08:50 - 31 March, 2005
THE GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE, March 29—Today was the first day of the commercial seal hunt in Canada. And despite gale force winds, sleet, and rain, The HSUS Seal Watch team was there on the ice floes to bear witness to this slaughter and document the cruelty.
Tonight, after several hours on the ice observing the hunt, I sit here, trying to do the impossible—to find words that would come close to describing what we have seen. What we witnessed was unconscionable, and I can think of no way to adequately capture the fear, misery, and betrayal we saw in all directions.
And that is why I find myself writing mostly about one baby seal. One who endured unimaginable suffering so her skin could be turned into a fur coat. One who wanted to live so badly that she fought for more than an hour as blood oozed from her mouth and nose. One who desperately needed help that we had no way of providing.
And one who has come to symbolize for me all the reasons why this hunt should be stopped for good.
Walking on Thin Ice
I wake up in the dark at 5 a.m. Our helicopters must fly as soon as possible, because the sealers begin killing in one hour. As is always the case out here, I have not slept much. Our team scrambles to dress in our survival suits, and we race to the airport in record time.
It is not an easy flight. Our helicopters are bouncing through driving rain and snow and high winds. We have almost no visibility. But we know that if we do not make it to the ice floes today, this slaughter will occur without witnesses. The sealers themselves are saying they will kill 90,000 pups in just three days. And so we press on.
I scan the horizon for sealing boats, but can barely make out anything through the snow. Finally, I spot a black dot on the horizon and, out of nowhere, dozens more. I begin to count, realizing with horror there are at least 70 sealing boats operating out here.
And then I notice the blood. Spreading across the ice in crimson stains as far as I can see. The scale of this slaughter, just two hours after it has started, is overwhelming. From the air I can see the carcasses, thousands of them left to rot on the ice floes.
We land our helicopter on the most solid-looking ice we can find. I do my best to navigate my group across the ice, but it is difficult. Rain over the past days has made the ice slick, and we have problems crossing thin areas where I can see through to the ocean beneath.
Directly in front of us, about 30 seal pups are stranded on small ice pans. We move towards them, knowing the sealers will come in this direction. As we reach the seals, I see that several have already been clubbed, their bodies left on the ice. The sealers will return to skin them later.
A movement catches my eye, and I realize with horror that a clubbed baby seal is still conscious. She is writhing around on the ice in pain, moving her flippers. She lies next to another seal who has been killed, vacant eyes staring up, blood already frozen in the ice under her mouth. It is a macabre scene—the dead and the dying huddled together here in the rain.
There is nothing I can do to help this baby seal. Despite her struggle to survive, she has been too badly injured, and the only humane thing would be to put her out of her misery. But we have no way to euthanize her, and as is almost always the case, there isn't an enforcement officer in sight.
I kneel beside her and find myself whispering softly, telling her to go to sleep. I am begging her to die quickly. Because the sealers will come back soon. The dozens of live seal pups just feet away from us will prove too tempting for them, despite the presence of our cameras. And when the sealers arrive, this baby seal will endure a fate far worse than death.
Our group moves on to the next pile of seal carcasses. Across the ice floes, I hear panicked voices—there are more clubbed seals who are conscious and in agony. I run over to them, and see seals writhing around, breathing, and lifting their heads.
The wind blows mercilessly and the rain pelts down on these suffering animals. The few survivors, just three to four weeks old, are left to move through the blood and carcasses. I cannot begin to imagine the terror and confusion that these babies experience as they see this slaughter unfold around them. And I am deeply ashamed to be human as I watch these helpless infants staring around in panic, not knowing what to do to avoid the clubs raining down on their skulls.
What just days ago I described as heaven has become a hell.
The Final Blow
I return to the first seal. She is trying to crawl, and making anguished sounds. I cannot stop crying. She is trying so hard to live, and I know there is no hope for her. She has her eyes tightly shut, as if to keep out the sight of the dead seals around her. My heart is breaking.
Without warning, we hear the mechanical sounds of the sealers' snowmobiles racing at us across the ice floes. By law, we must stand ten meters away from the sealers, and we watch in disbelief as they slaughter all of these seals.
The suffering baby seal is not spared. A heavy metal hakapik hammers through her skull. It is a strange world up here, where an act of such violence brings the only relief available—death.
As I always do, I find myself apologizing to the seals—for being a part of a species that could ever consider inflicting so much violence on such gentle, trusting creatures. For living in a country whose government has the audacity to call this brutal slaughter 98% humane.
Out here on the ice, far out to sea in the middle of this hunt, there is little that makes sense. This is an alternate universe where laws exist only to protect sealers. Where rescuing a wounded seal can be defined as "harassment" by the authorities. And where the brutal clubbing of baby seals is called a "harvest."
I have been to this place seven years in a row. But it never gets easier to watch.
Just days ago, I stood on these same ice floes, watching as seal pups nursed contentedly from their mothers in the sun. Today, the hunters shattered that world. And everything that was perfect has been ruined.