Costco after they reneged on their decision to withdraw seal oil capsules from the shelves of their store in Newfoundland. Sea Shepherd is now pursuing Costco's Sealgate Campaign with an international boycott of all Costco outlets worldwide.   back to top

What fashion companies are marketing seal products?

Prada S.P.A.
Via Andrea Maffei, 2
20154 Milan, Italy
Phone: 39 02 54 67 01

Prada (U.S. office)
Katherine Ross, V.P. of Communications
610 W. 52nd St.
New York, NY 10019
Phone: 212 307 9300

Dolce & Gabbana
Via Goldoni, 10,
20129 Milano, Italy.
+39 02 774271
Fax +39 02 76020600

685 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10022

Donatella Versace
Versace S.P.A. Headquarters
Via Manzoni, 38
Milan ITALY 20121
Phone: 39 02 76 09 31
Fax: 39 02 76 00 41 22

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is urging a boycott of all Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci and Versace products.   back to top

Who processes the pelts?

There are only a few major processing companies:

Atlantic Marine Products
PO Box 39, Main St.
Catalina, NL A0C 1J0
Tel: (709) 469-2849
Fax: (709) 469-3211
Contact: Chris Pilgrim.
Sales manager: Martin Duchesne, 709-785-7387,
Plant manager: Dean Russell, 709-469-2849, cell 709-468-6347

Atlantic Marine Products now sells over 100,000 pelts each year. They are capable of processing up to about 150,000 pelts in their Catalina plant. This company is a division of the Barry Group, which is one of the largest seafood companies in Atlantic Canada.

Carino Company Ltd.
P.O. Box 6146
St. John's, NL A1C 5X8
Tel: (709) 582-2100
Fax: (709) 582-2487
Contact: John Kearley

Carino is owned by the Norwegian Rieber Corporation and has a plant in a sealing town called South Dildo, Newfoundland. (We are not making this up!) The plant is located in a small industrial complex next to a fish processing plant. There, employees make great efforts to maintain a low profile, worrying that any attention they get will be negative. There are no signs that say "Carino" on their building.   back to top

How are pelts processed?

The processing of the pelts requires more than a month and involves several steps. Each pelt is approximately 3-4 feet long by 2-3 feet wide. The usual process involves soaking them in brine for several weeks and then tanning them, but the pelts can be stored for several months in brine without any degradation. Some of the pelts are also dyed. After the pelts are tanned, they sell them to brokers, who in turn sell them to fur coat and accessory manufacturers in China and other countries in the Far East, Russia, Siberia, and Western Europe (see the table below).

Thousands of excess pelts are stacked in warehouses throughout eastern Canada and Norway. Norway subsidizes the cost of storage of these pelts.   back to top

What countries are seal pelts sold in?

The value in Canadian dollars of raw seal pelts purchased

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Norway 3,046,648 5,998,388 6,858,225 6,761,996
Greenland 2,108,421 4,000,000
Finland 300 509,888 1,912,936
Hong Kong 155 80,521 380,338
Germany 86,270 11,390 1,117,775 255,288
Turkey 62,556
Russia 21,397 30,365
Denmark 389,953 749,155 562,625 148,130 11,285
Kazakhstan 496
Mexico 13
Subtotal: 476,123 3,795,958 6,572,703 10,844,357 13,415,213
Others 75,507 529,346 684,191 821,518
Total: 552,630 4,325,304 7,256,894 11,665,875 13,415,213

From the above list, Greenland and Denmark will not be buying anymore raw pelts which amounts to a loss for the Canadian market of over four million dollars.   back to top

Are there economically-viable alternatives to killing the seals for the local communities?

Yes. There are four viable alternatives:

(1) Eco-Tourism: There are presently successful tours to the ice floes for people to see the seals in the wild. These tours could be expanded and a winter tourist industry built on the foundation of seal watching.

(2) A cruelty free, non-lethal sealing industry: This idea was created by Captain Paul Watson and involves the brushing of naturally-molted seal hairs from whitecoats at the stage when they lose their baby hair. The seals appear to enjoy the brushing and each seal yields about 300 grams of harp seal hair. The hairs, which are composed of hollow transparent follicles, have qualities similar to eider down. Sea Shepherd found a German fabric manufacturer eager to purchase all the seal hairs that could be obtained. This was an alternative that could provide hundreds of jobs but the Canadian government refused to issue permits for it.

