Seal Hunt in Atlantic Canada - Position Statement
January 21, 2016
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) accepts the hunting of seals only if carried out in a humane and sustainable manner. Notwithstanding the killing method, the CVMA requires that the sealer verify death of the animal before the animal is dragged with a hook or is bled. This can be accomplished by palpation of the skull to ensure that it is crushed indicating that a significant portion of the brain has been destroyed.
The CVMA holds that comprehensive enforcement of the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act (1) is a necessary component of a humane hunt. The CVMA also supports ongoing monitoring of the hunt by independent observers to verify compliance with the appropriate use of killing methods.
The CVMA advocates mandatory training and licensing of sealers with regard to humane treatment of seals.
- Young harp seals, approximately 4-6 weeks old, account for 90% or more of the commercial seal catch in Canadian waters. These seals are weaned at about 12 days of age and have lost their newborn white fur (“whitecoats”) by the time they are hunted, although they continue to spend the majority of their time resting on ice floes. These animals have particularly thin skulls that can be completely crushed by one or a few strong blows with a hakapik (a long club). Therefore, the CVMA considers this a rapid, efficient, and humane means of killing young seals if conducted properly.
- Specifically, the CVMA recommends that, when a hakapik is used, each seal should be hit with enough strong blows to its skull to ensure rapid and complete destruction of both cerebral hemispheres.
- When rifles are used, the CVMA supports the current Marine Mammal Regulations specifying the minimum velocity and energy of bullets that can be used in the hunt, as bullets meeting these specifications are more likely to kill an animal even if they do not directly hit its brain case, as compared to bullets of lower velocity and energy.
- Regardless of the killing method, the CVMA strongly asserts that the sealer must verify by palpation that the skull is crushed and that complete destruction of both cerebral hemispheres has occurred, thereby ensuring that the animal is dead, before it is dragged with a hook or is bled.
- The CVMA expresses concern about the shooting of seals in the water as this prevents the sealers from checking for a crushed skull in these animals to ensure that complete destruction of both cerebral hemispheres has occurred before retrieving them with a hook (2). This method also can result in an unacceptably high rate of animals not being retrievable after shooting at various times of the year, leading to inhumane deaths. As well, this could result in the killing of replacement animals which would otherwise not been harvested. (3).
- In some regions of the Atlantic coast, subsistence hunters rely on the use of nets set in water to catch and drown the animals. The CVMA opposes this method of hunting, as drowning is considered to be a protracted, and therefore, inhumane form of death.
- The CVMA believes that harvest of seal populations must be done in a sustainable manner, using the principle of precautionary approach (4). Because this approach is based on population modeling, which involves assumptions and uncertainties, and because the CVMA is concerned about the health and welfare of animal populations, as well as of individual animals, continued population studies are essential.
- Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) 2010 SOR/93-56. Minister of Justice, Canada. 29 pp. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-93-56/index.html Last accessed April 29, 2013.
- Daoust P-Y, Caraguel C. The Canadian harp seal hunt: observations on the effectiveness of procedures to avoid poor animal welfare outcomes. Animal Welfare 2012;21:445-455
- Sjare B, Stenson GB. Estimating struck and loss rates for harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) in the Northwest Atlantic. Marine Mammal Science 2002;18:710-720
- Hammill MO, Stenson GB. 2007. Application of the precautionary approach and conservation reference points to management of Atlantic seals. ICES Journal of Marine Science 64: 702–706.
(Revised October 2015)