Anti-Sealing Smear Campaigns Do More Harm Than Good

“The majority of commercial seal hunters are Inuit” Arnaquq-Baril states, yet some groups have chosen to ignore this, and their efforts to end the commercial hunt drastically affect livelihood for the Inuit community.

Seals have been politicized for decades now. No matter where you stand on the hunt, there’s no debating the fact that the high profile campaigns of the 70s and 80s, by for-profit groups like Greenpeace and the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), did very serious damage to the industry, and with it, the families and communities that depend on it. 

It was during those times, with the United States introduction of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, and resulting collapse of the seal market, that Inuk journalist Ossie Michelin tells me his stepfather saw a grown man cry.

“An old Inuk sealer had come to the wharf in Rigolet to sell his pelts, and was informed that new regulations were now in place, and there was no more market for seal pelts. He realized at that moment he could no longer feed his family, and would have to leave his home and get a job in Goose Bay. He had lost everything, and he cried.”

Newfoundlanders have lost much as well, as Dion Dakins tells me. Dakins is the CEO of Carino Processing Limited, a Trinity Bay plant which processes seal pelts and oil. In 2009, he and a Canadian delegation went to Brussels to educate EU parliamentarians about misinformation surrounding the hunt, before a vote on an EU seal ban (which passed). Animal rights activists characterize the hunt as cruel, and often use outdated imagery and unsubstantiated claims to discredit it.

“It was so terrifyingly sad and frustrating to not be able to change the gravity,” Dakins says. “No one listened to us. Minds [were] made up on propaganda.” He shows me a picture taken while there, of Inuit leaders Aaju Peter and Simon Awa (who appear  in the film Angry Inuk, which addresses the effect these campaigns have on Inuit communities) trying to tell European Union MEPs, before the vote on the seal ban, that it would have negative consequences for Inuit. Held in one MEPs hand is a white coat plush toy given out by IFAW hours before the vote. White coats have not been hunted since the 1980s!

Inuit Leaders Aaju Peter and Simon Awa trying to tell European Union MEPs a seal ban that it would have negative consequences for Inuit.

One piece of misinformation that is currently being pushed by a new group in St. Johns called Save Our Seals is that only 8% of the seal is used after harvest. The fact that an average seal is approximately  35% body fat blows this out of the water. The pelts arrive with blubber attached , which is separated in a food grade facility and rendered into oil. 800,000 liters of it, that’s Carino’s yearly average. Much of it is used in the health food industry, and some goes to fortifying livestock feed with omega oils. The waste fraction is used to heat and power the plant.

Carino’s seal oil tanks

Dakins, who enjoys seal meat, finds the effect of anti-sealing protests on meat sales to be one of his greatest frustrations with the animal rights rhetoric: he feels conflicting claims demonize the industry if meat is wasted, but actively prevent new markets for seal meat through smear campaigns.

“These groups actively work to erode market opportunities before we can capitalize on the ones we create. False imagery or statements is not a concern for them,” Dakins states.
Chef Jeremy Charles of Raymonds and Merchant Tavern fame is a champion of seal meat. “It’s something that we serve. It’s a beautiful, wild, organic and sustainable protein that we have surrounding us.” Charles feels it’s an abundant local protein that’s been overlooked for too long, and wants to help educate people as to why they should be eating more of it.

Dakins says he’s reached out and asked members of the Save Our Seals group to tour Carino’s plant and speak with workers, but to no response. Numerous attempts to reach the new and mysterious group were rebuffed as soon as any request was made to speak to a member using their real name. On my tour of Carino’s facility, I brought sealskin crafter Clare Fowler and vegetarian Danielle Knustgraichen, and Dion explained the details of the hunt and the regulations regarding a humane kill, pointing out public scrutiny has caused the seal industry to have to hold itself to much higher standards than that of factory farms.

Carino staff having a look at Clare’s handiwork.

So who are Save Our Seals? The group’s Facebook page is the only source of information I can find about them, other than a promotional video shot in St. Johns by a Toronto studio employing a Toronto actor, and an article by none other than Sheryl Fink of IFAW notoriety.

IFAW is a particularly worrisome group to Inuit communities. The Nunavut filmmaker behind Angry Inuk, Alethea  Arnaquq- Baril, has interviewed Fink, spoken at length with her, and says that IFAW has been given correct information about the hunt and is aware its depiction of the Inuit hunt as being somehow different than the commercial hunt is incorrect. The IFAW can’t be opposed to the commercial hunt, not the Inuit hunt, because the Inuit hunt IS a commercial hunt. “The majority of commercial seal hunters are Inuit” Arnaquq-Baril states, yet some groups have chosen to ignore this, and their efforts to end the commercial hunt drastically affect livelihood for the Inuit community.

