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Biocide and the backward brutish beast

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 15, 2005


"We can judge the heart of man by his treatment of animals." — Immanuel Kant

On April 12, 2005 the Canadian seal slaughter was scheduled to begin under the protective watch of the Mounted Royal Police. Fortunately a massive ice storm prevented the start of the Newfoundland slaughter. Unfortunately, the Canadian government postponed the start of the hunt for more favorable conditions.

An annual carnage of grim proportions, the seal hunt targets infant harp seals, known to their killers as "whitecoats." Using clubs and hakapiks (spiked wooded bats), hunters smash the skulls of these newborns as not to destroy the white fur destined to become personal fashion accessories. The rest of the animal becomes pet food if not just abandoned on the ice like litter on a public beach.

As you read this imagine a field of arctic ice stained red with the blood of dead babies as humans bundled up against the biting cold seek out new victims to bash in front of their crying mothers. It is estimated 40% of the seals are skinned alive, with the sexual organs and pelvic bones of males harvested for Asian consumers. If hunters wait too long to begin their bloody harvest the whitecoats will begin to turn gray, and that gentle readers is seemingly unacceptable to the cruel Canadians out for blood.

All three harp seal populations, (the northwest Atlantic, east Greenland, and Barents Sea) are commercially hunted, usually on their breeding grounds. The hunt has been described as the "largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world". The size of the harp seal hunt in Canada increased significantly in the 1990s, aided by government subsidies, and a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set at 275,000 since 1997. The actual number of harp seals killed by the hunt each year is believed to be much higher due to seals not reported and those illegally killed "out of season."

Despite a 1986 European ban on whitecoats, brought about by an effective campaign against the cruel slaughter by dedicated environmental and animal activists, the killing continues at the hands of cod fishermen who claim harp sales are responsible for the recent collapse of cod fisheries. So, storm or no storm, white coat or gray, more than 300,000 Harps seals will be killed to cover the fact the Canadian government has failed to prevent over fishing.

The truth is human beings are unwilling to make room for other species. Here in San Diego we don't hunt seals, we merely refuse them a rookery in which to raise their young on beaches they have inhabited for centuries. Instead of recognizing these animals as part of a healthy biotic community, we instead bitch and moan about how the seals are encroaching on the quality of life of the people with enough money to visit any beach of their choosing.

Pick a region; pick a species, and the outcome is always the same. In places such as Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota prairie dogs are slaughtered as vermin because these naïve species are seen as an economic threat to cattle ranchers, due to their burrows. Prairie Dog hunts are now seen as a hobby by slack jawed bubbas with a gun, although all 5 species of Prairie dog are either threatened or endangered to the point of extinction.

Here in Southern California we continue to bulldoze any species that does not fit into our ideal of suburban paradise. We bulldoze bluffs, hillsides, wetlands, and river valleys. Nothing is safe from the destructive agents of "progress." Over the past century we have systematically erased anything resembling the natural order of things. The few wild spaces remaining are slowly succumbing to the economic engines of profit.

Soon they will be gone too.

Happy Earth Day!

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