(3) This year Cathy Kangas, the CEO of the major cosmetic firm PRAI, offered to raise $16 million to buy the seals lives. There are enough people willing to buy the lives of the seals that this should be considered a viable alternative to those who buy the products from dead seals.

(4) The sealers could be paid by the government of Canada to not kill seals. Such a subsidy would actually save the country money by removing the costs of supporting the hunt and avoiding the economic repercussions of tourist and seafood boycotts.   back to top

Is Newfoundland a poor province?

The answer is a resounding "no." Revenues from offshore oil wells have put the Newfoundland economy in the black. It is not a have-not province. However, the fishing industry is a dying industry, and the government of Newfoundland and the Federal government have helped considerably to kill it by exporting fish processing jobs to China and other countries and by licensing foreign trawlers to fish on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The DFO incompetence and mismanagement destroyed the cod fishery and the same incompetent bureaucrats now claim they can manage the seals.   back to top

What species of seals are being killed in Northern Canada?

In Nunavut, which is in Northern Canada, there are five species of seals that are hunted by aboriginal people. These are ringed, bearded, harp, hood, and harbor seals.   back to top

Do Native people in the North depend on the East Coast commercial seal hunt?

No. There are no Inuit people involved in the annual taking of the 325,000 seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the Northern coast of Newfoundland and the Southern coast of Labrador. The Inuit do not favor harp seals, but rather target ring and bearded seals. According to the 2004 Annual Report of the North American Marine Mammal Commission harp seals are taken by the Inuit people only for use as food for their dogs.   back to top

Is Sea Shepherd opposed to the killing of seals by Aboriginal communities?

No, not in principle. We do not oppose subsistence hunting by traditional people practicing traditional cultures utilizing traditional hunting practices. We view the Greenland hunters as the most traditional in their approach to hunting. Many communities in Northern Canada kill seals although they are not dependent upon them for survival. We do not support the killing of seals by aboriginal communities for export outside of their communities unless the retailing of the products is exclusively done by and for these communities. Aboriginal communities should not be utilized as a product source for European, Asian, and North American fur industry purposes. It was the enlistment of aboriginal communities in North America by the fur industry that led to the decline of numerous fur-bearing species in North America.

Greenland opposes the East Coast commercial slaughter of seal pups and does not want the Canadian product associated with the Greenland pelts, which are from adult seals taken by aboriginal people. Greenlanders do hunt harp seals. Aboriginals in Northern Canada have no significant use for harp seals and thus do not protest the excessive take by white commercial sealers in Eastern Canada.   back to top

Why do Canadian Inuit leaders support the commercial seal hunt?

The only reason that makes sense is that they are doing it at the behest of the government of Canada. If harp seals represented a real value to them they would logically be opposed to the excessive slaughter of 325,000 harp seals which translates into less seals returning to the Arctic regions to be hunted. It makes sense if the harp seal has no value and the NAMMC report states that the harp seals are only used for dog food. The Inuit may also view the harp seal as competition for the more valued ringed and bearded seals.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has a public relations policy of linking the commercial seal hunt on the East Coast of Canada with aboriginal communities in the Arctic regions of Canada. This is done purposely and fraudulently to motivate sympathy from the general public for the commercial seal hunt.

It must be remembered that Native communities and fur companies like the Hudson Bay Company have been in partnership for hundreds of years. Together they have killed hundreds of millions of animals. Native communities in Northern Canada continue to have a working relationship with the Hudson Bay Company and with other fur companies.   back to top

Why are Newfoundland Native people not participating in the commercial hunt?

There are no Newfoundland native people anymore! The Beothuks, the aboriginal people of Newfoundland, were exterminated by the European invaders of Newfoundland. The colonial government posted a bounty on Beothuk scalps. Newfoundland also helped drive the giant auk, the Newfoundland wolf, the North Atlantic grey whale, the sea mink and the Labrador duck to extinction; and extirpated the populations of walrus and polar bears; and greatly diminished the populations of pilot whales, large whales, orcas and most recently the Northern cod.   back to top

Q & A Between Captain Paul Watson and a Newfoundlander
who would not identify himself

A Newfoundlander called Captain Paul Watson on April 7th to challenge Sea Shepherd on the facts. These are his questions.

