THE BIGGEST seal hunt for more than half a century will start today in Newfoundland out of public view because, the Canadian authorities allegedly refused to co-operate with animal rights activists wishing to document the slaughter.
Campaigners estimate that today and tomorrow, more than 140,000 baby harp seals will be either clubbed or shot to death by 3,500 fisherman in a hunt driven by an increased worldwide demand for seal pelt products.
This year's seal hunt in Canada, in which 350,000 animals will be killed, has created the sort of international controversy last seen two decades ago when a global outcry against the slaughter in effect ended the seal skin market. Celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot led the campaign, which said baby seals were often being skinned alive by hunters.
The Canadian federal authorities say new regulations mean white- furred seals not yet weaned from their mothers are no longer killed and the animals are treated in a more humane way. They say the seal population can tolerate a high quota of animals to be killed.
Campaigners say the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) which oversees the hunt off the Newfoundland coast, is trying to stop the public from witnessing the hunt. Rebecca Aldworth, a campaigner with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said it had applied to the DFO for the necessary permits but the department had not provided them. "We had a lot of people who wanted to come and see this," she said. "But the DFO says you have to have a permit to go on the ice. We called them last Thursday but they did not return our calls. The office will not be open again until Tuesday and there is a two day wait for the permits. …