Six animal rights activists observing Canada’s annual harp seal hunt were arrested Sunday for getting too close to hunters killing the animals off the eastern coast.
The six activists belong to the Humane Society of the United States, which says the hunt is cruel and should be scrapped. This year, some 325,000 young seals will be shot and clubbed to death on ice floes, mainly for their pelts.
In addition to six activists, a freelance cameraman working for Reuters Television was detained. They were on board a small craft near the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and they broke the law by coming within 10 meters of the hunters, officials said. They were later all released.
“We’ll investigate, get statements and then decide whether to charge them,” said Roger Simon of the federal fisheries and oceans ministry, which is overseeing a hunt which started Saturday.
Unseasonably warm weather means the ice is much more broken up than usual, forcing hunters to shoot seals one by one rather than clubbing them en masse on the floes.
Boat ramming alleged
Earlier in the day, the activists said a sealing boat had deliberately rammed one of their small craft, damaging the propeller.
Rebecca Aldworth of the HSUS told Reuters that angry hunters had also thrown seal flippers and carcasses at the activists. She said she would ask Canadian police to charge those responsible.
The first part of the hunt, which started Saturday and takes place near the Magdalen Islands, usually takes about 10 to 12 days to complete. This year’s quota is just over 90,000 seals.
“So far the hunters have taken 3,000 to 4,000 seals. That’s not ridiculously slow, but it’s not fast either. It’s the lower edge of the norm,” Simon told Reuters.
Canadian officials deny the hunt is inhumane and say it provides a boost to the local economy while keeping a harp seal population of over five million in check.
The second and larger stage of the hunt, off the coast of Newfoundland, starts April 4.
Celebrities such as former French film star Brigitte Bardot and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney have called on Ottawa to stop the hunt.
Once the animals are killed, they are skinned and taken into the hunter’s boats. The pelt is used to make coats while the rest of the carcass is usually left behind.
Aldworth repeated calls for an international boycott of Canadian seafood to protest what she said was “incredible cruelty at the hunt, including dragging conscious seals across the ice with boathooks, shooting seals and leaving them to suffer in agony and skinning seals alive.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada was behaving responsibly and would enforce rules ensuring that the seals were killed humanely. “Unfortunately here we’re to some degree the victim of a bit of an international propaganda campaign,” he said Friday.