CBC Digital Archives

Defending the seal hunt

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.

It's the 1972 sealing season, and it could be one of the last for Norwegian sealer Sigmund Snarby, his two sons and the 18 Canadians they employ. Canada's Ministry of the Environment has just set the seal quota at just 60,000 seals for Norwegian sealers. It has also recommended the seal hunt be phased out by 1974. CBC reporter Michael Maltby travels with the Snarbys to learn about the seal hunt from their point of view. (Warning: disturbing images)
• Norwegian sealing companies, also seeking pelts and oil, first entered the Newfoundland seal hunt in the 1930s. They turned to North American waters after seal stocks fell off in their traditional regions; the White Sea near Russia and off the island of Jan Mayen in the north Norwegian sea near Greenland.
• Norwegian crews proved more adept at seal hunting than Newfoundlanders -- a situation usually attributed to the Norwegians' more modern vessels.

• Concerns about protecting the seal herd from extinction led to the first quotas in 1971. In 1972 the total allowable catch (TAC) of harp seals was 150,000 -- 60,000 each for Canadian and Norwegian vessels and 30,000 for landsmen.
• An additional conservation measure in 1972 banned large sealing boats from the Gulf.

• Despite the recommendation of the Ministry of the Environment, the seal hunt was not phased out by 1974, but the total allowable catch remained low from 1972 to 1975.
• "Beaters," referred to in this clip, are seals under one year old. From one year to four years, harp seals are called "bedlamers," a version of the French bête de la mer (sea animal). At age four harp seals are considered adults and are old enough to breed.

• Until 1967 the tools used by Newfoundland sealers were a tow rope, a sculping knife (used for removing pelts) and a gaff. This was a long pole with a curved metal hook on the end used to kill seals and drag the carcasses.
• New rules in 1967 outlawed the gaff in favour of the club. Norwegian sealers used the hakapik, a tool with a straight wood pick instead of a hook. In 1976 Canadian sealers were allowed to use hakapiks as well.

• In 1977 CBC journalist Jim Winter didn't just travel with the crew on a sealing ship -- he became a licensed sealer himself and described the experience on the CBC program Between Ourselves.
• Norwegian sealing companies were effectively forced out of the industry in 1977 when Canada extended its fishing zone to within 200 miles of the coast.
Medium: Television
Program: Weekend
Broadcast Date: March 26, 1972
Guest(s): Sigmund Snarby, Ulf Snarby
Reporter: Michael Maltby
Duration: 7:37

Last updated: October 29, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Greenpeace: Always Bearing Witness

From its humble beginnings in Vancouver, Greenpeace has grown into the world's leading environ...

1971: Bluenose II donated to Nova Scotia

The Bluenose II, replica of Canada's most famous schooner, is sold to the government of Nova S...

1959: Deadly hurricane strikes Escuminac, N.B...

A vicious hurricane strikes the Gulf of St. Lawrence, killing 35 and devastating the town of E...

Nine dead in explosion of HMCS Kootenay

(silent footage) HMCS Kootenay explodes in the English Channel, killing nine members of the Ca...

Minister increases seal quota

Seal hunters can now take a total of 975,000 seals over the next three years.

Pelts, Pups and Protest: The Atlantic Seal Hu...

Those beseeching eyes were impossible to avoid. In the 1970s images of fuzzy white seal pups w...