Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Seal Hunt Factor

Last month, the Vancouver Canucks hockey team lost their final game of the Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver to the Boston Bruins. Before the game, there were fears that upset fans might riot in the streets of Vancouver, and it turns out those fears were not unrealistic. Some Canucks fans went crazy in the streets of town after the loss, overturning vehicles, setting cars on fire, breaking into city shops, and committing all other sorts of vandalism along with fistfights and assaults.

Following this event, the people of Canada were horrified. Every news channel was showing interviews with peace-loving Canadians, aghast at the thought that the rest of the world was seeing the behavior of a people who are known for being gentle, helpful, and polite. All over every media outlet were various Canadians, from celebrities to politicians to regular citizens, explaining that this is NOT how Canadians behave. Canadians are generally peaceful and non-violent.

Around this time, I received a call from my dad. He said, "So, I've been hearing about these riots in Vancouver on the radio," as talk radio is his preferred form of "news." I replied, "Oh, yeah? Most Canadians are really alarmed that the world has seen this behavior."

My dad continued, "Well, what they were saying on the radio is how much Canadians like violence. After all, there are these hockey riots. Of course the Canadians love hockey fights. And, you know, that cage fighting , the UFC or whatever it's called? Well, apparently that's more popular in Canada than anywhere else."

I paused to consider the irony of someone who has been, at various stages of his life, a boxing fan, a hunter, a gun owner. Instead, I reassured him that Canadians are not violent and that I have found them to be much less violent, in fact, than Americans. I was very frustrated (though not surprised) that the American media had seized upon this opportunity to slam Canadians and their supposed violent tendencies.

Three nights later, I was getting ready for my hockey game. As usual, the conversation of my teammates was buzzing and there are so many separate but interesting conversations going on at once, I often don't know on which to focus. But, I picked up on one of my teammates, who is absolutely alarmed by any violence to animals, talking with another teammate who was planning to go game fishing. The one teammate couldn't figure out why anyone would want to hurt a fish just for fun. Everyone laughed at her. To participate in the joviality, I added my own comment. I sarcastically said, "Yeah, you could just go seal clubbing instead."

The room became dead silent. I realized I had said something I shouldn't have, but I didn't really know why. Then others decided to retort. "I don't have a problem with the seal hunt," said one. "Yeah, the seals eat all the fish" said another. A third chimed in with "They are overpopulated. Besides, that's how the people who live out there make a living." And finally, or at least the last thing I heard before I started talking with Sarah about something different just to tune it out, "Well, they do die pretty quickly. It's just a big quick hook sunk into their head. A quick death."

I was amazed to hear these people, normally caring, compassionate, and non-violent, so wholeheartedly defending a violent act. And this was not the first time since I'd been in Canada that I'd heard otherwise reasonable and intelligent people voicing their support of the seal hunt.

[In the spirit of full disclosure, I think it's important to mention that I have always been opposed to hunting of any type. To me, it's nothing more than killing for fun. Why do people need to go out and kill deer when they can buy meat at the store? Well, the obvious answer is because they find hunting (killing) to be an enjoyable activity. I am not necessarily opposed to eating animals, but I am disgusted by the idea of killing as recreation. I also don't buy the argument that people hunt because they can't afford food--the firearms, ammo, hunting license, beer, processing, and travel to the hunting area all cost just as much, if not more, than buying food from a grocery store. I also am aware that some native populations retain their rights to hunt through treaty, and hunting is their traditional way of life. I don't have an issue with that--until they start selling their hunting rights to (usually American) hunting tourists. If they can sell their hunting rights, they must not need to hunt to live.]

So, just as when I tried to defend the American intellect despite Sarah Palin's idiocy, I felt just as frustrated and betrayed at trying to defend the non-violent nature of Canadians despite the seal hunt idiocy. The Canadian media has been expert at extolling the virtues of the seal hunt to the Canadian public, and people who would normally be able to think for themselves have swallowed whole these arguments in favor of the hunt, which are mostly centered on economic reasons. Even the violence-loving United States has banned the purchase of any pelts from the seal hunt. As has most of the rest of the world. There is a major boycott of Canadian seafood products in the US, and this boycott is based on the fact that most of the non-natives who participate in the seal hunt are also fishermen when they're not clubbing seals.

As much as I hate, hate, hate deer/elk/bear hunting, at least in those situations, the creature has a chance, albeit minimal, to run away. Not so for baby seals that are flat on their stomachs on ice floes as men run up to them and bludgeon their heads with heavy hooks. And, I also don't buy these overpopulation arguments. I think it's pretty obvious that there is one creature on this planet that has overpopulated itself, and it ain't deer, seals, or elk. If anything, the seal population is running into trouble due to the receding ice areas in the Arctic (due to global warming or whatever you want to call it--the ice is melting).

So, the next time I hear Canadians commention on how stupid Americans are, I'm just going to smile and blow it off. Same goes for when I hear Americans talking about how Canadians love violence. I'm done defending people who don't even defend themselves through their actions.


clp said...

mjb, i love you, and am not disagreeing with your argument except on one point - the animals you buy dead in a grocery store often had a much worse life in industrial agriculture than the wild animals that people hunt. i am not personally a hunter, and i am not including the seal "hunt" in this argument (it does seem particularly unsporting & inhumane). but although i have no desire to go out and kill something so i can eat it, i can see an argument that if you take the sum total of the animals life, including a death at the hands of a hunter who knows what they are doing and makes it fast, that the hunted animals in the wild have a much better life, and death, than those subjected to life in a CAFO where they are over crowded, covered in filth, perpetually ill because of the poor diet they are fed & the filthy conditions they live in, mutilated (tails or beaks cut off so they won't be a problem)… other than that, i agree with everything you've said, and share your frustration at people's inconsistencies.

MJB said...


I know that animals in commercial farming operations are not treated well. However, I don't think it's a choice between hunting and commercial farming as to which is the lesser of two evils. Both are cruel in different ways. I despise how animals are treated inhumanely in large commercial farming operations, but I'm equally disturbed by some people's hobby of killing wild animals for a thrill.

clp said...

also, randomly since you wrote this i heard an newfoundland author speaking on npr, and when asked about this he said that although it is still very controversial, that it has changed & people do not hunt the babies anymore, and are shooting them instead of bashing in their heads w/ a blunt object. i am not knowledgable on the subject myself, just wanted to repeat what i heard on npr, which is usually a relatively reliable source.