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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

June 2000   —   Seal Hunt Falters

This year’s spring seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland saw at least 150,000 less animals taken than during last year’s hunt.

Animal rights activists have expressed their delight, and see the reduction in number as a result of the decreasing demand for pelts. The fur industry has tried to save face by saying a slow year was n eeded to correct the surplus of pelts on the market over the last couple of years.

According to figures, the price paid for a quality pelt dropped from $25 last year, to only $13, this year. This coupled with soaring fuel costs and insurance premiums for sealing ships have resulted in the hunt being much less lucrative for most regional sealers.

In 1996, the federal government began to subsidize the sale of seal meat. This led to resumption of the hunt on a massive scale. Last year, for example, about 245,000 seals were killed. According to IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), the loss of the government subsidies last year wreaked havoc in the industry, which had heavily depended on the income derived from the sale of the meat. IFAW points to the killing of this "artificial market" as being a major contributor to the industry chaos.

The fur industry maintains it will bounce back from the poor year. And they have the full support of the federal government, who, with taxpayers dollars, is to appoint a panel to make recommendations regarding "better ways" to manage next year’s hunt.

And in other news regarding sea mammal hunting…

Norway’s whalers began their annual commercial whale hunt, despite the usual protests. This year however the so–called "success" of the hunt is hampered by the fact that the whale blubber, once invaluable to the Norwegians, is now practically worthless. Very few products are made with whale blubber these days, and subsequently, the price has fallen so low, many whalers say that it is hardly worth hauling to shore anymore. The stockpile of frozen blubber in storage warehouses has exceeded 800 metric tonnes.

Norway would like to export the blubber to interested countries, notably Japan, where it is considered a delicacy, but the Norwegian government, fearing further backlash from opponents of whaling, decided to prohibit export of all whale products. As Norwegians do not eat the blubber, and there is very little use for it commercially in Norway, it remains in frozen storage. Whalers feel this is a sad waste economically as Japan would pay dearly to acquire the blubber.

Member nations are not legally bound by the IWC (International Whaling Commission), as its rules allow members to reject decisions. Norway has however faced fierce protests and threats of sanctions due to its continuation of commercial whaling. It is definitely one of the "have" countries, with a high standard of living and many feel whale meat is not a necessity to life for such a rich country.

Nevertheless the practice continues. And some whalers in efforts to change the government’s stand on blubber have threatened to "toss blubber overboard". The Fisheries Minister has not caved in to these threats so far, and no export permits are in the works.

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