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Gory last phase of Canadian seal hunt opens

International animal-rights activists will be present to document the  the last leg of Canada's seal hunt on the ice floes off  Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday, with sealers expected to kill 234,000 harp seal pups by day's end.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The final leg of Canada's contentious seal hunt moved to the ice floes off northeastern Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday, with sealers expected to slaughter 234,000 more harp seal pups in just one day.

International animal-rights activists were to be present to document the final phase of the annual cull, which the Canadian government insists is humane and sustainable, with a healthy population of more than 6 million harp seals.

One of the most prominent animal-rights activists, Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States, was not on the ice, however, as the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has accused her of disturbing the hunt and declined to issue her an observation permit.

"It's unthinkable that so many animals will die a horrific death in such a short space of time," Aldworth said in a news release.

She and two other HSUS observers were accused last month of coming within a 10-meter (33-foot) buffer zone between their inflatable boat and a sealing vessel, a claim she denies.

Hunters already have taken their quota of 91,000 seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence hunt, which ended last week.

"People were apprehensive about the ice in the gulf, but it was a very good year and the quotas were caught very fast," said Roger Simon, spokesman for the federal Fisheries Department.

Fisheries officials said between 200 and 300 fishing boats had set sail from northeastern Newfoundland and Labrador for the last installment of the hunt.

The hunters will kill and skin as many of the marine mammals as they can Wednesday. There will be no hunting Thursday, while fisheries officials count the pelts to see if the quota has been met. The hunt will resume Friday if the quota has not been reached.

Protesters with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said they would photograph the slaughter from a helicopter, using scenes of carnage to promote a ban on Canadian seal products.

"If we can stop the markets for seal products, hopefully, we can reduce the number of seals being killed," said Sheryl Fink, a spokeswoman for the IFAW.

Canada's biggest market for seal pelts always has been, and remains, Norway.

The commercial seal hunt in Atlantic Canada in 2005 created more than C$16.5 million (US$14.4 million; euro11.9 million) for the isolated fishing communities in the Canadian Maritimes.

Newfoundland sealer Mark Small said that contrary to what hunt opponents are saying, the market for seal products is strong and growing.

"It's a great success story," he said of the seal industry.