Newfoundlander: I'm from Newfoundland and I support the sealers and you don't know what you're talking about. We know what's going on over here, you Americans don't know nothing about nothing so when are you going to stop lying and report the facts?

Captain Watson: Sir, I'm actually from Canada, I'm a Canadian and I've been going to the ice to oppose the seal killing since 1976. Have you been to the ice Sir?

Newfoundlander: No, I have not. But what do you know being from British Columbia. These seals are killed humanely and that is a fact?

Captain Watson: It is not a fact. I am originally from Atlantic Canada by the way, not from British Columbia. I have seen seals kicked in the face, I've seen seals skinned alive and I've seen seals choking on their blood for ten minutes on the ice until they died and they were quite visibly suffering. Not only have I seen it, we have these acts of cruelty documented. We can provide you with the documentation if you like?

Newfoundlander: I don't need to see it. It's nothing but propaganda. The government says so and I believes the government. Why should I believe you?

Captain Watson: Don't believe us but don't believe the government either. Go to the ice and see for yourself.

Newfoundlander: I don't need to see for myself. I know what's going on and I knows that the seals are killed humanely. You're all into it for the money, if there was no seal hunt, you would be poor, you would have no money.

Captain Watson: Sir, The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not a wealthy society and quite honestly we spend more on seals than we bring in. We are a volunteer organization and my crew pay their own way. If the seals are killed so humanely then why does the government restrict access to the areas where the killing is taking place?

Newfoundlander: All killing is ugly and it's bloody, they don't allow cameras in slaughter houses. Why are you not doing anything about slaughter houses? Answer me that, what are you doing to protect cows, pigs and chickens from cruelty? Answer me that?

Captain Watson: Well, we don't eat them. And you know there is in fact a larger movement campaigning against the treatment of farm animals than there is campaigning against the seal hunt. This is nothing but an argument for distracting from our objective in opposing the cruel and ecologically destructive slaughter of seals.

Newfoundlander: There is no shortage of seals. There are so many now that they are coming up on land and attacking people.

Captain Watson: Sir, that is just plain nonsense. No harp seal ever sets a flipper on land. There has never been an attack on any person from a harp seal that is just plain false.

Newfoundlander: Well, maybe I was exaggerating but the fact is that there are more seal now then there ever was before and that is a fact. And that Heather McCartney, she was lucky she did not get her damn fool head bitten off. They be wild animals and dangerous and you should not be saying that people can pet them. That's impossible.

Captain Watson: It is not a fact. When the French explorer Jacques Cartier first came to Canada in 1534, there were over forty million seals including the now extinct walrus. Today the government claims over 6 million whereas independent scientists claim between 2.8 and 3.8 million. I personally think it is arrogant for a species numbering nearly 7 billion to state that this is an overly populated species when it is only about 20% of the original number of these seals a mere 500 years ago.

As for the seal pups being dangerous. Nothing can be further from the truth. They are totally harmless. Oh they may scratch you but their milk teeth can't penetrate human flesh I know because I've put my ungloved hands in to their mouth and had them bite me and it did not hurt nor did it draw blood. They are as gentle as puppies. Go to the ice and see for yourself. I've brushed them to remove their molted hairs and they have lain there and allowed me to do it.

Newfoundlander: Every seal you touched you killed and that seal Paul McCartney was petting will die because the mother will reject them because of the human scent on them.

Captain Watson: Where did you hear that? There is no truth in that belief at all. Pups after human contact have been observed for three decades and they do not reject their pups. They will approach their pups afterwards and suckle them. We have observed this. DFO scientists will attest to this, in fact any reputable scientists who knows anything about harp seals will reject what you are saying as having no validity. The pups are not rejected after human contact.

Newfoundlander: You lie on your website when you say the seals are not killed for food. We eat seals here in Newfoundland, we do and that is a fact.

Captain Watson: You eat only the flippers from seals and last year of the quota of 320,000 seals, flippers were taken from only 37,000 seals. No other meat was taken. The carcasses were left on the ice. Outside of Newfoundland, there is no market for seal flipper pie and you're not likely to see one being developed either.

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