Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment

The Harp Seal Hunt

The harp seal hunt is the by far the biggest annual massacre of wild mammals in the world. Between 2003 and 2006 more than a million harp seal pups were brutally murdered for their fur. In 2009 the quota was set at 294,000 although more often than not these quotas are exceeded with no legal repercussions for the sealers.

With their big wide eyes and their white fluffy coats, the harp seal is a symbol of innocence and natural beauty. These seals can live for up to 35 years and grow up to 1.9 meters in length. As they swim they able to submerge for 15 minutes at a time.

The female harp seals can reproduce once a year and are very caring and protective parents. Usually the females will gather together in certain breeding areas to give birth to their young. During the spring time thousands of these snow white pups can be seen crawling and wriggling on the ice. One such breeding area is in Newfoundland, Canada.

The Massacre of innocents

The harp seal hunt is conducted in two phases. The first phase starts mid-March and occurs at the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The second phase in April occurs at the Front, on ice flows north east of Newfoundland. What awaits these innocent beings defies belief.

During the St. Lawrence hunt the sealers will use snowmobiles or trucks to reach the baby seals, then in a frantic rush the sealers will immobilize or stun as many pups as possible. The method of stunning is by hitting the baby seals over the head with a wooden club or an implement know as a “hakapik” which is a wooden club that has a sharp metal spike mounted on one end. Another common method of stunning employed by the sealers is “kicking in the face”.

In a blood filled frenzy the sealers stun as many babies as possible and then gather them together in a pile as they go on to search for more. During this time the harp seal pups lay waiting in agonizing pain and bewilderment.

Many of these animals have blood pouring from their noses and mouths as they flap around in a futile attempt to escape. The sealers finally return to kill them by smashing and caving in their skulls with the hakapik clubs.

Pups Skinned Alive

Some sealers instead of piling up the pups prefer to kill them immediately by beating and smashing in their heads. They will then go on to rip away the fur from the harp seals’ tiny body. To do this the pups will be sliced open and skinned with a knife, a cut is made from the jaw to the bottom of the belly so that the fur pelt can be pulled off.

However a large proportion of the time the baby seals are still alive and conscious as this happens. Some seals try to escape when this happens, yet others try to feebly paw away the knife but to no avail. The sealer simply places the pup back on the ground and delivers a few more crushing blows to its head with the hakapik until the seal is dead or unconscious or he will callously just continue to skin the pup alive. In 2001 an international independent veterinary panel conducted a study which showed that 42% of harp seal pups were skinned whilst still alive and conscious.

The sealers motive is money; they are paid per seal skinned and as result the sole motivation is for speed of killing and processing. No consideration is given for the welfare of the animal, even though according to law all sealers should check that the seals have been rendered dead by checking the “blinking reflex” however the independent 2001 veterinary report showed that 79% of sealers did not comply with this regulation.

They're Just Babies

Harp seals for their first week of life have a yellowish coat, during the second week it turns snow white and on the 12th day they begin to molt. It is on the 12th day just before the harp seal loses its distinguishing white fur that they are mercilessly attacked and bludgeoned to death. 98 % of all harp seals killed are between 2 to 12 weeks old, they have not yet had their first swim nor have they been completely weaned yet.

A number of pups killed are under 12 days old. The pelt is usually what the sealers are after, the red and raw carcass will be left on the ice to rot although sometimes it may be collected to be turned in to pet food. The male seals will have their reproductive organ cut out as it can be exported and sold as an ingredient in Chinese medicine. Witnesses have reported mother seals mourning and crying over the carcass of their dead babies. Mothers that try to interfere with the sealers are shot dead. 

2nd Phase of the Seal Hunt

The second phase of the hunt takes place on the ice flows, for this reason the sealers use ice breaking boats to gain access to harp seal nurseries. As the boats pass by the pups, the sealers will use guns to shoot them.

The sealers aim for the head but more often than not miss and hit the body; this is because both the ice and the boat are moving thus making a clear shot near impossible. The sealers will not usually fire a second shot as US$2 is deducted from the value of the pelt for every bullet hole.

The sealers will then jump out on to the ice to collect the seals; first they will be clubbed over their heads in order to crush their skulls. However they are sometimes still conscious as they have a metal hook impaled through their eye socket or jaw and they are subsequently hauled on board the ship where they will be skinned. Again many of these baby seals are still alive and conscious as they are skinned.

Each year there are number of seals that are struck and lost, either they are hit with a hakapik and then slip in to the ice or they were shot when in the water and then submerged in order to escape. The fate for these animals is a slow and agonizing death as they bleed out from their injuries. It has been estimated that the stuck and loss rate is 5.7% of the total number of seals captured.

Hood and Grey Seals

Each year thousands of hood and grey seals are also hunted for their fur. Usually these seals are shot with a rifle that is of a low caliber and thus results in the prolonged death and suffering of the seal.


A majority of these are female and a number of them are pregnant. As these pregnant mothers are pulled on board the ship and skinned, they may spontaneously give birth or abort due to shock. The pup falls out on to the deck and milk spews from the mother’s body. The new born pups are then killed or thrown overboard on to the ice where they will die from starvation.


Additionally the sealers orphan many infant seals as they heartlessly and indiscriminately kill adult parent seals. The infant seals often cry for their loss and chase after the boats in an attempt to locate their parents.


The following is a sealer’s statement made to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans:

“I seen seven pups threw over the side after the female was pelted. I took two out myself. Me and another sealer even agreed that this was shocking and there should be another way to hunt seals. We were in the whelping on March 10/98 because I observed that eight of tens pans of ice had young pups with the after birth and other debris from the birth on the ice. There was once I can remember the young seal watching his parents being hoist aboard. He watched the boat as we steamed away. The pups were not killed but left by themselves on the ice.”




Even so-called “recreational” hunters can pay a license fee and join in the seal hunt. Why is this cruel and despicable act allowed to continue even when surveys show that a majority of Canadians are against the hunt.

To stop this cruelty never buy fur or any seal-based products such as supplements containing seal oil which is obtained from the pelts. You can also write to the Canadian government and your local government representatives and tell them how you feel about this massacre.

To find out what else you can do please visit the How You Can Help section or read more the animal issues.


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