Letter from Captain Paul Watson

Painting by Sue Coe from 1983.

Painting by Sue Coe from 1983.

Canada’s Shame

By Captain Paul Watson

I was 10 years old when I saw my first baby seal clubbed to death before my eyes. It was 1960 and I was nine years old.

In the spring of 1960 my father and I went to visit my uncle Philip on Shippington Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just north of Prince Edward Island. Some baby harp seals had come close to shore on some ice floes and local fishermen went out and began to club them as we were watching them. I was horrified, even more so when my father and my uncle cheered them. I felt very alone and very helpless and it was that sense of helplessness that I believe influenced me to become an activist.

For over a half a century that image of cruel men bashing in the skulls of seal pups has haunted me. and as a child I knew that someday I would do what I could to shut down this cruel and vicious slaughter.

I read every book on the seal hunt, studied their biology, wrote letters of protest to the government that were all ignored until 1975 when for the first time I was in a position as a Greenpeace director to do something about it.

In March 1975 David Garrick and I led the first Greenpeace campaign to protect seals, returning in 1977 with Brigitte Bardot. I returned again in 1979 with the first ship ever to enter the sealing area to defend seals and not to kill them. That was my ship SEA SHEPHERD. I led a campaign in 1982 with kayaks to intervene against the slaughter and returned with the SEA SHEPHERD II in 1983 in a campaign that blockaded the entire sealing fleet in the harbour of ST. John’s, Newfoundland to prevent them from leaving. From there we moved on to disrupt the slaughter in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We saved the lives of 76,000 seal pups that year and that was the year the market collapsed for whitecoats in Europe and the commercial slaughter was virtually shut down for a decade.

And thus I returned to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1995, 1998, 2005 and 2008. In 2008, the market crashed against because of the protests and interventions.

And now it is emerging once again as Canada lobbies to open up markets in China for seal products.

Today the slaughter begins anew. We had hoped that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would finally put an end to it but they gave him a sealskin vest and he has proclaimed his support for the slaughter to continue.

The seals are facing an uncertain future with global warming, diminishment of fish populations and now the resurgence of commercial sealing again.

Their plight is even more desperate because both Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund view the slaughter of seals as “sustainable.”

It’s not of course. And it remains as viciously cruel as ever.

Greenpeace even apologized for opposing the seal hunt in the Seventies and Eighties except those of us who were there at the time with Greenpeace. We have not apologized and we never will.

The sealers say they do not kill baby seals anymore. They are lying. They no longer kill whitecoats and the hunt used to begin around March 15th but now it begins on April 10th when the seal pups have shed their white-coats and are over four weeks of age.

When is a baby seal no longer a baby seal? When the Canadian government dictates that they are not, and any seal over four weeks of age is now classified officially as an adult.

They say they don’t kill baby seals. They do.

They say the seal slaughter is humane. It’s not.

They say that the seal populations are not threatened. They are – by climate change, by over-fishing, by hunting, and by pollution.

They say that the slaughter is subsistence, a tradition and a part of Inuit Culture. It is not, the commercial seal slaughter does not involve the Inuit of the North, it is done by non-native residents of Eastern Canada.

They say that those who oppose the seal slaughter are outsiders and foreigners. Not true, the primary opposition to the slaughter has come from Canadians like Brian Davies, Rebecca Aldworth, Pamela Anderson, and myself amongst many others.

They say that the seals are eating all “our” fish. The fact is that the fish have been diminished by human greed and not by the seals and a healthy fish population is actually dependent upon a healthy seal, whale, shark, and sea-bird population.

Next year Sea Shepherd will return to the East coast of Canada.

Now that I am back with Sea Shepherd I have already started to plan a seal campaign for 2017.