By Paula Moore
Canadians received a rather farfetched lesson in biology recently when Phil Jenkins, spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, explained the twitch reflex. Some baby seals only appeared to be alive after hunters beat them with spiked clubs, Jenkins explained, because of the “swim reflex,” often exhibited by newly dead seals.
If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
One can’t blame Jenkins for trying to sugarcoat what is the largest commercial slaughter of marine mammals on the planet. In the past three years, 975,000 young harp seals have been bludgeoned, butchered or skinned alive. Year after year, the world has watched with growing horror the spectacle of hunters, armed with clubs, rifles and spears, slaughtering defenseless baby seals, too young even to know how to swim away, while their mothers look on helplessly.
This year, thanks to activists armed with video cameras, we’ve seen something else, too: Sealers wielding skinning knives and clubs threatening lawful hunt observers. One hunter used a rifle to fire several shots into the air as sealers tried to drive observers away.
Is anyone surprised that hunters don’t want the world to see them beat baby seals with hakapiks, the ice turning scarlet around them? That was caught on tape too, and in some cases, the animals are still alive while the hunters rush to attack the next scampering victim.
Rebecca Aldworth, who made her seventh trip to the ice floes to document this year’s hunt, describes a young seal who was clubbed and left to writhe in pain on the ice?that so-called ??swim reflex”:
“A movement catches my eye, and I realize with horror that a clubbed baby seal is still conscious. She is writhing around on the ice in pain, moving her flippers. She lies next to another seal who has been killed, vacant eyes staring up, blood already frozen in the ice under her mouth. It is a macabre scene?the dead and the dying huddled togetherr here in the rain. Across the ice floes, I hear panicked voices?there are more cllubbed seals who are conscious and in agony. I run over to them, and see seals writhing around, breathing, and lifting their heads.”
Aldworth continues, “I return to the first seal. She is trying to crawl, and making anguished sounds. ? SShe is trying so hard to live, and I know there is no hope for her. She has her eyes tightly shut, as if to keep out the sight of the dead seals around her.”
“If somebody has evidence of cruelty to seals, we would like to see it,” Jenkins, the Fisheries Department spokesperson, said defiantly. “Bring it on.”
What those defending the seal hunt, and there aren’t many of them, don’t seem to understand is that, to most of us, bludgeoning young seals and leaving them to crawl around in their own blood?for something as frivolous as a fur coat?qualifies as “cruelty tto seals.”
The fur industry says that so many harp seals were killed this year because of an increase in demand for fur—all fur. As long as people continue to buy fox stoles or jackets trimmed with rabbit fur, seals will continue to be beaten bloody on the ice. It’s that simple.
We may not be able to do everything to stop animal suffering, but we can stop this?simply by refusing to buy or wear real fur. It’s that easy.
Paula Moore is senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
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