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Canadian hunters start shooting, clubbing seals

Written by: Staff
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OFF CANADA'S EAST COAST, Mar 26: Canadian hunters started shooting and clubbing harp seal pups at the start of an annual hunt that is the focus of a tech-savvy protest by animal rights groups.

This year, 325,000 young seals will be killed on the ice floes off the East Coast where the animals gather.

Hunters in boats shot the seals yesterday as they lay on small ice floes and then dashed over to the bodies in hopes of retrieving them before they sank.

At one point a hunter, frustrated at the activists' presence, picked up the bloody carcass of a skinned seal and threw it at a boat full of protesters and journalists. It hit the boat and sank.

The hunt started slowly because unusually warm weather means the ice is breaking up, scattering the seals over a larger area than usual.

''The ice is not full of seals all over the place. They are very spread out,'' said Roger Simon of Canada's federal fisheries ministry, which oversees the hunt.

There were no reports of clashes between the hunters and activists, who say the hunt is inhumane and should be banned. A small group of activists has chartered a boat that is following the hunt, and has put film of the killings on their Web sites.

Celebrities such as former French film star Brigitte Bardot and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney called on Ottawa this week to stop the hunt.

Once the animals are killed, they are skinned and taken into the hunter's boats. The pelt is used to make coats while the rest of the carcass is usually left behind. Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States said the poor quality of the ice meant her team had found far fewer seals than usual.

''The few surviving baby seals we've watched for the last several days are being killed as Canada's gruesome seal hunt begins again,'' she said.

''Harp seals now face a double threat to their survival -- the impacts of climate change and historic high levels of commercial hunting.'' Canada says the hunt gives the local economy a crucial boost and helps keep a harp seal population of almost six million animals in check.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada was behaving responsibly and would enforce rules ensuring that the seals were killed humanely.

CRUELTY? PROPAGANDA?

''Unfortunately here we're to some degree the victim of a bit of an international propaganda campaign,'' he said on Friday.

Aldworth repeated calls for an international boycott of Canadian seafood to protest what she said was ''incredible cruelty at the hunt, including dragging conscious seals across the ice with boathooks, shooting seals and leaving them to suffer in agony and skinning seals alive.'' The first part of the hunt, which takes place near the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, usually takes about 10 to 12 days to complete and this year will account for just over 90,000 seals.

The second and larger stage, off the coast of Newfoundland, starts on April 4.

''We are absolutely committed to making sure this is the last slaughter of baby seals in Canada anyone will ever have to witness,'' McCartney said in a statement on Friday.

REUTERS

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