Canada launches seal cull

Canadian authorities have increased the number of harp seals that can be culled to close to one million between 2003 and 2005. This year as many as 350,000 could be killed.

Animal rights groups say the cull is the largest since the 1960’s.

Canadian authorities contend that the seal population is a growing threat to cod stocks in the Atlantic, and that it can withstand humane culling.

Atlantic harp seal numbers have grown from 1.8 million in 1970 to 5.2 million, according to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

If hunters take their full quota of 975,000 seal pups over three years, the population in 2006 will be about 4.7 million harp seals, which DFO deems a reasonable figure.

“Seals are a valuable natural resource that, when harvested sustainably, provide valuable income to about 12,000 Canadian sealers and their families,” said Canadian fisheries minister Robert Thibault when he announced the new culling limits last year.

Greenpeace, which led a major campaign against seal hunting in the 1970’s, is no longer opposing the hunting of adult seals because the species is not threatened.

However the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and allies Sea Shepherd argue the cull is inhumane.

The government has insisted that new guidelines to ensure most seals are shot and not clubbed to death mean the hunt is more humane. The DFO has also established stricter requirements to show that the animals are dead before the hunters begin removing their white pelts.

In past years, IFAW activists have reported seeing hunters skin live seals, drag live seals across the ice with hooks, and leave seals with gunshot wounds to die slowly on the ice, in defiance of regulations.

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