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“Club Seal” and the complicated politics of Canada’s seal hunt

“Club Seal” and the complicated politics of Canada’s seal hunt

I am a Canadian, and I was as shocked as everyone else when those brutal images of the baby seal hunt shocked the world in the 1980s. Ever since, Canada has been the focus of anti-sealing campaigns, including during the Olympics:


However, you may be surprised to know that, in Canada, seal hunting is a complicated issue. That’s because it involves Aboriginal culture and rights. And even groups like the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are conflicted when it comes to denying an indigenous group its traditional hunting culture:

The Canadian Government claims that Canada’s commercial seal hunt is important to Inuit, but in reality, commercial sealing and Inuit subsistence sealing are two very different activities.

For example, Inuit in the Canadian Arctic hunt fewer than 1,000 harp seals, mostly adults, during the summer months. This is far removed from Canada’s commercial hunt, which takes place months earlier and slaughters tens or hundreds of thousands of harp seals less than three months old.

So long as it is conducted on a sustainable basis, and that reasonable precautions are taken to minimize unnecessary suffering, IFAW does not oppose the killing of seals for food, clothing and other products for local use by indigenous peoples. Nor do we oppose the sale and local distribution of seal products from subsistence hunts within indigenous communities.

What we do oppose, however, is a government hiding a cruel and wasteful, large-scale industrial slaughter behind aboriginal subsistence hunting, deliberately blurring the distinction between the two.

In that context, I present to you an online ad created by a group calling themselves “Club Seal”. The name sounds like a bad pun, but their argument touches on several current concerns about the sustainability and security of the human food supply:


My personal opinion is that, if seal hunting is as controlled as deer hunting — that is, regulated, humane and for personal or artisanal use — then I can’t oppose it if I do not oppose any other game harvest. That will not be a popular opinion in some circles of our readers, but I have had enough contact with Canada’s first people that I respect their relationship with hunting. (I’m not a hunter myself, by the way.)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation attempted to look at the complex issues surrounding the seal hunt in an objective way.

Here is their executive summary:

There are few issues more controversial in Canada and around the world than the annual seal hunt that takes place in the waters and on the ice floes off Atlantic Canada.

The bloody images, the heated rhetoric, the impassioned defences all combine in a familiar rite that pits governments and sealers against animal rights groups.

Few facts in this debate go unchallenged. All sides agree on where and when. But the answers to how, why, and even how many aren’t as clear.

Even the language is chosen carefully. Hunt or slaughter. Sea mammals or baby seals. Cherished tradition or economic disaster. Cod-eating nuisance or adorable innocent.

The images of the hunt are even more powerful, and seal hunt opponents know it. Most people find the pictures difficult to watch, but supporters say the same kind of thing happens in slaughterhouses — places where cameras aren’t allowed.

You can read the details here. And leave your own opinion below.

Club Seal

I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more