This is a tactic embraced by Save Our Seals, who have deleted Inuit comments attempting to correct misinformation, or the comments of anyone who question their claims, such as Dakins. Both he and Arnaquq-Baril have been blocked by the page, and Ossie Michelin has had many comments pointing out the colonial attitude of the group deleted, but has screen captured them to share. A high number of those using real names are located in California or Ontario.

“We have no respite” Ossie says. “So much has been taken away from us. On so many fronts, it is an active struggle to keep our culture alive.” Arnanquq- Baril is equally frustrated with these groups. “It’s very hard to fight against entities who remain hidden. It’s very easy for them to damage us from a distance. They have no personal stake in this matter.”

Personal stakes are pretty high for the 27 workers at Carino. A chemist named Jason tells me how he left the industry briefly, but despite continued threats to its existence from outside forces, he’s back, and he’s happy. He’s very proud of the dyeing method they use for the pelts, it’s a model of environmental responsibility, something tanneries are not generally associated with.

Jason

I met Lisa doing inventory in the warehouse area. She is a seal skin crafter, in addition to working at the plant. I apologized in advance for having to ask such a question, “I am attempting to clear up some misconceptions being promoted right now by a group that says it’s from St. John’s. One thing they say is that people don’t want to work in this industry and wish they had other options. What do you have to say about that? Do you like your job?”

With the biggest smile I have ever seen take over  a woman’s face, she grabbed a pelt, ran it through a piece of equipment which precisely measures it, and said emphatically “I love it.”

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11 Comments

  • I caught a CBC radio interview with one of the anti-seal group’s representatives, and I felt bad for her due to her lack of preparation for the interview, and her inability to stray from the talking points. I guess that’s what happens when you let others form your opinions for you without researching the information yourself.

      • Several questions were answered with “Oh well I’m not sure about that but *insert talking point here*”. That’s lack of background knowledge and lack of understand your opponents point of view.

      • An awesome job??? You have to be kidding me!

        Ted Blades is an excellent journalist, with the CBC, and he did a great job interviewing this person, who really didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.

        Please do you research before you criticize our seal hunt. With these protesters it’s all about money.
        Why don’t they go to China and protest the killing of beautiful cats and dogs??
        They know where they can go, and not get much mud thrown in their faces.
        Go to Britain and protest the killing of foxes. Go to Spain and protest the killing of dogs, and bull fighting.
        Go to Greece, worse country for the killing of robins….704,000, and on and on it goes…..southern Europe 25, 000, 000 robins killed
        See how fast you will be sent on your merry little way if you go to these countries and protest.

        I rest my case!!

    • “I guess that’s what happens when you let others form your opinions for you without researching the information yourself”.

      I think we have a winner for ironic statement of the year. And where exactly do you get your ‘information’ from? Let me guess; clearly biased propaganda pieces with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo like this one? And you don’t see the blatant circular logic in that? I won’t even ask you to try to explain how you can have a position completely OPPOSITE the status quo that you have had parroted onto you by everybody in your culture your entire life ‘formed for you’.

      • An opinion that is opposite the status quo isn’t necessarily based on fact. She quite clearly has never taken into account the point of view of those she opposes, when trying to change the status quo it’s very important to understand where your opponents are coming from – if you can find the interview online, the questions she had a hard time answering were in this regard. If she did this, her rigid stance against a practice that is thousands of years old may change, and empathy may even help her cause, as empathy is generally a good way to form a constructive dialogue. As things currently stand, Anti-Sealers just want Sealers to cease existing, and vice versa – which is a difficult position to be in when you’re trying to expand a conversation. This is not a black and white issue, so drawing a line in the sand will solve nothing.

  • Hi Felicity,

    Thanks for this article. I’m disturbed to hear that members of Save our Seals are deleting comments from Inuit people. I’m not a member of Save our Seals but I am in nl vegans where discourse about the seal hunt occasionally happens. Misinformation is clearly a big issue and I’m wondering if you know if the CFA is an accurate source? They have some questionable statements on their site regarding harp seals and I’m not sure they’re helping their cause. For ex:

    First they say “Young harp seals provide the most valuable pelts and market demand is generally stronger for this type of pelt. There is also increasing interest in meat from both harp and grey seals. Full use of the animal is encouraged for pelt, meat and oil.”

    Then, “The harvesting of harp seal pups, known as whitecoats, and hooded seal pups, known as bluebacks, is illegal in Canada and has been since 1987.”

    And then, “These seals are not usually harvested until they are 25 days or older. Hooded seals cannot be harvested until they are 2-3 years of age, which is when they lose their blueback pelage.”

    Is their use of present tense a grammatical error or can harp seals be killed after 25 days?

    Thanks!

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