Seals vs. People

Discovery Collegiate
Bonavista, Newfoundland

By Cheryl G. (Grade 9)

In 1995, at the lighthouse in Cape Bonavista, I gazed across the ice and saw what I thought was a black blanket shifting restlessly upon the surface. Closer to shore you could pick out individual seals as they entered and exited the frigid waters of the bay. Hundreds of people gathered on the shore to witness this spectacle -- thousands of seals so near to land that a well-thrown rock would have caused sudden panic in their midst.

They are the seals that Newfoundlanders boat out to get their quota of every year. That was the first time I had seen so many so close to shore, and I doubt I'll see as many more in one place again. That sight struck home to me the fact that seals are not in danger of becoming extinct from over-hunting as the pine marten or the wolf are. The seals are so numerous that the controversial hunt has every right to continue.

In the past, it was common practice for the people of Newfoundland to form sealing parties and journey to the ice to hunt seals. The sealers hunted alongside fishermen hoping to supplement their low incomes. Today, the fishing industry is almost non-existent and the poor people of Newfoundland need every break they can get, including the seal hunt.

In the past couple of decades, the seal hunt has received a lot of bad publicity. The image of a sealer beating a seal pup to death was emphasized. This is still true today. Organizations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have been doing all that's in their power to have the seal hunt banned. They place emphasis on the seals and how they are killed, not on the plight of people in Newfoundland. With the main industry gone, Newfoundland has to look for another way to employ its workers.

There are regulations concerning the seal hunt. No longer are sealers allowed to hunt pups, only adult seals. There is a penalty for sealers who kill pups. Also, you are now only allowed to shoot seals to ensure a swift kill, not club them to death as in earlier times. I believe most sealers abide by the law; they choose not to cause suffering to a fellow creature. A select few, though, seem to enjoy cruelty. I agree that those people must be punished. However, I do not agree that shutting down the seal hunt is the solution.

Canceling the annual seal hunt would do more harm than good to the economy of Newfoundland. It would depress the already defeated folk -- it would be like telling them that there is nothing left. So they would leave. The IFAW are confident that the seal hunt will be shut down. They want it stopped, yet there is no evidence that the seals are endangered. To the contrary, they are numerous. The hunt would not hurt their numbers.

Many products can be made from seals -- all parts of the seal can be processed, including the layer of blubber. Despite allusions made by the IFAW, seals are not killed just for specific body parts.

If the seal hunt shuts down, more Newfoundlanders will be forced to take drastic measures, or else starve to death. Already there is an exodus of people from Newfoundland to other parts of Canada. Many homes stay dark at night because the family that once lived there had to leave to find work. Even I have been affected by this fate -- my mother moved to British Columbia recently to find work.

The members of the IFAW say they are trying to do justice to the seals by banning the hunt. Yet, they think of the animals, not of the people.

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