Harp seal hunt a 'stain' on Canada, McCartney says

Former Beatle Paul McCartney and his wife Heather have called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end what they called the "heartbreaking" harp-seal hunt.

Pop superstar Paul McCartney and his wife Heather have called on the government to end the "heartbreaking" commercial hunt of harp seals and end its "stain" on Canada's character.

"Previous Canadian governments have allowed this heartbreaking hunt to continue despite the fact that the majority of its citizens ...are opposed to it," the Canadian Press reported the McCartneys as saying at a Thursday news conference in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

The McCartneys said 97 per cent of the seals killed in the hunt are less than three months old.

"We have complete faith that Prime Minister Harper will take swift and decisive action to end the slaughter of these defenceless seal pups for good," they were quoted as saying.

Photographed with seal pups

After the news conference in Charlottetown, the McCartneys flew by helicopter to ice floes near Iles de la Madeleine about 160 kilometres northeast of Prince Edward Island. They were photographed there with seal pups.

"We don't want to see the local people suffer," McCartney told the Canadian Press. "But, from what we hear, it is quite a small amount of their annual revenue and this could be easily sorted out by the Canadian government, if they care to do it."

Ottawa estimates the harp seal population now stands at 5.9 million, up from two million in the 1970s, before restrictions were imposed on the centuries-old hunt. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has insisted that most Canadians support federal policies allowing the commercial venture.

"Canada is known as a great nation," McCartney said in the CP interview. "But this is something that leaves a stain on the character of the Canadian people and we don't think that's right. I don't think the vast amount of Canadians think that's right."

The United States banned the import of seal products in 1972 and the European Union implemented a partial ban in 1983. Canada banned the killing of very young harp seal pups – known as whitecoats – in 1987.

The celebrity couple's trip to Prince Edward Island was arranged by the Humane Society of the United States, which hopes the media attention will put pressure on the federal government to end the hunt.

Wrote open letter

Last year, McCartney wrote an open letter to then prime minister Paul Martin, asking him to ban the hunt.

"We wanted to put you on notice that if Canada moves forward with another hunt next year, we will do all we can to focus attention on this unjustified, outdated and truly horrific practice, including, potentially, visiting the seals and the ice," wrote the musician, who along with his wife is a vegan.

The McCartneys are the latest in a long list of celebrities, including Martin Sheen, Richard Dean Anderson, Mick Jagger and Pierce Brosnan, to publicly oppose the hunt.

Protests over the hunt peaked during the 1970s when actress Brigitte Bardot hugged pups on the Maritime ice floes.