The baby Harp seal’s white coat protects it from more than the elements. It also wards of hunters as the animal is legally safeguarded in Canada until its fur begins to change colour. But the stay of execution is brief, a mere 15 days after birth the greying of the coat begins.
Every year around the world close to a million seals are killed by hunters. Canada, Greenland and Namibia account for most of the cull — 60 percent. Several countries, including some EU members, make up the rest.
The hunting season in Canada reaches its peak in the Gulf of St Lawrence at the end of March. The animals are bludgeoned with a spiked club called a “hakapik”. The hunters say its quick and does not damage the fur.
In Newfoundland the trappers take to the ice in the first two weeks of April. The rifle is the weapon of choice. The hakapik, they say, is used as a last resort. It is the biggest sea-mammal cull in the world and seemingly on the rise.
Last year Canada authorised the killing of 275,000. This year the figure has gone up to 280,000.
The Canadian government argues that with a population of 5.5 million seals in its territory, the species hunted are not in danger.
They are killed for their meat and for Omega 3 fatty acids, a growing market. But their fur provides the most lucrative yield. Italy and Denmark are the biggest importers of seal fur in Europe.
It is this trade that draws the greatest criticism from animal rights groups, who say it involves unnecessarily cruel practices. It is claimed some seals are still alive when they are are skinned.
Russia has been influenced by the argument. Seal hunting is now banned, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin describing it as a “bloody industry”.