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Global Warming Puts Canada's Hunted Seals On Thin Ice

Canadian Harp seal.
by Michel Comte
Ottawa, Canada (AFP) Mar 23, 2007
Global warming threatens Canada's harp seals, protesters warned Thursday, calling for this year's annual cull to be cancelled to spare sea mammals already in peril from retreating ice used as breeding grounds.

"A large percentage of the seal pups born in the northwest Atlantic this year are dying as their habitat is destroyed," said Rebecca Alderworth, director of Canadian wildlife issues for the US Humane Society.

"We cannot allow the survivors of this ecological disaster to be slaughtered to produce fashion items," she said, estimating that more than 260,000 seal pups had perished due to climate change.

The government acknowledged the plight of the sea mammals, but would not commit to a hunt hiatus.

"Usually, we would have announced a hunt quota by now, but because ice conditions are poor, we're taking our time (to review data)," government fisheries spokesman Phil Jenkins told AFP.

"We've noticed that the ice over the past four or five years has been deteriorating and this year it's giving us some concern."

"We're seeing poor ice conditions (for breeding). So, we can expect a higher than average mortality of seal pups," he said, adding the quota is likely to be reduced from 335,000 harvested last year, if the hunt proceeds.

A commercial harvest is usually set now.

But Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn has delayed announcing a quota as government scientists explore the impact of thin ice in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in eastern Canada on harp seal breeding.

Up to 20 percent of the herd usually nests on thick ice floes in the region in February or March. But this year authorities and animal rights groups found only slush and ice fragments too small to support a newborn pup.

Animal rights groups have been out in force, stripping naked in front of Canada's parliament in freezing temperatures, dousing themselves in red paint to protest the seal hunt and holding news conferences.

"We're calling on the (government) to take a precautionary approach and stop this year's hunt," said Toni Vernelli of Greenpeace Canada.

"Continuation of the commercial seal hunt cannot be reconciled with the long-term conservation of the harp seal -- an ice-dependent species which is already suffering critical habitat loss due to global warming."

Jenkins countered that animals tormented by warmer temperatures in the southern Gulf represent only 20 percent of the entire Atlantic herd.

Ice floes in the northern Gulf and around Newfoundland province where most of the seal hunting occurs is "fine," he said, rejecting speculation the fisheries minister might cancel the hunt this year.

In the past three years, one million seals have been killed as part of the commercial hunt in eastern Canada, which animal rights groups call "the largest marine mammal massacre in the world."

Demonstrators in Europe and Canada in recent weeks denounced the "cruelty" of seal hunting.

But Ottawa maintains the hunt poses no threat to the seal population.

Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said in a statement last week that opponents of seal hunting were presenting a "biased" view of a practice that he called "sustainable, economically viable and culturally significant."

Fisheries officials meanwhile said the Atlantic seal population has ballooned over the past three decades to 5.4 million in 2004.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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