6 celebrities who condemned Canada's seal hunt

French film star Brigitte Bardot was the first to speak out against the Atlantic seal hunt, but a long list of actors and musicians have followed in her footsteps.

Despite decades of high-profile criticism, the practice persists

Supporters of the annual Atlantic seal hunt say it provides an important income supplement for fishery workers, while opponents view it as a needless slaughter that is a blight on Canada's international reputation. 

For over 40 years, celebrities have been speaking out against the seal hunt. Here are just a few.

Brigitte Bardot

The French film star of the 1960s travels to Newfoundland in 1977 to witness the seal hunt in person. 1:01

A French actress who made most of her films in the 1960s, Bardot was an animal lover and the first high-profile celebrity to speak out against Canada's seal hunt in 1976. In 1977 she travelled to the floes herself, as seen in the video above. "My plans?" she said when reporters asked what she would be doing there. "To save baby seals." 

Bardot has continued to be a visible and vocal animal-welfare proponent and came back to Canada in 2006 to protest the hunt, but the governing Conservatives would not meet with her over the issue. 

Pamela Anderson

Sam Simon, one of the creators of The Simpsons, comes to Newfoundland with actor Pamela Anderson to stop the seal hunt. 1:58

The Vancouver-born Anderson became a television fixture in the 1990s on the swimsuit drama Baywatch, and was one of the better-known celebrity supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In 2006, while hosting the Juno Awards in Halifax, she used her platform to denounce the seal hunt and was met with loud boos from the audience.

Later, in 2013, she travelled to St. John's with Sam Simon, a creator of TV's The Simpsons, to offer a giant novelty cheque for $1 million to the Canadian Sealers Association to bring an end to the hunt. "There's always going to be pushback," she told reporters after the sealers weren't having it. "People have different perspectives ... I respect that, and I do think that this is a dying industry."  

Paul McCartney

The ex-Beatle and his wife pose for photos with a whitecoat seal pup in 2006. 0:42

In March 2006, the former Beatle and his then-wife, Heather Mills, travelled to the hunting grounds on the Magdalen Islands to see the seals up close and pose for photos with an adorable but feisty whitecoat seal pup. (The slaughter of whitecoats had by then been outlawed for over 20 years.)

"We are concerned about economics for the people. We think there's other ways to do it it than to continue this brutal practice," said McCartney. 

Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan wears a T-shirt featuring a seal pup as she headlines the noon show during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday July 1, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
When the Halifax-born musician performed at Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa in 2009,
Sarah McLachlan, right, wore a T-shirt featuring a seal pup when meeting the Governor General in 2009. (CBC News/CBC Archives)
she wore a T-shirt bearing the image of a seal pup and kept the shirt on for a post-concert meeting with then-Governor General Michaëlle Jean.

The Governor General had recently taken flak from animal-rights activists for eating seal heart at a community feast in Nunavut.

Later, in 2012, McLachlan posted an open letter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the PETA website in which she said "sealers — like tobacco farmers and asbestos miners — need leaders to devise a practical exit strategy for them."

Richard Dean Anderson

The Sea Shepherd Society enlists the MacGyver actor to spread its anti-seal hunt message in 2005. 1:56

In 2005 the star of TV's MacGyver and Stargate SG-1 travelled to Prince Edward Island at the invitation of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to observe the seal hunt on the nearby Magdalen Islands. Reporter Sara Fraser said Anderson wasn't worried about being "used to promote Seas Shepherd's message."  

"No, it was my volunteering to be used," he told a press conference. "I understand ... the power of the media and the power of celebrity."

But the society's ship, the Farley Mowat, had to be towed to Port-Aux-Basques, N.L., for repairs when it developed a leak that not even MacGyver could fix. 

Morrissey

This Jan. 18, 2013 file photo shows former singer for the '80s alternative rock band The Smiths, Morrissey, performing at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center in Reading, Pa. (Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/Associated Press)

"I fully realize that the absence of any Morrissey concerts in Canada is unlikely to bring the Canadian economy to its knees, but it is our small protest against this horrific slaughter," said the frontman and songwriter for British mope-rockers The Smiths in 2006.

He pledged not to play concerts in Canada so long as the seal hunt persisted and repeated his condemnation of the practice in 2014 with a statement on his unofficial website that read, in part: "Internationally, Canada's sorry image is due entirely to its seal slaughter — which is greedy and barbaric, and it is dismaying to witness such ignorance in 2014."

Morrissey recently announced he would be touring Canada in the spring of 2019 and donating some of the proceeds to animal welfare organizations.

... And one supporter

This Sept. 15, 2013 file photo shows Anthony Bourdain at the 2013 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Governors Ball in Los Angeles. The chef spoke out in support of the Canadian seal hunt that year on his Twitter feed. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press)

American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who died in 2018, came out in support of the Canadian seal hunt in 2013 after a group of fellow chefs joined a Canadian seafood boycott sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States.

"I'm all for protecting seals, but a total ban dooms the indigenous people above [the] Arctic Circle to death or relocation," Bourdain wrote on his Twitter account. "To hold the entire Canadian seafood industry hostage over sustainable, absolutely necessary tribal practice is ill considered ... I completely understand well meaning intentions of good hearted chefs who signed this petition. But they are wrong. Visit the Inuit."

Most celebrity opposition to the Canadian seal hunt has tended to focus on the Atlantic hunt, which has less cultural significance to its practitioners than the Inuit hunt and is generally not done for subsistence.