Among the topics covered, the Royal Commission Report gives an overview of Canadian Seals, and a history of sealing; examines public concerns about sealing; addresses ethical questions regarding the killing of animals including seals; analyzes the economic, social and cultural issues involved; and scrutinizes the biological issues, including methods of killing seals.
To appreciate what an objective, valid and comprehensive report this is, I will first list how the Commission gathered its information, what sources were used, and who the members of the Royal Commission were. After, I will present key excerpts and concluding statements on key topics.
Sources of Information
(p. 3-9, vol. 1)
Public submissions either as written briefs or in personal presentations to the Commission;
Studies undertaken by expert consultants engaged by the Commission to examine particular topics;
Information and opinion provided by experts in particular fields at the request of the Commission;
Published scientific and technical literature;
Personal knowledge, experience and research of Commission and staff
There were 10 public hearings in international cities. They are: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, London, St. John’s, Kangiqsujuaq, Pangnirtung and Holman. A total of 156 witnesses gave oral testimony on these occasions.
The Royal Commission also received a total of 137 written briefs. The sources of written briefs and oral testimony included sealers; the sealing industry; the fishing and fish-processing industries; the fur industry; representation of the aboriginal peoples; conservation, animal-welfare and animal-rights groups; veterinarians; academics in such fields as biology, economics, sociology, nutrition, philosophy and law; local development groups; elected representatives; government departments; representatives of foreign governments; and concerned individuals.
Specific Information was frequently unavailable from witnesses, thus, the Royal Commission retained a number of consultants to carry out special studies in its behalf.
The Royal Commission has also drawn heavily on the help and advice of people who had particular knowledge and skills in matters with which it was concerned. This help, which has been readily given, has ranged from the provision of basic facts to discussion of complex scientific issues, and even to review the preliminary drafts of technical sections of its Report.
Members of the Royal Commisson
Chairman: The Honorable Albert H. Malouf, Justice, Court of Appeal of Quebec.
Dr. K. Radway Allen of Sydney, Australia. Formerly Chief of the Division of Fisheries and Oceanography, CSIRO, Cronulla. He has been involved for many years in research of the population dynamics and management of marine mammals.
Dr. Russell L. Barsh of Seattle, U.S. He taught law and public policy at the University of Washington until 1984.
Dr. John A. Gulland of Cambridge, England. At the time of this report, he was Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Technology, Imperial College, London.
Professor Ian McAllister of Halifax, Canada. At the time of this report, he was
Professor of Economics, Dalhousie University.
Dr. Wilfred Templeman of St. John’s, Canada. Formerly Director of the Biological Station, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans.
Dr. Patrick A. Geistdoerfer. At the time of this report, he was responsible for research in marine biology at the Centre National de Recherche, Paris, France.
The Royal Commission’s Summary on Humaneness of the Seal Hunt
(Keep in mind this was in reference to seals including white coat seal pups at the time, i.e., early 1980's. As many of us know, 90% of seals hunted today are killed by rifle, but even back in the 1980's the method using a hakapik was condoned by the Commission.)
"From the perspective of the victim, the clubbing of seal pups involves little if any suffering when done "properly". The kill itself is virtually painless, as the animal is rendered instantly unconscious. Virtually no stress occurs prior to the kill, and there is little evidence of stress to the mother seal or to other seals when the pup is clubbed."
(p. 193, vol. 2)
The Royal Commission’s Summary on Methods of killing seals:
"Clubbing of harp seals is as humane as, or more humane than, the methods used in slaughterhouses when both methods are carried out properly. The frequency of improper killing appears to be generally lower for harp seals than for the majority of animals in the slaughterhouses inspected.
Overall, the clubbing of harp seals by sealers from the large vessels appears to be as humane as, or more humane than, the killing methods practised in most slaughterhouses.
"Some observers, familiar with slaughterhouse operations, who have assessed the humaneness of the harp seal hunt, have similiarly considered it to be as humane as, or more humane than, the killing of food animals in slaughterhouses (Hughes, 1967; MacLeod, 1967; Jones, 1968; Platt, 1970; Jotham, 1978; Taylor, 1979). "
(p. 53, vol.3)
(Because images of a whitecoat seal pup evokes such an emotional reaction in people, animal rights groups disrespectfully dupe the public by continuing to play video footage of a type of hunt that has been illegal for 20 years. Even though academics consider the hunt humane, activists ignore this and still pursue insidious methods to trick the public. They use old film footage, abusive and insulting language, and completely alter facts. Most shamelessly, they have used professional video editing companies such as Paradore Communications in the U.S. to edit an already staged scenario (8 years ago, an IFAW film crew posed as representatives of a sports hunter magazine in the U.S. to set up a sealer who was eventually charged by the courts for alleged cruelty).
