Cruelty To Animals
According to a 2002 peer-reviewed study done by five Canadian veterinarians and funded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), "the large majority of seals taken during this hunt (at best, 98% in work reported here) are killed in an acceptably humane manner." These veterinarians found, "During the 2001 season in the Gulf, three (1.9%) of 158 seals brought on board of the sealing vessels and directly observed by Daoust had not been killed, and in one (0.86%) of 116 interactions between seals and sealers observed on videotapes by Daoust and Crook, the seal also did not appear to have been killed before being hooked and brought on board." They thus concluded "This small proportion of animals that are not killed efficiently justifies continued attention to this industry’s activities, preferably by members of the veterinary profession, who are best equipped to assess the humaneness of the killing methods."
In observing four videos taken during the 2001 seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the authors of this report state, "A large proportion (87%) of the sealers recorded on the four videotapes failed to palpate the skull or check the corneal reflex before proceeding to hook or bleed the seal or go to another seal."
The Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada, also known as the Malouf Commission, concluded in a 1986 report, "Judged by the criteria of rapidity of unconsciousness and particularly the absence of preslaughter stress, the clubbing of seal pups is, when properly performed, at least as humane as, and often more humane than, the killing methods used in commercial slaughterhouses, which are accepted by a majority of the public."
According to the (DFO), "The Marine Mammal Regulations stipulate that seals must be harvested quickly using only high-powered rifles, shotguns firing slugs, clubs or hakapiks.
However, the International Fund for Animal Welfare conducted a study that disputed these findings. This report concludes the Canadian commercial seal hunt results in considerable and unacceptable suffering.
The veterinarians examined 76 seal carcasses and found that in 17% of the cases, there were no detectable lesions of the skull, leading them to conclude the clubbing likely did not result in loss of consciousness. In 25% of the remaining cases, the carcasses had minimal to moderate skull fractures, indicative of a "decreased level of consciousness", but probably not unconsciousness. The remaining 58% of the carcasses examined showed extensive skull fractures.
This veterinary study included examination of video footage of 179 seals hunted in 1998, 1999, and 2000. In these videos, 96 seals were shot, 56 were shot and then clubbed or gaffed, 19 were clubbed or gaffed, and 8 were killed by unknown means. In 79% of these cases, sealers did not check the corneal reflex to ensure that the seals were dead prior to hooking or skinning them. In only 6% of these cases, seals were bled immediately, where struck. The average time from initial strike to bleeding was 66 seconds.
In 2005, IFAW published a comparison of the CVMA-funded study and its own study. In this critique, David M. Lavigne, Science Advisor to IFAW, writes, "The Burdon et al. evidence cited above addresses the question of whether seals were likely conscious or unconscious at the time they were skinned, using post-mortem examination of skulls. In marked contrast, the figure cited from Daoust et al.’s report represents the number of seals clubbed or shot that were brought on board sealing vessels while still conscious. That number ignores any and all animal suffering that occurs between the time animals are clubbed or shot until they eventually reach a sealing vessel, usually on the end of a hook or gaff." Another difference between these reports is "Daoust et al.’s direct observations were made under very different conditions than those provided by Burdon et al. Unlike Burdon et al.’s observations, they were made directly from sealing vessels so that the sealers were unavoidably aware that observers were present. As Daoust et al. (p 692) admit, the presence of an observer on a sealing vessel “may have incited sealers to hit the seals skulls more vigorously”. Of course, the presence of an observer also has the potential to modify other sealing practices, including checking for a corneal reflex and bleeding animals immediately after clubbing."
In 2005, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned the Independent Veterinarians Working Group Report. With reference to video evidence, the report states: "Perception of the seal hunt seems to be based largely on emotion, and on visual images that are often difficult even for experienced observers to interpret with certainty. While a hakapik strike on the skull of a seal appears brutal, it is humane if it achieves rapid, irreversible loss of consciousness leading to death."
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