Robbie Marsland

I AM WELL used to seeing graphic photographs each March of hunters using clubs and guns to kill more than 300,000 young seals before they are skinned for their pelts. But last week I went to Canada to see it for myself, for the first time.

Before the ice is turned red by the mass slaughter, these seals create one of nature's most amazing wildlife spectacles. Each year, tens of thousands of pups are left by their mothers to fend for themselves when they are about 12 days old. It is at this time, when they begin to lose their white coats, that they become legitimate targets for the commercial hunters.

The hunt began last Saturday (March 25) at 6 a.m. Our helicopter took us to the far north of the Gulf of St Lawrence, where a large herd of seals had gathered. The hunters had found them, too. We hovered and watched their small boats stalking individual pups. They rammed the ice, the sealers dashed out and struck pups over the head, hooking them through either the eye orbit or lower jaw. They then dragged them back to the boat to be skinned. Others preferred to shoot at the pups from their boats before dragging them back for their pelts.

Every year, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) defends the hunt, saying that it is an important source of income to Canada's east coast fishermen, and that the killing is humane.

In fact, all veterinary reports document that this hunt is cruel, and two-thirds of Canadians think the hunt is damaging to their nation's reputation.

Leaving the war of words aside, images of dying seals tell their own story. As one boat left the bloodstained ice last Saturday, I watched one injured pup slip quietly into the ocean to die.

Millions of people have urged the Canadian government to call an end to this cruel and unnecessary hunt. Canada is better than this, and must come to its senses.

(Robbie Marsland is U.K. director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.)