On Methods of Killing Seals
"The Royal Commission believes it is appropriate to compare the information about seals with the information available on slaughtering domestic animals in abattoirs and hunting.
Mechanical Stunning may be carried out by means of a penetrating captive-bolt stunner, a non-penetrating captive-bolt stunner, or a gun shot (Grandin, 1980a)… Essentially these operations provided no objective methods of testing that determined when an animal was improperly stunned. Instead a slaughterman would rely upon his professional experience to determine when an animal should be stunned a second time.
Manual Stunning. Lambs and young calves may be rendered unconscious by a blow to the head applied by manual means …Rowsell (1979b) reported on the clubbing of lambs with a steel bar at a Canadian packing plant.
Electrical Stunning is used especially for pigs, but also for sheep.
Carbon Dioxide Stunning is used primarily on pigs.
(p. 47 - 50, vol. 3)
On Ethical Considerations
Several presentations to the Royal Commission stressed that the question of the acceptability of killing of seals should be treated as an ethical and moral issue. Two versions of the basic ethical argument against sealing were put forward:
The absolutist view that killing of seals was in itself, regardless of cruelty or conservation considerations, wrong (e.g., Hamilton, 1985); and
The judgemental view, that the interests of seals should be taken into account, and that killing of seals could be acceptable only if benefits to humanity from sealing exceeded the harm inflicted on the seals (e.g., Singer, 1985)
Application of the absolutist viewpoint only to wild animals meets logical problems. To be consistent, any human act leading to the death or suffering of an animal should be opposed. As noted earlier, deliberate killing is only one element, and in most cases only a minor element, of humanity’s impact on the numbers and well-being of wild animals. Urbanization, clearing of forests, ploughing of grasslands for agriculture, and spraying to protect crops all have much more harmful effects on the ecosystem and the general welfare of animals than have properly controlled levels of hunting….
Adoption of an absolutist attitude also implies as its logical extreme that animal rights always take precedence over human interests. Most upholders of animal rights would reject this concept.
(p. 95-96, vol. 2)
Should Seals be Killed?
"If we are to accept the killing of hundreds of millions of animals for human consumption, which, in spite of legislation, involves a degree of physical suffering and mental trauma far in excess of that suffered by the seal, then it seems difficult to understand how the proper killing of seals can be considered unethical. (Hughes, 1985)
(p. 191, vol. 2)
"... it is also clear that by and large, those who would not immediately rule out all killing of animals as a matter of principle agree on certain limiting factors. These factors must be taken into account in determining whether a given operation that involves killing seals (or other animals) should be considered acceptable:
- the degree of cruelity inflicted
- the conservation of the seal stocks and the environment in which they live
- the importance of sealing and the products of seal to those engaged in this activity, including the importance of any benefits to fishermen if culls of seals were undertaken to protect fishing interests.
The first two points can be settled by reference to objective and verifiable facts, such as how much pain is inflicted, or what is the status of the stocks.
Regarding the importance of sealing, many argue that the ultimate use of many sealskins to make luxury coats or other products which the wearer could well do without is an important consideration in determining whether seals should be killed. When judged only by such end uses much sealing can be seen as trivial and thus, from several viewpoints, unjustifiable. This seems a narrow view, for a broader view would take account of all those involved, from the seal hunter, to the processor, to the ultimate user.
The actual amount of cash earned by all but the most economically successful sealer may appear small by the standards of the average Canadian per capita income, but for many sealers it is of great consequence. Moreover, when allowance is made for all the relevant factors - the value of the meat and skins consumed by the sealer and his family, the low average income in most areas in which sealing occurs, and the absense of alternative employment, especially during the sealing season - it is clear that sealing is very important, and that the cash returns grossly underrepresent the real economic and social importance of sealing to communities directly concerned. There may be exceptions but in general, if the serving of a significant practical purpose is a criterion of the justification for the killing of animals, most current forms of killing seals are equally justifiable or more so than most other occasions of human killing animals…
In summary, therefore, consideration of the three factors identified earlier indicate that with some minor exceptions, sealing in Canada appears to avoid undue cruelty, not to threaten the stocks, and to serve important purposes.
(p. 190-195, vol. 2)
On The Anti-Sealing Movement
"Protests about the seal hunt began in the 1960’s. Similar to today, protesters charged that too many seals were being harvested and claimed that this was endangering the species. Frequently, they charged that the killing was exceptionally cruel, and that pups were skinned alive. They claimed that it was wrong to kill helpless, nursing seal pups in front of their mothers, and that the mothers wept over the carcasses of their young; that sealers made very little money from the hunt; and that there was no need for the products of the hunt. These charges have been repeated throughout the history of the anti-sealing campaign.
