Friday, 13 April 2007

Seals, Supplies and Sporrans

Copyright: AP Photo/ IFAW, Stewart Cook, HO, March 25, 2006

Walking in town tonight I saw yet another striding Scot in kilt with a beautiful swinging sporran in front, no doubt merrily heading off to a night of fun and festivities. I love how the Scottish people have their own pride in their rich culture but I also feel that some traditions are not justified.

As international condemnation against Canada hits the media again regarding an increase in quota allowed for the seal hunt this spring, few realise in the UK that Britain is the largest importer of seal furs, and that Scotland in particular is a big consumer of said furs – for the making of that most Scottish of garments, the sporran.

I find most of the arguments supporting the culling of seal pups spurious. Typical points:

1) Seals look cute so they get media coverage.

Yes. So?

2) Why care so much about seals when other animals are slaughtered for food too?

First of all, why link other issues to a discussion (killing seals for totally non-essential fashion accessories vs. killing for food) and by framing such a question assumes that others do not care about the welfare of other animals is a credible “defence”? It is a weak argument to assume that it is simply a cuteness factor (no doubt the cuteness factor does generate media coverage, but like I said, so? Does that suddenly invalidate the totally different point of unnecessary cruelty?). Seals do not spread diseases to humans. Nor are they reared specifically for food consumption. Thus I find it pointless to see unrelated points raised about the killing of cockroaches or the slaughter of sheep.

Secondly, how does the fact that other wrongs committed justify another wrong committed as being acceptable?

3) It is a source of livelihood and income for remote populations in Newfoundland. It is a traditional way of life in Newfoundland.

Firstly, what do they do for the rest of the year?

Secondly, such an argument would be the very anti-thesis for economic change – because you know, it’s a “way of life” so we should therefore continue it forever. In which case lets bring back the slave trade since it was a “way of life” for centuries and a livelihood for many.

4) Eskimos are deprived of their sole trade.

Oh yes, what the hell were they relying on for millennia before the sporran market came about?

I have no qualms about the Innuit killing seals for their own livelihood. They have for many generations killed enough to survive on; no more, no less. Not only is the animal completely dead before it is skinned, the entire animal is not left as a bloody carcass on the ice once it is skinned as every part is used for food and clothing. The fur trade however is driven purely by greed and vanity. No comparison.

5) There are too many seals.

Yes, nature is unable to cope and needs the help of humans for ecological balance.

Yes, the fact that perhaps there may be too many humans instead means that we should start an annual clubbing to death ritual of a few million people perhaps?

Whilst pro-hunters are keen to point out that the seal population has since tripled from the 1970s, the same pundits don’t point out that the population was reduced by two thirds between the 1950s and 1970s – from seal hunting. And now with the increase in global temperatures, more seal pups die due to a lack of ice before the hunting season even begin.

The fact is a lot of the source of ecological imbalance in nature traces back to humans. Culling may be necessary if that is the line of argument but why choose a violent method of dispatch by battering to death helpless pups when other factors that give rise to the increase in seal numbers are not addressed?

The Canadian government issued figures of “landed catch” is often misinterpreted in the media as total number of seals killed. That number is obtained from those seals “landed” at seal processing facilities and does not include those killed in Greenland or those seals that were wounded and escaped (“struck and lost”) or those killed accidentally in fishing nets.

The scientific journal Marine Mammal Science estimated that in 1998 the total number of seals killed was somewhere between 406, 258 to 548, 903 – more than the allowed cull.

6) The seals are depleting the cod stock.

Oh yes, the fact that the primary problem is humans over-fishing cod and destroying the natural predators of seals means we should get all uppity when seals bite into our food-chain! I mean, how dare the seals touch OUR fish!

Is cod the only fish and food that humans subsist on?

7) It is not a violent cull. It is a well-organized controlled harvest conducted in a generally humane fashion.

Clubbing is “not violent”? If a human being was clubbed or hapapiked (a device resembling a heavy ice pick) to death then it can be classed as a humane killing? And how “general” is this “humane” aspect when a helpless baby seal is clubbed several times to death and there is evidence that some are skinned alive?

According to the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) 79% of the sealers do not check to see if an animal is dead before skinning it. In 40% of the kills a sealer had to strike the seal a second time, presumably because it was still conscious after the first blow or shot. 42% of killed seals examined were found to have minimal or no fractures, suggesting a high probability that these seals were conscious when skinned.

8) Seals are predatory carnivores, fight each other to death, crush their own infants inadvertently, and pups starve to death when their mothers get eaten by killer whales etc. So killing them with a club to the head is kinder. So lets not get all emotional about seals.

Yes we all know nature is “cruel”. Let nature be. How does that therefore justify humans adding unnecessary barbaric cruelty to satisfy a non-essential need?

At the same time, it is ludicrous for bleeding hearts to simply blame Canada. Supply and demand means the British Isles are also complicit in the fur trade continuing.The seal fur sporran trade fuels the supply. Stop the demand by refusing to buy sporrans made of seal fur. Sporrans do not have to be made from seal pup fur. Is that really a huge sacrifice for the Scottish people to make?

Anti-sealing organizations:

Pro-sealing organizations:

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced, 23rd March 2007, the launch of a new website to counter "misinformation about the sealing industry that is put in the public domain by international animal rights organizations."

High North Alliance

The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission

A pro-sealing article by Boris Johnson (!) when he was the editor of the Spectator.


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