The Baby Seal’s Voice


Many are familiar with Canada’s annual seal harvest; a quota of over 400,000 seals is to be culled in 2011.(2) What many are not aware of, however, is that Namibia is the only country in the southern hemisphere that still clubs seals. Namibia’s harvest is considered the most brutal slaughter, as it is the only country that allows the clubbing of nursing pups. In fact, approximately 90% of the country’s annual cull is seal pup based.(3)

Animal activists as well as researchers have highlighted the inhumane methods used by Namibian sealers. During the seal culling season, which runs from July to November, sealers club as many seals as possible in a limited period per day, before tourists, oblivious to the practice, enter the same beaches to view the remaining seals. Because of the limited time period in which to work, sealers are not able to employ the approved method of “stunning” and often seals are clubbed while conscious resulting in them enduring severe pain and high levels of stress.(4)

Fuelling the Namibian seal culling practice and the manufacturing of its by-products, is Turkish businessman, Hatem Yavuz. Yavuz suggested a solution to the suffering endured by seals, he stated that “In order for them to feel less pain, they need to be killed with a club that has a nail in it.”(5) Consequently, in Namibia ninety thousand Cape Fur seal pups are beaten to death using this method.(6)

Animal rights activists as well as the media have expressed doubt and speculation that this activity supposedly protects fisheries in Namibia. Evidence has proven these objectives to be unsubstantiated or inconclusive.

The aim of this paper is to highlight Namibia’s inhumane sealing practices and to discuss the potential alternatives of using seals to bring capital into the country – such as tourist attractions. Due to the fact that Namibia lacks adequate scientific research regarding all aspects of seal culling and the impact seals have on the environment, the paper relies on pertinent research undertaken in Canada. Therefore, when considering the data, habitat differences and the different types of seals and fish must be taken into consideration. The paper concludes that Namibian seal practices revolve around a case of ethics, as the Government continues to allow this practice without conducting adequate studies and despite the practice being claimed inhumane by the international community.

Seals – beaten and stabbed

Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus(7) are commonly known as Cape Fur Seals, South African or Namibian Fur seals, or Brown fur seals. When on land, these seals are found in large colonies along rocks and beaches and are characterised by their friendly and curious nature. Their diet consists mainly of a variety of fish. Hyenas and black-backed jackals are among their natural land predators. However, man is fast becoming their number one enemy.

Culling along the desert coastline of Namibia is an annual event. Seals are favoured for their thick layers of blubber – which are used for oils, low-grade margarine, and omega-3 capsules – and fur, which is used for fashion items. A report stating that the Namibian Minister of Fisheries’ announcement to go forth with the annual cull articulated that: “Apart from fur jackets, shoes and bags made from seal skin, seals are also killed for their fat. The penises of seal bulls are dried and exported to Asian countries, where they are believed to increase the sexual potency of men.”(8) Apart from the thousands of pups killed, over 6,000 bulls are also killed annually. Cape Fur seals are now featured on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).(9) The survival of these seals is thus dependent on strict and careful conservation.

In order to meet the numbers set out by the Namibian Government quotas, sealers are forced to club seals at a fast speed. As a result, questions regarding the ethical standard of the Namibian seal cull have been raised. Another factor adding to sealers’ time pressure is that the culling takes place up until the arrival of tourists coming to view seals – a popular attraction in Namibia. The Cape Cross seal colony, for example, is closed to the public between 5am and 10am, while seals are being culled.(10) Tourists are oblivious to this fact as the blood-stained beaches are hastily cleaned and carcasses removed.(11)

Canadian studies have revealed the quickest and least traumatic killing process for seals, which includes a three-step rapid-succession process, namely: stunning; monitoring; and bleeding out each seal killed.(12) Stunning is a blow to the cranium, destroying brain sensory function. It is vital to monitor the seal to make sure that it is irreversibly unconscious or dead.(13) Finally, as stipulated by the Independent Veterinarians Working Group of Canada, major blood vessels must be severed in order to complete the process and ensure ‘humane slaughter’.(14)

A direct correlation between Canada and Namibia can be difficult to draw because of vast differences between the seals and the habitat in which the harvesting occurs. Cape Fur seals are agile and can move very quickly, especially on the onset of danger. They are also rarely found independently, but congregate in large groups. Thus, accurately striking a moving target, and inflicting severe impact to cause loss of brain function, is unlikely. The implications of this are that a seal will regain consciousness, or that sealers have to club the seals repeatedly. Sealers often ‘miss the mark’ of the cranium.(15) This defies all notions of humanity but instead reflects cruelty and disgrace. According to Namibian law, section 8 of the Animal Protection Act of 1962 forbids people from beating an animal to death.(16)

