With Canada’s contentious seal hunt only days away, French screen legend Brigitte Bardot joined animal conservationists on Wednesday in the growing protest against the annual slaughter that isolated Atlantic fishermen use to supplement their meagre winter incomes.
Bardot returned to Canada for the first time since the 1970s, when she posed on the ice floes with the doe-eyed pups and sparked the global trend of animal-rights activism.
“It’s incredible to think that such dreadful things are still happening in a country like Canada, in a country that can hardly be considered undeveloped,” Bardot told a news conference in the federal capital of Ottawa. “We’re not living in caves anymore.”
Former Beatle Paul McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills McCartney, took to the ice in the Gulf of St Lawrence two weeks ago to frolic with fluffy white newborn seal pups that had yet to be weaned from their mothers. He called the hunt a “stain on the character of the Canadian people,” and urged the government to help the sealers turn to ecotourism and other means of income.
Even though sealers are not allowed to kill the pups until after they moult and lose their downy fur – a regulation that is tightly regulated and generally followed – the photos of the superstars with the adorable marine mammals have helped draw global attention to the hunt.
Bardot was denied meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn, both of whom said it would only serve to give more publicity to opponents of the hunt, which is slated to begin Friday or Saturday, depending on the ice conditions.
Registered sealers will be allowed to kill up to 325 000 pups, typically between 12 days and three weeks old, this year. Aboriginal and Inuit hunters began the commercial kill in November in Canada’s frozen Arctic waters; the spring leg will move to an arc about 50km to 65km off the coast of Newfoundland in April.
Hearn insists Canada’s harp seal population is thriving at nearly six million, a threefold increase since the 1980s. He said federal marine monitors verify that most of the seal pups that are killed have lost their fluffy white fur, as required by law since 1987, and are quickly jabbed through the brain with picks or shot with one quick bullet.
About 320 000 seal pups were killed during the hunt last year, bringing in CAN$16,5-million from the pelts and blubber. The livelihoods of the fishing communities of Quebec and Newfoundland have been devastated since the Atlantic cod stocks dried up in the mid-1990s.
Bardot called for a worldwide boycott of Canadian seafood products and was joined at the news conference by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson.
“I might not ever come here again. So I ask you with my heart and soul… I want to see this massacre stop,” she said. “I would like that my life would have served at least for that