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A Second Red Sea Emerges as Canada Begins Killing Seals

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Scratch any cruel and gratuitous institution from dog fighting to foie gras and someone will call it a cultural tradition.

"This is a livelihood that the sealers are entitled to," said Michelle Dawe at a sealing industry gala in St. John's, NL in March to launch the annual Canadian seal hunt. "This has been for hundreds of years what Newfoundlanders have done."

"They lived and died for it on the icefields," added her brother Randy Dawe.

So have millions of seals, say critics of the world's largest marine mammal hunt whose cull quota was increased from 270,000 to 275,000 this year.

More than two hundred people attended the festival of seal skin coats and flipper pie sponsored by the Fur Institute of Canada including Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout.

"We want to tell the world that we have a sustainable hunt, a humane hunt, a hunt that's based on economics, that there's no cruelty. From here on in, we're going to try to tell the other side of the story" he said.

Rideout is not alone in evincing a new Canadian aggression.

Loyola Hearn, Canada's Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, expressed similar sentiments in a press release. "I applaud the efforts of industry, as well as the governments of Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador to up the ante in addressing the unfounded claims of anti-sealing groups," he said. "Through celebrations that acknowledge our sealing heritage we are succeeding in getting the real story about humane and sustainable sealing out to the public."

Last September, Canada even launched a challenge to the World Trade Organization to persuade Belgium and the Netherlands to reverse their bans of seal products arguing the governments were duped by animal rights groups.

The EU is considering an across the board seal products ban--32 per cent of Canadian seal fur exports went to the EU in 2006, mostly Finland, Germany, Denmark and Greece, and Europe also serves as a gateway to Asian fur markets--but the decision will still depend on individual countries' votes.

And resistance to the hunt which includes 12 day old pups Canada calls adults, seems to be dwindling.

("They are just like human babies," says Russian pop star and anti-seal hunt activist Laima Vaikule, "they also cry for their mothers.")

Canadian Sealing Association founding member Jim Winter just returned from London with two other sealing advocates and was heartened by a tepid anti-sealing protest he witnessed in Trafalgar Square.

"There was absolutely no media, which is another thing that speaks well for us," he said. "They're all good signs, but we should not be complacent. This is one event and what we need to do is take that kind of encouragement and build on it."

Atlantic Canada sealers constitute only one percent of the population says the acclaimed anti-whaling group, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, but they are highly subsidized by the government. http://www.seashepherd.org/seals/

In addition to paying for regulation, market research and public relations, government subsidies include ice breaker ships so sealers can reach herds, search and rescue operations and even surveillance and location of the seal herds themselves, says the group.

The biggest seal product users says Sea Shepherd are Norway, Russia, Eastern Europe, Japan and China where seal penis is also used as a "cure" for impotence.

There is also a growing market for seal oil which is sold by companies like Barry Group, Inc. and Costco as a health supplement despite its high PCB, mercury, arsenic, and DDT content, says Sea Shepherd.

Fashion houses Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Versace have also found a place for the clubbed and often skinned alive seals in their fashion lines.

Back at the Fur Institute of Canada's party, Mark Small a 27 year sealer who is Michelle and Randy Dawe's uncle, gives a pre hunt pep talk.

"I want to say to the protest movement today, we are not dead. We are on our way up. People think we got a dying community, but you go down on that wharf and we got pride," he says.

But he stopped to issue a warning.

"The eyes of the world are upon us and when you go to the ice, be a professional."
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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by (more...)

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