Posted by on March 31, 2005 at 07:52:38:
Thousands of seal hunters armed with clubs, rifles and spears are taking part in one of Canada's biggest ever culls.
The hunt is expected to bring poor coastal communities millions of dollars but has been condemned by animal rights activists as barbaric.
More than 320,000 harp seals are expected to be slaughtered by the end of the cull on May 15.
The controversial hunt - target of protests since the 1960s - traditionally begins about two weeks after the seal pups are born and their fur changes from white to grey.
Animal rights activists say the pups are clubbed to death and often skinned alive, but sealers and government officials who monitor the hunt insist the pups die instantly under strict guidelines.
Regulations require that hunters ensure their prey is dead before moving on.
Many countries, including the US, ban imports of seal products.
But the Canadian government said the hunt brought badly needed income to its coastal communities, which earned about £7.2 million last year, primarily from pelt sales to Norway, Denmark and China.
Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the country's seal population was "healthy and abundant," and noted there were an estimated 5 million harp seals, nearly the highest level ever recorded and almost triple what it was in the 1970s.
But a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare warned that the cull will damage the marine mammal population.
IFAW spokesman AJ Cady said: "It's not about the price. What's a seal pup worth? It's worth more than a few dollars for a pelt and the price for level of suffering is just not acceptable.
"Just today, we found a seal pup that was struck and lost. It was clubbed and escaped and died under the ice."
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