Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sammy the Loch Moidart seal pup.

We spotted Sammy, a grey seal pup, through a gap in the skerries in Loch Moidart. Its mother was basking on a nearby rock. We did not speak and moved on silently, leaving them undisturbed.

Hundreds of thousands of other seal pups are not so fortunate. I have no doubt that my ancestors did this sort of thing on a small scale to survive. I also know that some of my ancestors were whalers. Again they did this to survive.

Part of the evolution of human society and the development of our humanity is surely to reach an awareness that the other animals that we share this Earth with should not be abused. We should respect them and if we do not need to slaughter them to survive we shouldn’t. Of course this seal cull is really just the tip of the shitty iceberg of the way in which our species treats this world and everything in it. What a far sighted lot we are.

Fortunately for Sammy, here in Scotland sealing and whaling are not seen as an essential part of our heritage and identity and, as such, there is no call for their continuance on cultural grounds. There is still a small number of hunters who shoot deer and birds for sport but perhaps not so many as in North America. Maybe there is a cultural difference and need in some parts of Canada but most photos of sealers I have seen are of people of European origin, many of them probably of Scottish decent. Does the economic survival of one of the wealthiest countries in the World really depend on this slaughter?

I am no vegan but I try to meat that has come from animals that have been well treated and humanely killed. I avoid 99p chickens!

Rolf has something to say as well.



  1. Hi Douglas, I am glad that you mentioned that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Cuddly baby mammals do get the exposure but what about all the factory ships that scoop the seas clean of humble sand eels and then the auks cant raise their chicks? What about all the pollution we create that poisons all species with fur feathers and scales?

    Like you hint, I do have a respect for Inuit people who hunt whales and seals but I am not sure if this should be permanent. I guess what I am trying to say is that "Western civilisation" has not just damaged animals but remote peoples too, not to mention wars!

    Thanks for a balanced post.
    Alan (McC)

  2. As a Canadian currently working in the UK I feel I must comment. One thing is for sure we feel that we are continually being singled out at this time of year by European countries particularly the UK about something that is a necessary part of the management of our natural resources. Would you have posted about exterminating rats in a grain elevator? The blunt truth is that the fishing fleets of Europe fished out the Grand Banks and destroyed a way of life for our fishermen. Despite our efforts to conserve fish stocks millions of seals are stopping regeneration. People in the UK which is no world saint have no right to criticise what is a matter for Canadians

  3. Coming from a fishing community myself I have a great sympathy for the Canadian fishermen. What I find objectionable is not the cull itself but the way in which the seals are killed.

    I do like your photo blog and I enjoyed your slideshow at Perth in the autumn.

    Thanks Mhairi

  4. Seals eat fish, fishermen's livelihoods depend on catching fish. That does not mean it is effective (let alone ethical) to cull seals. There are many many species and functional types of fish, and humans are interested in catching only a very small number of the species/age classes out there. What species and age class do harp seals take, and from what areas? What species and age class to humans take, and from what areas? Seals may sometimes preferentially take species/age classes that are predators or competitors to "our" fish, thereby even helping fishermen. Or seals may take a higher proportion of heavily parasitised individuals, thereby helping the population as a whole if this reduces parasite burden which in turn generally increases survival and fecundity. There are many empirical and theoretical studies of predator-prey relationships that show that predators CAN actually increase a prey population for these reasons amongst others (e.g. Sih et al. 1985; Cote & Sutherland 1997). If seals take younger age classes than humans, will this actually affect fishermens' catch rates (i.e. what density dependent effects are operating?). What is the functional and numerical response of the fish species to harp seal vs human predation? We need to know the answers to these questions before jumping to conclusions about seal culls.

    Even if harp seals eat the exact same spec of fish that fishermen do, and from the same areas, has anyone done an economic study on whether this actually has an economic impact on the fishermen? Such impacts are often due to other factors other than fish availability, such as quotas, boat maintenance costs, staff pay etc etc.

    Ecology and economics are extremely complex. It is naive in the extreme to say "kill seals because they eat fish"!


  5. The problem I have with this is that I like eating meat and fish. Killing seals seems to me a pretty sensible way to do both. Anyway whats better killing seals in their natural environment or killing cows in a slaughterhouse?

  6. Dear anonymous,

    From an old BBC web page:
    "The five eminent vets - two British, two American and one Canadian - who monitored last week's hunt in the Gulf of St Lawrence found that more than 40% of the seals caught were unlikely to have been unconscious, let alone dead, when they were skinned."

    In that case I would rather be a cow in a slaughterhouse. [although my previous post was replying to those claiming seals needed culling to save fisheries, not for meat].