The environmental impact

Research on the true effects that seals have on the commercial fishing market is lacking, globally. In Canada, very little has been done to prove the claims that seals have a negative impact on fishing interests. In Namibia, unfortunately, even fewer studies have been done. According to Canada’s Fisheries Department, seals can have five possible kinds of negative effects on prey populations:

competition for food;
transmission of parasites causing increased mortality of fish;
disruption of spawning causing reduced reproductive success; and
other indirect effects on prey productivity, caused by changes in fish behaviour in order to reduce the risk of seal predation.(17)
One of the few studies conducted by experts was done by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, with the assistance of the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS).(18) Their research was conducted in the eastern Canadian waters to study what impacts the grey seal population has on the Atlantic cod stocks. While the study proved the relationship between seals and fish to be very intricate, researchers from the CSAS found little evidence to prove seal predation to have a major impact on commercial fish stock.(19)

A concerning fact, regarding the preservation of these mammals, and their conservation, as stipulated according to CITES, is that the Namibian Fisheries Ministry increases the annual seal pup quota, without conducting pup population surveys. According to Stephen Kirkman, researcher for the South African Journal of Science, on occasion when data was gathered, the Namibian Minister of Fisheries “frequently disregarded the scientific advice, and instructed the scientists to set the quotas as he saw fit, often at double the recommended scientific level.”(20)

Economic impacts and eco-tourism

There can be only one reason why thousands of seals are beaten annually, and why this is permitted despite widespread public outcry – money.

It is not disputed that seal products are a source of income. However, these products do not generate such large volumes of capital that the cruel methods of retrieving them cannot be brought to an end. This raises the question as to why Namibia is one of the few countries still permitting this activity. Namibia’s continued culling of seals has brought about increased global disgrace. The European Union (EU) banned its member states from importing any seal products in 2009; the United States has also condemned the seal product trade.(21)

Another potential economic impact of seal-culling, that cannot be validly justified, is the creation of employment. Approximately 81 jobs are created through the practice of seal culling, and the working period is seasonal.(22) The seal culling season runs from July to November and jobs are only provided during this time.(23) South African-based seal conservation organisation, Seal Alert SA’s Francois Hugo has also raised concern over the poor living standards of sealers in Namibia, saying that sealing claims to provide a maintainable income, but “all live in acute poverty in the desert in cardboard shacks.”(24) The Government itself only generates about N$ 1 million (US$ 146,000) annually from seal culling.(25)

It would thus seem imperative for the Namibian Government to consider a more viable alternative. Should the Government invest in eco-tourism, for example, a more sustainable and profitable option. Adding to the attraction of such an alternative is the ethical appeal. Many have warned that the continuation of seal culling in Namibia would severely impact the tourist industry and lead to a negative regard for the country. Economic implications could be dire. According to the Namibian newspaper, The Observer, “Economic analysts warn that continued culling may have serious repercussions for the Namibian economy if the country continues with the annual harvesting of seals given the threat of a boycott of Namibian produced goods.”(26)

Ironically, the same seals tourists come to Namibia to see are the ones being culled. Tourists contribute significantly to Namibia’s economy each year. According to a 2007 Action Against Poisoning report, tourists’ entrance fees alone, into the viewing areas of the Cape Cross seal colony, brought in a profit of N$ 2 million (US$ 292,000).(27) Seal-viewing boat rides are a popular choice among tourists and an additional source of capital. “Boat-ride ticket income exceeds N$6 million (€ 600,000) per annum.”(28) Investing in the eco-tourism market seems like an obvious preference for the Government as the combined income from the “Cape Cross Seal Viewing and the boat-rides exceeds N$ 8 million (US$ 1,168 000).” This industry has the potential to exceed the sealing one by N$ 2 million.

Adding appeal to the eco-tourism market, as opposed to the sealing practice, is the potential for increased job creation. The eco-tourism market would open far greater job opportunities, in a variety of areas such as restaurants, shops catering to tourists, and at the seal-viewing venues. These jobs would also not be restricted to the seal culling season, as eco-tourism has the potential to generate year-round jobs. According to The World Travel and Tourism Council, “Total employment in the travel and tourism industry is expected to increase from 71,000 jobs in 2010 to 109,000 by 2020.”(29)

One man’s power leaves little hope

Hatum Yavuz is a Turkish businessman with business ventures in Namibia. The Namibian Government signed a 10 year contract with Yavuz, allowing him to cull a million seal pups for their skins.(30) The contract ends in 2019. Alarmingly, the number of seals that the Government has agreed to be culled exceeds the current total seal population of Namibia. Apart from his fur and skin produce, Yavuz also plans to invest in two seal-meat processing plants, to be operational by 2012, in Namibia for human consumption.(31) Turkey is not a member of the EU.

