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Seal hunt: 'barbaric and cruel'

Those beseeching eyes were impossible to avoid. In the 1970s images of fuzzy white seal pups were everywhere as activists fought to end the seal hunt in Canada. Seals have been harvested for generations on the floes of the Atlantic coast, but concerns about killing methods and conserving the herd virtually ended the practice in the 1980s. The threat of too many cod-eating seals resurrected the hunt, and today anti-cruelty activists monitor an industry that's at its strongest in decades.

There's no hunting in the annual seal hunt, say its opponents: it's more like an easy harvest of vulnerable whitecoat seal pups. Each year the protesters sponsor a media junket to the floes to highlight what they say is an inhumane practice that's threatening the seal herd. But this year there's something new for the journalists to report on: a counter-protest movement in which seal hunt supporters confront Greenpeace as the CBC cameras roll.
• Canadian humane societies' concerns about the seal hunt originally centred on whether seals were killed humanely. In 1966 the Ontario Humane Society investigated killing methods and determined that clubbing was the most humane technique.
• It was because of the Humane Society's conclusions that the Canadian government outlawed the gaff in 1967. There was evidence that some sealers were using gaffs to spear live seals. Regulations about the allowable type of club were also tightened.

• The first Save the Seals campaign began in 1967 as an initiative of the New Brunswick Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It was founded by Brian Davies, who two years before had observed the seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
• In 1968 Davies took his first delegation to observe the hunt in the gulf. Among them were a reporter and editor from the London Daily Mirror.

• In 1969 Davies left the New Brunswick SPCA to establish the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Two years later IFAW offered to pay sealers for not hunting, and in 1973 it hired a New York ad agency to coordinate a "Stop the Seal Hunt" campaign.
• IFAW's concerns shifted to conservation of the seal herd in early 1976 after an article in National Geographic suggested the population was in severe risk of depletion given current management policies.

• In 1976 IFAW flew its delegation to the town of St. Anthony, Nfld. Among the observers was a group of U.S. flight attendants Davies hoped would spread the word about the seal hunt.
• Greenpeace's first initiative protesting the seal hunt was in St. Anthony in 1976. Before arriving, members threatened to spray whitecoats with green paint to ruin the pelts, but abandoned the plan after a public town meeting.

• The meeting was organized by Concerned Citizens of St. Anthony, a counter-protest group founded that year to combat the anti-sealing messages of Greenpeace and IFAW.
• Also present to counter anti-sealers was Richard Cashin of the Newfoundland Fishermen, Food and Allied Workers' Union. In a 1977 interview on CBC's Take 30, Cashin deemed the protest movement a threat to the traditional Newfoundland way of life.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: April 6, 1976
Guest(s): Richard Cashin, Brian Davies
Reporter: John Calver
Duration: 5:04

Last updated: April 19, 2013

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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