There’s an awful lot of bull circulating about the annual Seal hunt conducted in Canada. Reality is, the campaign to ban it was not motivated by care for an animal in danger of going extinct (number were increasing), or by cruelty considerations. It was a PR stunt from start to finish, playing mainly in ignorance of people living in cities to the reality of life.
The result devastated an indigenous community, depriving many of their livelihoods so that liberals could sleep better at night, knowing they had changed the world.
They should be ashamed of themselves.
Further evidence of a professional managerial class bias is found in the way in which Greenpeace portrayed the seal hunt and the sealers. Greenpeace began to vilify the sealers, referring to the hunt as an “annual outrage”65 and writing descriptive prose designed to sway the reader to share the outrage. A special edition of the Greenpeace Chronicles in 1977 was typical:
Millions of baby seals began to come under the fatal shadow of the sealers and their two week old lives were snuffed out by the cruel clubs and gaffs…. They butchered every seal within sight, sparing none. Each and every year the sealers came, to stain the whitish blue floes scarlet with the life-blood of the seals.66
Greenpeace did not stop at graphically and negatively portraying the seal hunt. It also mocked Newfoundland culture. One quote indicates the tone of its campaign, “It was called ‘The Great Hunt’ and the sealers were considered to be strong and courageous heroes. It always has been and still remains a brutal annual outrage of destruction.”67 Greenpeace attacked the sealers’ pride in their work and cultural history as well as ridiculing entire Newfoundland communities.
22 The above is only a sampling of the rhetorical devices used in the campaign. The images of the seal hunt are vivid, such as the contrast of the seals’ red blood on the glaring white ice. It was easy to record the hunt, as it occurred outside, in public view, and Greenpeace emphasized that the harp seals were often killed at ten days old to increase public outrage towards the hunt and the sealers. The effect of the anti-seal campaign became evident with the incredible backlash against the sealers. Thousands of letters were sent to government officials, newspapers, magazines, radio call-in shows, and to St. Anthony, Newfoundland, addressed to sealers in general. A sampling of the letters illustrates how the anti-seal campaign had been received at home and abroad:
In terms of media relations, the sealers had been outdone. Greenpeace enjoyed an almost complete victory in its campaign to ban the hunt. The European Economic Community announced a voluntary boycott on seal products in 1982. In 1983, this ban became mandatory. In 1985, a Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada was formed. The report from the commission was tabled 17 December 1986 and recommended a ban on hunting seal pups. The sealing by large off-shore vessels was banned in 1987; combined with the boycott of furs and seal products in Europe, all that remained was a much decreased landsmen hunt. The landsmen had started a co-operative in 1986, the Northeast Coast Sealers Co-operative, hoping to use seal pelts in Newfoundland crafts and restart the seal meat processing.75 By 1990 the landsmen hunt still existed marginally and the co-op was still operating with the assistance of the Newfoundland government.76 24 The anti-sealing campaign was a success from Greenpeace’s perspective, but it failed to take responsibility for destroying the economic and social basis of the Newfoundland sealing and Inuit communities. John Amagualik, an Inuit leader, states very succinctly what the Greenpeace campaigns against sealing meant:
The collapse of the seal skin market meant that many of our communities could no longer depend on that income, and it resulted in an increase in the social problems that we have. When a person has nothing to do, sitting at home, he or she is more liable to get into alcohol and drug abuse. There was a marked increase in the rate of suicide among young people, especially in communities that depended heavily on the sealskin industry. So there was a devastating effect.77
Clearly the impact was not solely economic and it affected the Inuit community. Amagualik testified to the Royal Commission on sealing about the cultural impact of the ban and boycotts noting that, “it is through the hunting of seals, and their butchering and distribution, that young people can readily be taught the virtues of cooperation, patience, sharing and their responsibilities in the community.”78
25 The economic devastation was also attested to by Newfoundland sealers plight. In 1978 the average Newfoundland sealer earned less than $8,000 per year from all sources and it was predicted that a ban on seal hunting would reduce the average sealers income by 15 to 30 per cent and would take $5.5 million out of the Newfoundland economy. 79 In 1985 the testimony of a sealer brings the impact of a ban into perspective,
We survive month to month, year to year, living in hope for better times. On average, our incomes are well below the poverty line, yet we live a lifestyle that brings great day-to-day satisfaction. We have often heard from our critics that men such as myself only earn a few hundred dollars a year from sealing. Therefore, it is of no great economic benefit. But Canadians and this Royal Commission must realize that for families living near the poverty line, a few hundred dollars means a lot. Without that money we can’t continue to make money, because we need it to reinvest in the rest of the year’s fishery.80
Ironically, the hunt ban resulted in an annual culling of seals anyway. “If the hunt were banned,” warned Mac Mercer, a marine biologist from McGill and Harvard, “we’d have to go quietly and bop off an annual quota of seals anyway, just to protect the fishery.”81 This is what has happened. The ship-based hunt has been eliminated and the landsmen hunt continues in limited form with an annual quota of seals.
26 The Inuit sealers were not just affected by the harp seal hunt ban. While the Greenpeace campaign specifically targeted harp sealing, it also had an adverse effect on the ringed seal market, which was very important to the Inuit economy. Ringed seals are not cute and cuddly when young, and that is likely why they were not part of the campaign, although the ringed seal demand was equally decreased.82 James E. Candow explores this idea in his history of the seal hunt, Of Men and Seals. Candow credits Pol Chantraine, a sealer and journalist, for the explanation of the subconscious appeal to the images of the harp seal pups.83
Chantraine saw that a whitecoat shares many of the same characteristics that adults respond to in a child: proportionately large head, large low-lying eyes, and awkward movements. He concluded that the physical appearance of the whitecoat subconsciously triggers protective behaviour among humans.84
The inaccurate belief that the meat was not used also needs to be addressed, as it was a key criticism of the hunt. In a statement to the Royal Commission on Sealing set up in 1985, a sealer testified:
It is not a well known fact, but it is accurate that the great majority of seal meat is fully utilized. It angers me when I see on the TV pictures of whitecoat seal carcasses just left on the ice. There is very little useable meat on an animal of that age. The flippers are used, but the TV coverage doesn’t show that. On the older animals which we take, all of the meat is used.85