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Who’s Hitting Baby Seals Hardest? It’s Not the Hunters

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 25, 2013

(Photo: Keren Su/Getty)

(Photo: Keren Su/Getty)

Beginning in the late 1960s, one of the most sensational media campaigns ever launched targeted the commercial killing of harp seal pups in Canada’s Maritime Provinces. It had all the elements to elicit outrage: The pups themselves were plump little things with white fur and big glossy eyes, cute as a child’s stuffed animal. The hunters, on the other hand, looked brutal and anonymous, swinging their clubs down on the skulls of their victims, staining the ice with blood as they stripped off the precious fur, and lining up the carcasses like sardines in a tin.

The campaign provoked an international outcry and helped make its sponsor, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), one of the largest wildlife protection groups in the world. But it had little effect on the fate of the seals.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans still grants permission to kill about 300,000 harp seals annually. Proponents of the continued killing argue that the hunt has deep cultural roots in the area, provides a small income to local residents, and helps reduce predation on cod and other commercial species as they slowly recover from decades of overfishing. IFAW, Greenpeace, and others counter that the hunt is cruel and that cod make up a relatively minor part of the harp seal’s diet. Meanwhile, through all the fury, the population of harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus, literally “the ice-lover from Greenland”) has remained stable, at about 6.9 million.

But a new study in the online journal PlosOne suggests that harp seals may be vulnerable to a far larger threat …  To read the rest of this story, click here.

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