Calling all Prince Edward Islanders—and other compassionate Canadians, too! Here’s your chance to encourage stronger animal protection laws in PEI. PEI is currently seeking public input on the state of animal welfare and protection laws in the province. The Animal Welfare in PEI survey invites members of the public to provide feedback about laws protecting… Read more » Animal Justice
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By Camille Labchuk, Executive Director
The commercial seal slaughter has long been a bloody stain on Canada’s reputation. Every spring, the Canadian government lets sealers club, shoot, and skin baby seals in Atlantic Canada—most of them only a few weeks or months old—simply so their fur can be turned into luxury products for foreign markets.
I was pleased to team up this year with our friends at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a crew member for Operation Ice Watch 2017. Sea Shepherd and its founder Paul Watson have been fighting to save seals for over 40 years. On this trip our mission was to visit seals on the ice with Hollywood actress Michelle Rodriguez, and remind the world to keep pressuring Canada to end the bloody slaughter of baby seals.
The seal slaughter has always been devastating to me. I grew up in Prince Edward Island—not far from where the killing takes place—and I can still remember the shock and sadness I felt as a child when I first saw footage of gentle baby seals seals being chased and clubbed by sealers.
Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to meet harp seals in their icy nursery. Spending time with these creatures is an incredible experience, but meeting them makes it even more heartbreaking to return to the ice a few short weeks later when sealing season opened. Working with Humane Society International/Canada, I’ve helped document the slaughter, expose its cruelty to people around the world, and push other countries to ban seal product imports. Fighting to save seals helped inspire me to become a lawyer and use the law as tool to protect animals.
Ten years after my first visit to the ice, I returned. On our first day the Sea Shepherd team took off from the Charlottetown airport and flew out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, hoping to find the seal nursery. Searching for seals is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. The Gulf is around 155,000 square kilometres, and spotting a patch of seals that may be only a few kilometres wide can sometimes feel impossible.
But as I looked down from the helicopter, not only did I not see seals, I didn’t even see any ice. I saw large expanses of dark, open water instead of the solid, packed sea ice that should be there at that time of year. Harp seals are an ice-dependent species; they need thick sea ice to give birth to their babies on, nurse them, and let them learn to swim and fish on their own. If mother seals can’t find enough ice to give birth on, or if it melts from underneath them, seal pups will drown.
After hours of flying, we finally found a small patch of packed ice and a harp seal nursery with only a few thousand seals—a far cry from the tens of thousands we expected. We landed on the ice and stepped out into the icy wonderland in the midst of hundreds of baby whitecoat seals—newborn animals who were still nursing their mothers.
No matter how many times I visit seals, it always feels magical. Baby seals are incredibly trusting; they have never seen humans before and don’t fear us. They look up with black, liquid eyes, make soft noises, and if you lay still on the ice they may even come up to have a closer look. It’s especially incredible to watch them doze in the sun, warm in their thick fur.
We also saw a few “beater” seals—still babies, but slightly older as they have shed their white fur in favour of a silvery, spotted coat. (They’re called beaters because they beat their flippers in the water while learning to swim.) Whitecoats are protected from being killed, but once they begin to moult at only a few weeks of age and become beaters, they will be clubbed and shot. Their silver, spotted fur is what sealers are after.
On our second day, we returned to the area where the nursery had been only to find the solid ice was broken up by warmer weather and strong storm winds. After hours of zigzagging back and forth in search of the nursery, we feared the worst—that the babies drowned when the ice smashed and melted beneath them.
On our third and final day, we cheered after finally spotted a small scattering of seals, but the ice was still broken and thin. The helicopters couldn’t land on the precarious ice pans, so they dropped us off and hovered nearby. Our worst fears were confirmed—the larger patch of seals we saw on the first day was still nowhere to be found, suggesting they likely perished in the melting and broken ice.
Harp seals have endured centuries of being clubbed and shot to death for their fur, but now they’re also facing global warming, which is literally melting their habitat out from underneath them. Sea ice has declined drastically over the past few decades, yet even with so many drowned seal pups, the Canadian government opened the hunt up early. It’s heartbreaking to think of the peace and beauty of the harp seal nursery being shattered by industrial sealing boats, gunfire, and hakapiks, with the baby seals bloodied and dead.
The good news is that dozens of countries around the world, including the entire European Union, have closed their borders to products of the cruel commercial seal slaughter. With markets shrinking, pelt prices are lower and fewer seals are being killed.
The seal hunt is an outdated, dying industry that is being kept on artificial life support by massive cash subsidies from taxpayers—even though most Canadians oppose commercial sealing. Please ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to end the East Coast seal hunt, buy back sealing licenses, and support humane ecotourism instead of brutal seal killing.
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Prince Edward Island just bowed to the fur industry by giving hunters and trappers permission to kill even more animals this upcoming season. The move comes instead of heeding Animal Justice’s call to restrict fur trapping or even end the cruel practice altogether in the province.
Environment Minister Robert Mitchell announced in a news release that hunters would have an extra six weeks in total to kill snowshoe hares, and an extra month in the spring to trap minks. The news release indicates that the changes were made at the request of hunters and trappers.
Fur trapping is an incredibly violent practice. Canadian provinces allow trappers to use leg-hold traps, snares, and crush traps — cruel devices that often cause animals to suffer excruciating pain before they die.
Animal Justice met with Minister Mitchell last February to request a province-wide ban on fur trapping.
P.E.I.’s fur trapping industry has been under fire in recent years due to a rash of household companion animals being killed or injured in traps and snares. Companion animals in P.E.I. are at constant risk of dying in traps in part because provincial regulations allow traps to be set as near to residential homes as trappers wish, while snares can be set a mere 200 metres away. P.E.I. is the smallest and most densely-populated province in the country, meaning that pets aren’t safe so long as trapping is allowed.
Traps can also be set on Crown land, even though the provincial government encourages the public to hike on public land and bring their dogs along. Tragically, this leads to dogs dying in traps and snares, such as a dog named Caper who was killed last year in a baited snare set near a provincial trail.
The fur trade is on its way out, with pelt prices dropping drastically as many people refuse to wear fur. It is disappointing that the government has chosen to give special treatment to a dying industry, yet ignores Animal Justice and the countless P.E.I. residents who are asking the government to ban or restrict trapping. Expanding the killing season will allow many more animals to be brutally killed, and will further increase the risk that pets will become victims of traps.
Learn more about the cruelty of fur trapping here.
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on Feb. 25th, we brought into care eight new faces. One was injured and had to be rushed to veterinary care, but the others are settling nicely into their foster homes and learning their new routines. Over the course of the next 2-3 weeks, we will learn a lot about them - their quirks and
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Animal and Pet News
Animal and Pet News
Hello SCARS, Both of these dogs are foster fails. On the left is Lucy, now nine, found at a northern dump with four pups in the summer of 2012. She was a very young mom and treated them a bit like squeaky toys. She even busted everyone out of the enclosure and nearly drowned two
Raz came into care on February 25th after being hit by a vehicle. He was in rough shape and was vomiting blood. After arriving at Pulse Vet, it was found that Raz has a pulmonary contusion, bruising of the lungs and 4 fractured ribs. The vet team will monitor him closely. On March 1, Raz’s
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