Anti-sealing material emphasizes the analogies between seals and humans, through use of words that are generally used of humans such as a “baby seal”, “murder”, “innocent”, or by attributing human properties to seals, for instance in ascribing tears to sadness. Tears are a normal biological function that keep the eyes of harp seals moist, and they are not related to grief. Some groups have so often charged that seals are skinned alive, or that mother seals weep over the bodies of their babies that many readers unquestionably accept these charges as facts.
Some information handouts use emotional language to paint the sealers as the villains of the seal hunt. Amory (undated) stated:
“He goes to meet, in a curious, friendly, playful way, the first human being he has ever see and is - by that same human - clubbed on the head and skinned on the spot - sometimes while he is still alive.
This sad, cruel episode is repeated over and over and over during the “hunt” by hundreds of Canadian and Norwegian sealers, who first kick away the mother, and then drive home their horrible message by bludgeoning the baby using a club, or the brutal spike-tipped hakapik.” (p. 70 - 71, vol. 2)
Anti-sealing groups have been quite selective in their use of the information available about the hunt. This is not surprising in what is, in essense, a propaganda campaign, the object of which is to present a particular viewpoint as strongly as possible. For example, anti-sealing groups were selective in the information used to present their view of one of the most important issues, the humaneness of the killing. Of the more than 40 veterinarians, animal-welfare officers and biologists who have observed the hunt and assessed its humaneness, the anti-sealing groups have emphasized the observations of the only two veterinarians, Simpson and Jordan, who concluded that not only was the hunt inhumane, but also it could not be changed sufficiently to render it humane. (p. 73, vol. 2)
(This report is so relevant to today's anti-sealing campaigns. In fact, the abusive and racit-type character assasination has only intensified. Here are some examples from the news section of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: "the ignorantly-cruel seal killers have taken their boats into the Gulf in an effort to shoot every seal in sight... this barbaric ritualistic tradition of suffering and slaughter has begun")
A number of studies, such as those made by zoologist Desmond Morris and the Walt Disney interests in modifying the original form of Mickey Mouse, have investigated the attributes, explicit or implicit, that make an animal attractive. An attractive animal is well rounded, with big eyes, a large head and short limbs. Add dark eyes and white fur, and have the ideal animal. You also have the whitecoat pup. Further, add white ice, red blood and a sealer with a large club and a skinning knife, and you have a picture that will give rise to widespread public concern. It is this public concern that is one of the major factors in the sealing issue. It exists quite apart from any evidence concerning the state of stocks. It is also distinct from scientific evidence about the pain felt by the seal, the time taken for the animal to reach unconsciousness or death, or the intensity of the bonds between mother and pup. The concern is also strengthened by the perceived brutality of clubbing. It is serious because sealing, unlike, say, killing in a slaughterhouse, takes place in the open and potentially under the public eye and the eye of the television camera.
Another source of a sealing problem, over and above objective concerns with conservation of the stocks or undue suffering, is the lack of knowledge of a large segment of the public, particularly in the towns, of what life in the wild is really like. It would be exaggerating to imply that men or women living in Montreal or Toronto believe that in nature no seal would ever suffer or be killed, but there does seem to be a lack of appreciation that violent death is an inseparable part of the natural system.
(As seen in the next excerpt, the Royal Commission Report provides key biological information about seals, which exposes the so-called "mothers wept" description of how seal mothers react. Again, the animal rights people try to take advantage of the public's lack of knowledge, and send a false message.)
Tear Production in Seals
Mammals (and all terrestrial vertebrates) possess a number of glands that provide secretions to moisten the eyeball and, to some extent, to keep it aseptic. Two important glands continually secrete fluids to the eyes, which prevents dry eyes and serious problems from resulting. Humans possess a nasolachrymal duct or tear duct in the lower lid. This duct drains the constantly secreted fluids into the nasal cavity. Seals possess no nasolachrymal ducts… When seals are on land or on ice and their fur has dried out, tears can always be seen dribbling from their eyes, since even the normal lubricatory secretions, which in seals almost certainly comes mainly from the lachrymal glands, cannot be drained away. "
Sealing studies don't get any more credible than the comprehensive 1985 Report of the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada. Of course other important reports since, e.g., the Independent Veterinarians's Report and the Canadian Veterinarian's Report, have validated the seal hunt. So it seems that no actual research will stop the protesters from disrupting the work of sealers, or stop them from the continuing character assasination of Newfoundlanders and other Canadians who derive economic, cultural and social value from the humane and legal seal hunt. The democratic right to free speech has been granted to animal rights groups since the 1960's. However, that right has been abused, and used to slander and disgracefully brand sealers as sadistic murderers. The time has come to keep people with malicious motives like this, far away from the seal hunt.