Yavuz has made several offers to sell his ‘culling rights’ to groups such as Seal Alert SA; this despite him not having the Namibian Minister of Fisheries’ approval to sell his rights, as required by the Marine Resources Act of 2000. The Act prevents the ‘culling rights’ from being sold or traded without the Minister’s consent.(32)

The Government is responsible for allocating the annual quotas and sealing licences – such as the one issued to Yavuz. In the words of Yavuz: “You cannot buy the quota, because that’s owned by the state, and therefore buying me out is not going to stop seal harvesting.”(33) So, even though Yavuz’s ethical standards may be questioned, the root of the problem is the Government. Until national legislation ending seal culling is put in place, Yavuz’s words remain a reality: “The seal harvest will continue. The noises coming from Francois Hugo will not convince the Namibian State to halt the harvest. We will continue our business as usual.”(34)

Unless the Namibian Government instigates change, nothing will be done. Proposals to boost the tourism industry can be put forth; organisations can proclaim the inhumane slaughtering methods of the Namibian sealers; or the urgency for the Cape Fur seals’ conservation will be in vain until Government makes a change.

Concluding comments – a case of ethics

As the present reality stands, and according to research done for the South African Journal of Science, it is not possible for seals to be culled in accordance with the Animal Act or the United Nations (UN) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.(35) Humane slaughter methods, precision and inspection by authorities for seals’ conscious levels are ultimately not possible, considering the large number of seals culled and the time period in which harvesting is done.

Therefore, despite arguments that this practice has a viable function and objective, it is cruel, barbarous and inhumane. But even though societal interests such as wealth and power are overpowering in these modern times, these objectives fail to have sound justification as economically more favourable alternatives to seal culling are available.

Due to the lack of research within the Fisheries Ministry, it appears there is a blatant disregard for responsible and humane sealing practices. Therefore, the analysis of the seal culling industry in Namibia can be based on an ethical framework – or rather, a lack thereof. Whether one’s point of departure is animal activism or conservation, or even financial gain, if one’s ethical framework is not concerned with reducing unnecessary suffering, no amount of money or business will rectify the tainted and warped realities. The question left to ponder then is if the ethical framework of those in power is based on suffering, pain and a blatant disregard for animals, what will become of the society they lead?

Source: Consultancy Africa Intelligence


Chinese animal welfare groups have accused the Canadian government of “racist bias” and “cultural imperialism” for selling their country seal products that have been banned by the European Union.

A coalition of more than 40 organisations fired off the furious tirade after officials from Beijing and Ottawa signed a deal today to open up the world’s fastest-growing consumer market to seal oil, hearts and other meat from Canada’s annual hunt.

Sealers hope the agreement will save a business that has been hit by high-profile opposition from European animal rights groups, who say the hunt is cruel and unnecessary. Amid a growing outcry, the EU – which formerly accounted for almost a quarter of sales – voted in 2009 to prohibit imports of seal products.

To secure an alternative market, the Canadian government has been lobbying China, which has a rapidly growing economy and a huge population with an increasing appetite for meat and a history of eating wildlife with few qualms.

The Canadian fisheries minister, Gail Shea, expressed hope that the industry could grow to a new scale. “Now that we have access to a new, very large market for edible seal products, hopefully it can become the industry it once was and provide for Canadian coastal families like it did in the past, or even at a greater level than it did in the past,” she told reporters at a gathering in Beijing.

Chinese animal rights activists said Canada’s use of their country as a “dumping ground” was condescending and undermined their efforts to raise awareness about consumer ethics.

“Seal products have been rejected by the majority of Canadians and people in Europe and North America. It is insulting for Canada to market these products in China,” said professor Lu Di, director of China Small Animal Protection Association. “The perception of Canada’s sealing industry that the Chinese eat everything and the Chinese people do not care about animal suffering is indicative of the racist and cultural imperialistic attitude towards non-western societies still held by some Canadians.”

The seal hunting business is small – about $10m (£6.3m) each year – but politically sensitive, because many of the remaining 6,000 sealers are from Inuit communities, who have traditionally hunted the mammal for a living. Their incomes have collapsed in recent years due to the melting of Arctic ice and diminishing demand. The number of seals harvested has fallen by more than 75% in the last five years, to about 70,000. The price of pelts has also dropped.

“I’m pleased that the Chinese government has seen through the myths and distortions that have been widely disseminated by animal rights extremists in other parts of the world, such as Europe,” said Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami organization. “We want to create a stable and secure future for our seal hunters.”


~ by FSVSF Admin on 1 June, 2011.

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