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Canadian seals killed for food, fashion, students protest

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Protesters, from left: Shoshana Mayden and second-year law students Rachel Bash, Kristen Drumm and Cyndi Tuell stand on the corner of Pennington Street and Stone Avenue Friday afternoon to protest the killing of seals by Canadian hunters.
By Aubrey McDonnell
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, April 25, 2005
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A group of UA students rallied in front of the Canadian Consulate Trade Office in downtown Tucson Friday night to protest the killing of thousands of baby seals in Canada.

"We hope that we are putting international public pressure on Canada because we are trying to end this atrocity," said Kristen Drumm, president of Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The commercial seal hunt was reintroduced in 1996 by the Canadian government with more than 1 million seal pups killed in the past three years. In 2003 the Canadian government upped the quota of allowable seal deaths to 300,000 a year, according to a Humane Society pamphlet.

Fishermen claim the overpopulation of seals is hurting the Canadian cod fisheries. The reality, however, is the cod fisheries are hurt because of over-fishing, not seal overpopulation, according to the Humane Society Web site.

"It would be great if the U.S. condemned Canada for the seal hunt," Drumm said.

Canadian law allows fishermen to hunt baby Harp seals once the seals shed their white coats. Seals between the ages of two-weeks to 12-months can be killed legally.

"When I heard about it I was shocked," said James Matthews, an anthropology junior. "I don't see how anyone could be not against it."

Sealing is an off-season activity for fishermen from Canada's East Coast. Sealers are permitted to beat the seals to death with wooden clubs called hakapiks, or they shoot at the seals from a moving boat with a gun but are charged for every bullet hole found in the seal's pelt, according to the Humane Society Web site.

"We are trying to spread awareness because many people don't even know it's going on," said Tiffany Goforth, a member of SETA and a psychology sophomore. "Our goal is to give a lot of information to people who are curious about the cause."

An independent team of veterinarians who studied the hunt concluded in 2001 that governmental regulations regarding humane killing were neither being respected nor enforced. In 42 percent of the cases studied, the seals had likely been skinned alive while conscious, according to Humane Society documents.

"It's not like if they ended this (the fishermen) would starve," said Drumm, a second-year law student. "The money they receive from seal pelts is a very small portion."

Seals are killed primarily for their fur, which is used to produce fashion garments and other items.

There is a small market for seal oil, and seal penises have been sold in Asian markets as an aphrodisiac, according to the Humane Society Web site.

"It is absolutely ridiculous for these animals to suffer for fashion," Drumm said.

Although Tucson is far removed from the coasts of Canada, Matthews said he thinks it is important for everyone to act in defense of the seals.

"It's easy to feel detached when the issue is out of proximity, but you can't just ignore something even if it's thousands of miles away," Matthews said.

SETA members said they not only hope to enhance awareness about the cruelty by protesting, they also hope those who take notice will do something to help stop the killing.

"We are encouraging everyone to act out against this," Drumm said. "People can contact their senators or call the Canadian ambassador, anything to help this cause."

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