Seal hunting takes place in many countries including Canada, Namibia, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Russia. In Namibia, the second largest seal hunt in the world takes place at Cape Cross and Atlas Bay between July and November. The Cape fur seal colonies at these two places account for 75% of the total population. The culling continues here. Cape Cross is a tourism resort. The Department of Tourism has stated that “Cape Cross Seal Reserve was established to protect the largest breeding colony of Cape fur seals in the world”. So in the early hours of the morning desperate local people, who live below the poverty line, are employed to hunt seal pups. The 2013 cull accounted for 80-90,000 seal pups and 6,000 bulls being culled. There are thought to be around 160 seasonally employed workers who come to kill seal pups of 7-11 months all for their fur pelts. The Cape fur seal is listed on Appendix 2 on CITES, meaning that without conservation efforts, the seals, who are not endangered as of yet, will become extinct.
The seals are coming under more threats such as habitat loss, by-catch, starvation and the fishing industry. The Seals of Nam stated that between 1994 and 2000 some 300 thousand seals died from starvation. In 1993 the pup production was 164 248 with a sealing TAC quota of 50 850 – (31% of pups) In 2000 the pup production was 147 823 (90% of 1993) with a sealing TAC quota of 60 000 – (41% of pups). In 2006 the pup production was 107 910 (73% of 2000) with a sealing TAC quota of 85 000 – (79% of pups). It seems that as the population declines, the Namibian government increases the quota. It has been claimed that there are around 1 million Cape fur seals in the wild, and if the cull continues like this, they could be extinct by 2019.
Protecting The Fish
Seals consume 700,000 metric tons of fish a year, more than the country’s total fishing quota, Bernhard Esau Namibia’s minister of fisheries and marine resources said. The seals are seen as the main competitor for fish and are the reason for the declining fish stocks. As Jane Goodall explains below, this is not the case.
Culling On The Beach
‘This initial strike is seldom sufficient to kill the animal and, as it tries to take evasive action, it is repeatedly beaten until it is either dead or unconscious,’ – a statement from The Seals Of Nam website. ‘The sealer then stabs the little ones in the throat, sometimes while they are still alive. The baby seals are known to become so terrified that they will vomit up their mothers milk. The sand on the beach is stained pink from all the blood. Carcasses are hurled onto the backs of waiting vehicles and the bulldozers set to work cleaning up the blood before the tourists arrive to view the colony. ‘
“Terrified pups are rounded up, separated from their mothers, and violently beaten to death. An additional 6,000 bull seals are killed for their genitalia which are thought to be an aphrodisiac in some cultures. Most of this is exported to Asia,” said a spokesman for Earthrace, a conservation group who released footage last year of seal pups being clubbed to death. “At 6am, the clubbing begins. Then, at 9am each morning, bulldozers clean up and restore the beach before the tourists arrive to view the colony, because all of this happens in a designated seal reserve.”
Banned Imports and The Economics Of Keeping The Seals Alive
The EU banned all imports of seal products due to the cruelty and the US, Mexico and South Africa have also enforced a total ban. The bans being enforced over the world are taking effect and the price of a pelt has dropped from $120 in 2005 to around $20-$35 per pelt today. Namibia failed to meet its quota last year and killed 55,432 seals in its annual cull compared with a quota of 86,000. This is apparently due to a lack of investment in processing facilities that year.
A new economic study has confirmed the seals are worth three times as much alive rather than dead. In 2008, the seal hunt generated only £320,000, whereas direct tourism netted £1.3 million expenditure. The conservation group, Earthrace, contends that more-stable employment and more revenue could be generated by abolishing the cull and instead using the seals as a selling point for eco-tourism operations. Last week The Seals Of Nam started a twitter campaign using the hashtag #SeeTheWorld to begin a boycott of tourism to Namibia.
Hatem Yavuz, the seal cull Kingpin, is being held as one of the main perpetrators and has the contract to buy every skin of the Namibian seal cull until 2019. He is reported to pay around $3-$7 for each pelt but sells a coat made of around 10 pelts for $30,000. Yavuz went so far in 2009 in proposing that if the animal rights activists wanted to stop the culling and seal trade, they should consider buying him and his partners out at $14.25 million.
Canada Vs Namibia
Canada has been heavily criticised for its seal cull but the difference between these two nations is that Namibia is culling seal pups that are still suckling and are not independent of their mothers. Seal culling only takes place after the seals are weaned in Canada.
The practice seems illogical, brutal and senseless. The cull has been branded ecocide. Although it is horrific to watch these seals be clubbed to death, the people who are employed to do this are desperate, living below the poverty line and are trying to support themselves. It cannot be condoned but it is a true shame that this is the only job that these people can get. The blame rests on the government, the Kingpin and as ever, the consumers whose demand for a soft coat and an aphrodisiac is costing the lives of seal pups, still dependent on milk from their mothers. Again it is Asia where the market seems to be. Consumers need to be educated in what they are buying. Without a change in attitudes, not only to the Cape fur seal, many species are going to become extinct because of beliefs that some animal parts have medicinal properties or that a tusk, a pelt, a skull or a horn is a status symbol. It needs to change today, for the animals and for the world we live on to continue.