Thursday, April 16, 2009

Killing Time by Killing Seals

Live From the IceFollow HSI/Canada's Rebecca Aldworth as she documents Canada's commercial seal kill, and take action to end this bloody business»Posted 4:30 PM ESTI remember the first time I saw the seal slaughter. Standing on the ocean on a pan of ice, I watched in horror as sealers descended on helpless pups in front of me. I froze, mouthing the word "stop" over and over, to no avail. Clubs raised and fell in a sick rhythm, blood splattering the ice all around. >From the ice, the violence of the kills, the sounds of the clubs and crying seals, and the smell of the blood surround you. Your senses are overwhelmed—you can barely absorb what you are seeing, and it is everything you can do to point your camera, try to hold it steady, and shoot. But your proximity to the killing provides an illusion—no matter how baseless—of the power to intervene. >From the air, it's different. You hang, a thousand feet above the killing, watching hopelessly through a lens as sealers run toward unsuspecting pups. You call out for the pups to get into the water, knowing they cannot hear. You curse the sealers as they deliver yet another agonizing death to a helpless baby seal. But your distance from it all makes your helplessness devastatingly apparent. Only weeks ago, we stood on the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, surrounded by life. Mother seals and their pups touched noses. Pups nursed, slept, and played on the ice. On Saturday, the ProtectSeals team filmed the deaths of these seals, and our only ammunition against the cruelty was our high powered camera. As our helicopter approached, we saw the shrimp and crab boats on the horizon, positioned to kill the seals. These fishermen are Canada's sealers. They are killing time by killing seals until the fisheries—which contribute virtually all of their incomes—are open.They are not marksmen. The bullets spray across the ice, missing the seals by feet, terrifying the pups. And then the bullets tear through flesh, and the seals die slowly as their blood spills across the ice. The northern Gulf is turned crimson as the seals' nursery is turned into a slaughterhouse. One seal was shot at in open water, over and over again as she tried to save her life, desperately thrashing around. But the bullets kept coming. They killed her in the end, and a sealer leaned over the side of the boat and stabbed her with a gaff to drag her onto the deck. An agonizing death for a seal whose life was worth only 15 Canadian dollars to a sealer.Another seal was shot and dragged across the ice, still moving. He was sliced open and tossed like garbage into a small boat, full of dead seals and blood. For minutes we filmed from the air, as the pup continued to move, sliding around in the blood-soaked pile of dead seals in the filthy bottom of this small vessel. Still another pup was shot and wounded, and he crawled into the water. The sealing boat came close, and a sealer leaned over the side with a gaff. He stabbed the pup through her chest and pulled her out. Even from hundreds of feet in the air, we could see the seal was crying out in pain. They dragged her on board the vessel and clubbed her on the deck, ready to slice off her skin. At the back of the boat, sealers tossed the carcasses into the ocean—the bodies hold no value to them. One seal slipped into the water after being shot on the ice, his blood spreading on the water's surface. The sealer ran over to fish around in the cold ocean with his club, but the mortally wounded seal was gone—just another statistic in this bloody slaughter. For weeks, we have born witness to the suffering of these seals. And despite the public relations efforts of the Canadian government, our footage clearly shows that Canada's commercial seal hunt is the same cruel, needless, and wasteful kill it has always been. At long last, the ProtectSeals team left this area yesterday, and we did so with the knowledge that our work has just begun. We must end this slaughter before it opens next spring, and we will work around the clock to achieve that goal.The good news is that we are very close to stopping the commercial seal hunt for good. Our campaign to close markets for seal products is succeeding and, as predicted, most fishermen are not bothering to kill the seals as a result. Tens of thousands of seals have already been spared this year because of the low prices for seal fur. All across the United States, people and businesses are using their purchasing power to stop the slaughter, refusing to buy Canadian seafood until the seal hunt is ended for good. Soon, sealers will make the logical choice and protect their primary source of income—seafood exports—by turning in their sealing licenses. We can win this, if we all work together. Thank you for standing with the ProtectSeals team throughout our expedition to document the Canadian seal hunt—I know you will be there as we work to put a final end to this cruelty in the coming year. Rebecca Aldworth is director of Humane Society International Canada (HSI Canada). For more than a decade, she has observed firsthand Canada's commercial seal hunt—escorting more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to bear witness to the largest marine mammal slaughter on Earth.

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