Hunters gather pelts as the annual East Coast seal hunt starts in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in March 2009. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A wildlife pathologist at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown is researching whether small-calibre bullets should be used to kill grey seals instead of a hakapik or club.

Small-calibre bullets that fragment on impact might be a better way to kill the seals instantly, Pierre-Yves Daoust said Monday.

He did a small pilot study last year involving about a dozen seals.

This year two sealers will be given a special licence to use the ammunition in the Cape Breton hunt. A veterinarian will follow each sealer to test how the weapon is working.

"The young grey seals have a thicker skull than the young harp seals. Therefore, it may be a bit more difficult to kill them with a single blow, for example, from a club even though it's possible to kill them within a matter of seconds," Daoust said.

"Nonetheless, if they could use a low-power ammunition that will remove the danger of ricochet, and that would in the vast majority of cases kill the animal instantly, then it would improve on the tools that they use to harvest those animals."

Daoust said about 100 seals will likely be taken in the hunt.

If this proves to be a better method to kill grey seals, he said, federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulations would have to be changed to allow for the use of the bullets.