Canada says seals to be killed more humanely

Sun Mar 9, 2008 9:46am EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's government, heavily criticized for allowing hunters to shoot and club to death hundreds of thousands of seals each year, says it is imposing new rules to ensure the animals are killed more humanely.

Pictures of burly men smashing the skulls of young seals on ice floes off Canada's Atlantic coast are a huge black eye for Ottawa and a boon for animal rights campaigners, who say the seals often suffer a prolonged, painful death.

Hunters are usually permitted to kill around 325,000 harp seals in March and April. The furs are made into coats and other clothes and there is a growing market for seal oil, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids.

Although hunters are obliged to ensure the seals die quickly, officials acknowledge this does not always happen.

From now on, hunters will have to follow a three-step process recommended by an independent panel of veterinarians. After clubbing or shooting the seal, a hunter must check its eyes to ensure it is dead and if not, the animal's main arteries have to be cut.

"They (the vets) think the three-step process provides more certainty around humaneness ... We do really need to move ahead with this," said Kevin Stringer of the federal department of fisheries and oceans.

Current regulations say that if the hunter discovers a seal is still alive, he has to hit it again on the head, an act that in some cases might not ensure death. Cutting the animal's arteries leaves nothing up to chance.

"One (method) ensures unconsciousness and one ensures a quick death," Stringer told Reuters.   Continued...