The ice that supports Canadian harp seals is disappearing
- Published: 16 March 2010
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The Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson lambasts the Canadian government for its support of the murder of seals and ignorance towards the disappearing ice that supports the harp seal nurseries.
There are two extremely frustrating issues that I am very much at odds with my government in Canada.
The first is the ridiculously stubborn position that the Canadian government continues to hold with regard to the slaughter of seals.
The second is the willfully arrogant and ecologically ignorant position that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken on the issue of global warming and climate change.
In short, the government thinks there’s a never ending renewable population of harp seals to sacrifice to the Newfoundland and Magdalene Island neo-barbarians in return for their continued political support to keep his government in power, so that he can continue to do his part to destroy our planet with such mega projects as the Alberta Tar Sands and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
These two issues have now come together this month. The ice that supports the harp seal nurseries is simply not where it is supposed to be this year.
"It's been an unusual year this year, to the point that there is no ice. There have been high temperatures, high winds, and as a result we have very little ice," said Dan Frampton, the Coast Guard's supervisor of ice operations. "By this time of year, pack ice is usually down to the St. John's area." (In Newfoundland)
Frampton said icebreakers have been idle because there's no pack ice in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador, as well as in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or further north off central Labrador.
"The Northeast coast [of Newfoundland] is wide open," Frampton said.
Frampton says pack ice usually forms during January and February. He said even if temperatures drop in March it's unlikely that ice conditions will change significantly this year.
Now the problem is that seals need ice and if there is no ice the seal pups will be dropped in the water where they will drown, or the seals will be forced to give birth on beaches putting them at the mercy of uncontrolled locals who will kill them for amusement.
In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there should be at least a million seals but only 500 seals have been counted.
Magdalene Island baby seal clubbers say they are “fearful their hunt won’t happen.”
It seems to me they should be a little more fearful for the fact that their entire eco-system is being transformed.
Canadian government scientists are saying that this is not just a one-year event.
"Over the last decade, the ice hasn't been as heavy as it had been for the previous decade, which suggests a longer-term trend," said Mike Hammill, who studies ice conditions for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Hammill predicts the lack of ice could lead to higher mortality among seal pups. He says the seal population is large enough to survive this year, but that may not be the case if ice conditions remain poor for many years.
People living on Quebec's Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence confirm the pack ice they usually see at this time of year hasn't formed near their shores.
"Yes, there's only water around the island. There's no ice at all around the island. There's no ice at all," said veteran mariner Jean-Claude Lapierre. "I'm 69 years old and I never saw that before. I talked to the older people and it's the first time they saw that."
So there we have it, the unfolding of a prediction that I delivered to the Canadian government some two decades ago when I warned them that the seals needed to maintain their populations in order to cope with future high mortality due to changing climate conditions.
Canada maintains that there are four to six million harp seals in Canadian waters and they have raised quotas steadily over the years to lower the populations in the ignorant belief that fewer seals would mean more fish, especially cod.
The ecological facts have demonstrated otherwise: that lower seal populations mean lower cod populations because harp seals are a major predator of fish species that prey upon cod.
The fishermen however have willfully refused to believe in the ecological value of the seals and instead have used the seals as scapegoats for the destruction of the cod caused by the large industrial draggers, which caused the collapse of the fishery in 1992.
Five hundred years ago, there were some forty million seals on the Eastern seabird including grey seals, hood seals, harbor seals, the now extirpated walrus, in addition to the harp seals.
With seal populations reduced to just under ten percent of their original numbers since the time of the European colonization, the various species of seals have been much diminished and thus placed in a vulnerable position for dealing with the increasing threat of climate change.
If the ice disappears, the seals will disappear also.
It is the same kind of lack of vision and lack of ecological understanding that allows the slaughter of seals to continue even though their future is threatened by global warming.
Thankfully, the more enlightened governments in Europe have taken action to ban seal products, and that will force a significant reduction in the number of seals slaughtered by the East coast barbarians with the clubs.
The fact remains, however, that every seal killed weakens the ability of the species to survive the rapidly changing conditions.
Of course there are always those who can rationalize every tragedy in nature. As one Newfoundlander said to me a few years ago when I spoke of the possibility of global warming causing diminished ice conditions that would create a threat to the survival of the harp seal as a species.
He took a sip of his beer and gave me that fisherman’s know it all look and said, “well b’ye, we may as well kill ‘em all off befores they runs out of ice.”
That seems to be the strategy of the government of Canada also - kill off the seals so no one will notice when the ice is gone.
Captain Paul Watson is the head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.