Baby seal hunt must be humane

Canadian officials call the hunt the most regulated mammal harvest in the world.

Anyone who’s seen a baby harp seal knows there isn’t much that can melt hearts quicker than the bulging, innocent black eyes and snow-white coat of the adorable pups. But many U.S. citizens are unaware that their Canadian neighbors to the north authorize the killing of about 325,000 of these creatures each year, labeling it a “cultural right” of maritimers who once made their living cod fishing.

While “cuteness” should not be necessarily the deciding factor in determining whether a species can be harvested, other factors certainly should be considered, such as species status and method of killing, as well as the benefit gained and what the carcasses will be used for.

Minnesota’s longtime white-tailed deer overpopulation makes the deer season a necessity in the state. Hunters get the meat, and the remaining deer are less likely to starve to death. The deer that survive are better off. In the case of the baby seal hunt in Canada, the government claims the hunt is necessary because the hunters can sell the pelts to countries such as Norway, China and Russia and sustain their livelihoods. Thankfully, the United States has banned Canadian seal products since 1972 and the European Union has banned baby seal pelts since 1983. The United Kingdom is considering a ban as well.

According to animal protection groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States, the methods of killing the pups can be cruel and unusual: Seals have been observed being clubbed to death, dragged by boat hooks before they are dead, skinned alive or left wounded to choke on their own blood. At the very least, the Canadian government must insist on enforcing humane killing methods for these young creatures, such as a single bullet to the head. It is inhuman to allow killing otherwise.

The seal population in Canada is not in danger; there are an estimated 5 million harp seals in the country. But there is no point in animals needlessly suffering to sustain business. The Canadian government can join the fight against animal cruelty without compromising its citizens.