I think it was the other day when I had just risen from my life of leisure and was settling into my morning routine of coffee, a quick smoke and to get my fix of what on in the world while I was asleep when I happened to surf over to The Today Show. There, instead of seeing Katie Couric’s smiling chipper little face and getting a glimpse of her gams or finding our where in the world Matt Lauer was or watching him going head to head with Tom Cruise, I was greeted with images that to me, were quite disturbing. (Not that those I previously mentioned aren’t but, in comparison…) There, in full color was the image of baby seals being clubbed and shot to death by fisherman up in Canada in order to supplement their income during the off-season. Now, I’m far from one of the PETA people and I’ll eat just about anything that comes across my plate but this seemed to be going a bit overboard and it got me to wondering exactly why this practice went on. Here’s what I found out.

Just What Kind Of Seals Are Being Killed In The First Place?

Well, it certainly isn’t Navy Seals, those sons of bitches would put up too much of a fight. Primarily, the target of the hunt is something called a Harp seal. It seems that the vicious and cunning prey are mostly pups that are three months old or younger and are usually still nursing by their mothers side when Bwana comes calling.

Do They Put Up Much Of A Fight?

Have you ever been to your local aquarium and seen the seals diving in and out of the water? They seem to be having themselves a grand old time and can move pretty quickly in their natural element. On the ice floes it’s a whole ‘nuther story though. Most of the hunters just walk up to them with a club in one hand and a gaff in the other. The gaff is used to hook the seal away from its mom and the club, well, let your imagination be your guide. All I can say is it doesn’t sound pretty. To illustrate that, the following is lifted straight from the Canadian regulations when it comes to determining of the seal is in fact, dead…

”Every person who strikes a seal with a club or hakapik shall strike the seal on the forehead until its skull has been crushed”;

“No person shall commence to skin or bleed a seal until the seal is dead”;

“A seal is dead when it has a glassy-eyed, staring appearance and exhibits no blinking reflex when its eye is touched while it is in a relaxed condition”;

“Every person who fishes for seals for personal or commercial use shall land the pelt or the carcass of the seal”;

Just Where Are The Killing Fields?

Mostly they take place on the ice floes in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence which is a bit west of Newfoundland. I’ve never been fortunate enough to visit Newfoundland but I’m gathering it’s gotta be a pretty boring place. I’m guessing that there’s nothing there but rocks, ocean, snow and fish to keep the locals from going crazy on each other. This leads me to believe that the townies have to take their aggression out somewhere. Unfortunately, that’s where the seals call home.

Oh yeah, some other countries such as Greenland, Russia, Norway and, get this, Namibia , also engage in the practice but for the most part, the rest of the world have turned their backs on the whole show.

Side note: Namibia? – That one left me scratching my head and I’m just wondering if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie knew about that before they and their offspring took over the country…

No, Really, Why Do They Do It?

Well, when the commercial fishing season ends in Canada there’s lots of folks with lots of spare time on their hands. In order to try and supplement their income during the off season, they turned to killing the seals for their pelts and oils. More on that later…

Tools Of The Trade

Nothing fancy here. The sealers use wooden clubs, something called a “hakapik” which is nothing more than a big club with a big ice pick on the end and in rare instances, guns. The reason that guns aren’t the main weapon of choice is that the sealskin processing plants in Canada lower the price they’ll pay for a pelt if they discover it riddled with bullet holes. After all, business is business and as a result, many seals merely wounded by a gunshot are left to die a slow and painful death rather than wasting another bullet on them.

What Do You Do With A Dead Seal?

First of all you skin it. Reports often come back that many seals aren’t even dead yet when they go under the knife and are sometimes skinned alive right on the floes and often within sight of the mama seal. There is a relatively small market for seal oil and virtually no market for the meat. The carcass is often left to rot on the floes.

On the other hand, seal cock is widely regarded in some Asian cultures as an aphrodisiac and little seal dicks are packaged up and sent overseas to be consumed by horny Asians in quest of a little leg. I’m going out on a limb here but haven’t those people heard of Viagra?

How Many Seals Are Killed?

I believe Canada sets the number at somewhere around 300,000 a year but there are no reliable sources that can put an exact figure on the number of seals that are actually killed.

Is It Cruel?

If you ask me, yes. If you ask the fishermen who claim they need the money to make ends meet during the off season, they’ll say no. They’ll say they're just culling the herd and if the seal population was allowed to go unchecked, the fishing would dry up and their livelihood would be gone.

Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not and while I’m no environmentalist or expert on the matter, I do believe there has to be a more humane way other than clubbing something to death to achieve their goals.



Seal clubbing is the common name for seal hunting, most specifically of the harp seal. Harp seals are sought after for their coats which are incredibly warm due to their 350,000 hairs per square inch. As a comparison, the average human has about 100,000 hairs on their entire head. For the first two weeks of their life, baby harp seals have a snow white coat to help them blend into the ice flows on which they live. This white fur was and is highly prized as a luxury clothing item and many baby seals were killed for their coat. The hunting of baby seals or so-called "whitecoats" has subsequently been banned in Canada since 1987 but it is still legal in other sealing nations (notably Russia) which still harvests the valuable white furs.

In most seal hunting nations, there are three legal weapons to hunt a seal with: a traditional Norweigian tool called a hakapik, a rifle or shotgun, and a club. Firearms are not preferred for hunting seals because of the danger, the difficulty of use, and the costs to the hunters. For obvious reasons seal pelts with bullet holes in them are worth far less than intact pelts. It's also much more difficult to kill a seal in one shot than it is to club them--imagine trying to shoot something accurately while standing on a rocking boat in the open ocean. What frequently ends up happening is that the seals are wounded and then dive into the ocean to escape, bleeding to death slowly. Ricochets off the ice also happen, presenting a danger to the hunters.

As a result, hunters club seals as often as possible. However, despite its name, most seal clubbing is done with a hakapik, not a club. The hakapik is roughly similar to the medieval war hammer and looks like a large claw hammer with a handle from 3.5 to 5 feet in length and a head with a blunt hammer face on one side and a pick or hook on the other. The hammer head (as well as the leverage from the long handle) is used to kill the seal without breaking the pelt, delivering a powerful blow to the seal's skull and (in theory) instantly killing it. The pick side is then used to drag the carcass to the boats following a hunt.

Currently the seal harvest is regulated by individual governments with quotas based on annual suggestions from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Canada still hunts adult seals and, in fact, the Canadian seal hunt, which begins in late March or early April depending on the ice conditions, is by far the largest, taking in about 300,000 of the estimated 450,000 adult seals hunted annually. The remaining 150,000 are hunted by Greenland, Norway, Russia, and Namibia.

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