    Douglas - apologies for this hi-jack of your blog!


  7. Hello Alan, you are so right about cute baby animals. Many people in the world have little direct connection with nature, certainly not as much as sea kayakers, and as a result may not be aware of the widespread damage being done by humans. A cute face can get their attention.

    Hi Steve, thanks for dropping by and thanks for your post. First of all I am not picking on Canada. My family are all Canadaphiles and relatives on both my Dad and my Mum's sides of the family have emigrated there. In a grim, grey post war Britain, I grew up reading colourful British Columbia Magazine, I can't remember any other mag with full colour photos then! My no 1 daughter is in Canada at the moment, she has already spent 2 months there this year and no 2 daughter was there in the Fall.

    Elsewhere in this blog I have criticised current and past British government actions and recently I highlighted the resumption of Japanese whaling.

    Rats in a grain elevator are on our territory. Sealers on an ice floe are on seals territory.

    The whole North Atlantic has been over fished, no just the banks. The Scottish fishing fleet is a fraction of its former size, I would be surprised if Mhairi (above) doesn't know many who have given up their boats.

    "Seals stopping regeneration." I do not think this is right. Seals and fish populations lived in harmony for millions of years before Man came along. Lucy has given a much more scientific explanation of the balance between predators and prey.

    "the UK which is no world saint" Well said, with some Canadian understatement!

    "no right to criticise what is a matter for Canadians" I do not really think which nation we belong to will make the slightest bit of difference when the World ecosystem collapses. We are all in this together and need to seek World solutions.

    Thanks Mhairi,
    Good point about the method. There is a real animal welfare issue here. My Dad, daughter and paddling buddy are all vets. They are all horrified by the video pictures we have seen. I have no reason to think the videos are not genuine. All three have worked in slaughterhouses and all think what is happening to seals is far worse.

    Lucy thank you for this clear explanation of the many factors and complex interactions which keep ecosystems in or out of balance. It is very easy to jump to conclusions when you do not fully understand a system. As I said above things were in balance till too many people started taking too many fish.

    Hello anonymous, thanks for posting. I too like eating meat and fish but certainly the vets I know think the method of killing seals is unnecessarily cruel. BBC Landward farming program did a piece on lowland deer farming two weeks. The deer are killed in a very humane way. A farmer walks into their field and goes right up to one and shoots it in the head. It drops instantly but the amazing thing is the rest of the herd carry on as if nothing had happened.

    Lucy thanks for posting no hijacking took place.


  8. Hi Douglas,

    Excellent photo. Thanks for such a good post and discussion. The Spanish fishing fleet have probably taken its own toll in the Great Banks. International waters at they might be, they were hampered by poor catches, European Union and introduced quotas and the watchful eye of international fisheries inspectors who seem to be now part of every boat. They are often, exceptional seaman by the way.
    On the other side, the empoverished situation of the beautiful province of Newfounland is harsh, and fishing is still a critical activity.
    However, my intuition is that fishing is exhausting the seas, if it have not already done it, and as much as I abhor enforced regulation, perhaps a moratory is sensible.
    As for the baby seals, I am all for them.

  9. Bonjour Douglas, I have been meaning to post for a time to thank you for your excellent and entertaining blog. My ambition is to sea kayak Scotland. Merci.

    I would like you to know that not all Canadians believe the seals ate the fish or that the cull will bring them back and many people are horrified by the way they are killed.

    Despite our wealth we have not done enough to support diversification of industry in our east coast coastal communities. Mhairi and Wenley are right the fishermen and their families are very poor. Do your Scottish and Spanish governments support diversification?


  10. Here is a good description of the different points of view:

  11. Hello Lucy, its me anonymous I am sorry for my post, it seems so flippant and irrelevent reading it now. From your post and others I do now appreciate that my assumptions about seals being a cause of the low fish stocks are wrong.

    But I did genuinly believe that if an animal needed killed it was better in its own environment than in a slaughterhouse. Again you have proved me wrong but I do like the sound of the deer farm in Douglas' post.

    Cheers Gary

  12. Hello Wenley, sadly you have hit the nail on the head, we are kayaking on increasingly empty seas. Imagine if the only sign of life was fellow sea kayakers!

    Steve, Alain and Dominique, thank you very much for the Canadian perspective.

    Alain the EU/Scottish government pays fishermen to decommission boats

    I am not sure what support if any goes to fishing communities to develop new employment.

    Dominique those are excellent links, thank you, I wish you joy with your new Avocet!! :o)

    Gary, thanks for posting. :o)