Harp Seals (Phoca Groenlandica) are the prime targets for the commercial Canadian Hunt They get their name from the harp-shaped pattern that occurs on the sides of the adults of this species. Until a drop in demand occurred due to both EU and Russian bans on the import of Canadian seal skins, these animals formed part of the largest mass slaughter of marine mammals on earth. (An unenviable title that is currently held by Namibia) Cute pictures of White Coat pups have become internationally recognised iconic symbols highlighting the barbarity of commercial seal hunting. The EEC instituted a ban on the killing of White Coat pups (less than 4 weeks old) in 1983, while Canada banned it for commercial purposes in 1987. The hunting of white coats in Canada is STILL permitted for personal use.
HARP SEALS BREEDING BEHAVIOUR
Harp Seals breed during the months of February and March. Here they will haul out in large numbers onto the pack ice to mate, give birth and moult. Once done, this migratory species will disperse widely throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic region.
Males will fight over females using both teeth and claws. They return to the same breeding grounds each year.
Pups go through a number of stages. They are born with a yellowish fur, hence the name “Yellow Coat” This coat turns to white within a matter of days. (White Coats) Around 3 weeks after birth, the pup begins to moult, with tufts of fur coming off in large patches. At this stage they are known as “Ragged Jackets”
Once the moult has finished, usually at around a month, the pup has a silvery grey coat and is known as a “beater.” At around 14 months, the pup begins to develop its adult coat with characteristic spots. Not all adults develop the Harp pattern and these are known as “spotted harps.”
Pups are born weighing in on average at 10kg and measure around 85cm in length. Weaning is a remarkably short 12-14 days. In this time, the pup can more than triple its birth weight. At around one month, the pup is able to take to the water on its own and fend for itself.
Shortly after giving birth, females will mate and begin feeding intensively in preparation for the upcoming moult. During the moulting period neither males nor females will eat much at all and may even fast altogether.
Sexual dimorphism is not particularly pronounced in this species. Both males and females weigh around 120-150kg and measure roughly 1.7m in length. They both reach sexual maturity at 4 years of age and live for between 30 and 35 years. Pups suffer a natural mortality rate of around 25%.
Global warming has recently become a major concern for these animals. Not only is there a lack of firm ice to haul out on, but IFAW has reported that baby seals are getting crushed between the shifting masses.
Commercial fishing outfits like to blame this species for a collapse in fish stocks, particularly Atlantic Cod off Eastern Canada in 1992. Scientific analysis points to over fishing and the industry’s wasteful method of discarding undersized and juvenile fish. (which die in the process of getting caught) We question how much longer the DFO will continue to blame seals for their own ineptitude.
Canadian fisheries are calling for several million of these seals to be killed. This despite an EU ban on all seal products and without any scientific evidence that the seals are detrimental to the environment. In fact, stomach contents reveal that this species feeds off over 120 different types of fish. They are vitally important players within the food web, both as a predator and as prey. Disturbing the balance in a delicate ecosystem could prove fatal, not only to the seals, but the fish and the fisheries themselves.
Entanglement issues are also of concern. Consider that between 1987 and 1988, Norwegian gillnet fisheries reported 80 000 seals becoming entangled and drowning in their nets. In 1995, Canadian Lumpfish fisheries reported 17 000 seals that had died through entanglement.
The number of pups killed by Russian sealers in 1999 was in the region of 34 000. All of these animals were “white coats” and younger than three weeks old. One in three pups from the Russian hunt is not killed properly and is still alive when transported to processing plants via helicopter.
Despite an EU ban on white coats, environmental groups have managed to find conclusive evidence that the ban is not being strictly enforced and that Russian “White Coat” products are entering the European Union via Norway.
In 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin vetoed an animal protection bill that had passed through the Russian parliament by 273 votes to 1. This bill would have effectively outlawed seal clubbing in that country.
The Canadian Seal Hunt, the Russian Seal Hunt and the Norwegian Seal Hunt are all three not economically viable. All three hunts receive massive subsidies from their respective governments, something that irks the vast majority of concerned tax paying citizens.
In 2006, the price of a Harp Seal pelt was $105 In 2009 the price had dropped to a mere $15
There are three distinct Harp Seal populations. All three are targets of commercial seal hunts.
Harp Seals can hold their breaths for 16 minutes and will migrate over 6 000 km in a single year.