Posted by: underseaencounters | February 25, 2009

Protecting harp seals

A famous photograph by Fred Bruemmer of a big-eyed innocent baby harp seal was an early emblem of the environmental movement, even to the point of becoming a cliche, appearing on posters, book covers, and cards. The photograph, taken in 1964, was among 51 chosen for a book called Photographs that Changed the World.

What people may not realize is that the slaughter of baby harp seals in the Canadian arctic still occurs every March, 45 years after that famous photograph was taken. In 1972, the US government passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits killing, capturing, or harassing marine mammals. But this is US law, not Canadian law. I think this may be why many people I know figure this problem was “solved” long ago. Yet every year thousands of baby harp seals are clubbed to death for their pelts. It is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth.

The Humane Society of the United States has lots of information the seal hunt, including ways to get involved in protecting the seals, benefits of ecotourism, boycotts, videos, and so on. Take a look. UPDATE: Here is an article from the LA Times: “Canada’s Seal Hunt Resumes and the Pictures aren’t Pretty.”

In Seals in the Wild: Nature’s Curious Creatures by photographer/writer Fred Bruemmer, he includes a wonderful quote about harp seals written by a medical missionary to Labrador in 1909:

It has not been easy to convey to the Eskimo mind the meaning of the Oriental similes in the Bible. The Lamb of God had to be translated kotik or young seal. This animal, with its perfect whiteness as it lies in its cradle of ice, its gentle, helpless nature, and its pathetic innocent eyes, is probably as apt a substitute, however, as nature offers.

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