I’m the executive director of Humane Society International - Canada and I work primarily on our Protect Seals campaign to end the annual commercial slaughter of baby seals in Canada.

The issue: Essentially, the Canadian seal hunt is a slaughter of baby seals – they’re clubbed, shot or impaled with metal hooks for their fur. Ninety-seven percent of the seals killed in the past five years have been less than three months old, and the majority just one month old or less.

About me: I grew up in a sealing community in Newfoundland but became opposed at an early age after seeing the hunt on TV, and in the early 2000’s I began working against it full-time. Since then I’ve helped to secure a ban on the trade of seal products in the EU and for the past fifteen years I’ve been a firsthand observer of the hunt, escorting more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to witness the slaughter.

We estimate that in the last five years our work has saved more than 1.4 million baby seals, but there’s a long way to go: the Canadian government continues to give subsidies to sealers and is trying to open new markets for seal fur.

Here are some links you may be interested in:

Proof: a pic of me, pic of me in an article

Ask me anything!

Comments: 2510 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

thousandtrees580 karma

Why are campaigners still using images of whitecoats despite the fact that it's been illegal to hunt whitecoats in Canada for many, many years? Is this not a slightly deceptive marketing practice?

heytheredelilahTOR104 karma

They've been banned since the '80's.

rebeccaaldworth95 karma

Trading in the products of whitecoats has been banned in Canada since 1987. However, whitecoats are newborn harp seals under about 12 days of age, with their white fur coat fully intact. As young as 12 days, whitecoats begin to shed their white fur and become known as "ragged jackets" until they reach about 20 days of age when their white fur is entirely shed. At this point, the pups are known as "beaters." Ragged jackets and beater seal pups are not protected in Canada. Thousands of ragged jackets are killed each year, and virtually all other seals killed are beaters less than three months old. http://www.hsi.org/world/canada/work/protect_seals/research/seal_pups_killed_young.html.

Truly, there is not a Canadian government scientist, politician or sealer who would deny this. They may choose to define seals older than 12 days old as "adult" seals, but we dont. For us, a seal under three months of age is still a baby.

Newfoundlanders agree - polling shows 72% want seals under three months of age protected from commercial hunting http://www.hsi.org/world/canada/news/releases/2011/05/newfoundland_poll_052611.html.

rebeccaaldworth56 karma

Its a shame that my answers are being voted down so they don't appear. I think it is important for people to know our position on that.

xittix107 karma


rebeccaaldworth98 karma

In the past, I have worked with organizations who put extensive resources into saving the Vancouver Island Marmot. And notably, I remember being questioned then about why we weren't working to save other species when there were others in greater jeopardy. It seems no matter what species you are trying to save, someone will argue you should be doing something else...

I support conservation efforts, but the campaign to stop the commercial seal slaughter is about more than conservation. Sure, there are good conservation reasons to stop the slaughter (and economic and worker safety ones, for that matter). But the reason why so many animal protection groups continue to try to stop the commercial seal hunt is because of the inherent cruelty involved.

Commercial sealing takes place in a very unique environment - far offshore, in the midst of the northwest Atlantic ocean. There, high winds and ocean swells, unstable and dangerous sea ice, and extreme low temperatures and visibility comprise the working environment for the sealers. As a result, the outcomes for seals that are shot and clubbed are often very poor. For this reason, veterinarians argue commercial sealing is inherently inhumane and needs to be stopped http://www.hsi.org/assets/pdfs/Marine_policy_animal_welfare_seal_hunt_2012.pdf.

Blackhole_Fun74 karma

You're being down voted because you're spreading miss information and people know that you are. You're better off going to peta forums to garner support.

rebeccaaldworth43 karma

Anyone who knows who I am will be aware that I am from a Newfoundland sealing community, that I grew up eating seal meat, and that my family knows sealers. I am working to stop an industry that any sealer who is honest will admit causes a lot of suffering, by promoting a buyout that would put more money into the pockets of sealers than continuing this slaughter ever could. I rely on scientific reports and government data to form my opinions, and so does my organization.

nerdrhyme10 karma

This one didn't. Sounds like a dodge to me.

edit: she responded, but her downvoted post is also: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1j3g2s/i_am_rebecca_aldworth_with_humane_society/cbarfg7

rebeccaaldworth61 karma

Well then let me repeat - we show images of seals between 12 days and 12 weeks of age when we talk about the seal hunt. It is entirely legal in Canada to kill these seals (newborn harp seals are only protected until they begin to shed their white fur, at just 12 days of age) and 98% of the seals killed are less than 3 months old http://www.hsi.org/world/canada/work/protect_seals/research/seal_pups_killed_young.html.

In response to the question, "Why do sealers target young seals" the Canadian government states, "Young harp seals provide the most valuable pelts and market conditions are generally stronger for this type of pelt." http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/seal-phoque/faq2012-eng.htm#f

There is no deception here, there is no one in the Canadian government or sealing industry that would argue the fact that very young pups continue to be the targets of the seal hunt.

rebeccaaldworth55 karma

When we talk about the seal hunt, we generally use either images of "ragged jackets" (which are harp seal pups after 12 days of age who have begun to shed their white coats) and "beaters" (harp seal pups who are more than 20 days of age and have shed their white coats, but who are under three months of age when they are killed). These seal pups comprise 98% of the seals killed in the commercial seal hunt.

When we promote the amazing wildlife spectacle of the harp seal nursery, we often show whitecoat images, which is entirely appropriate.

thousandtrees83 karma

My personal experience is that many campaigns feature whitecoats predominantly but this may not but true of your organization.

Follow-up question: in 2002, the Canadian Veterinary Journal reported that approximately 98% of seals were killed in an acceptably humane fashion. How does this study fit in with the narrative of extreme brutality in the annual hunt?

And as a final question, if the price of seal pelts went from $105 to $15 between 2006 and 2009, will the hunt fade away naturally as the market shrinks? I couldn't find many numbers on the profitability of other seal products, though I gather the meat is popular in some eastern countries.

rebeccaaldworth86 karma

In fact, that is not what the study found, and the European Union's EFSA panel (which included the author of that study) found this interpretation of the study to be "scientifically incorrect" http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/610.pdf (page 57).

I cite the study in question extensively in showing that the seal hunt is inherently inhumane because it identified many serious welfare problems even though the study was conducted on board sealing vessels when sealers knew they were being observed and why. For example, seals that were shot or clubbed, impaled on metal hooks, dragged onto vessels, and were still conscious on board the boats.

In fact, seals are hunted primarily for their fur in Canada. As the prices for seal fur have crashed in Canada in the face of global market closures, the numbers of sealers participating in the hunt has also declined. Kill levels have dropped from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands of seals annually as a result. Unfortunately, the Newfoundland government continues to subsidize the killing so that skins can be stockpiled to meet a demand that may never exist http://www.hsi.org/world/canada/news/releases/2013/03/government_subsidy_sealing_industry_032713.html. It is for that reason alone that the hunt continues today, in my opinion.

manzana9193 karma

What is your opinion (or perhaps the opinion of the Humane Society International-Canada) concerning Indigenous groups (particularly Inuit and Innu peoples/groups) participating in seal hunting (in regards to seal hunting as part of intrinsic social/cultural/economic customs/foundations)?

rebeccaaldworth117 karma

HSI is not campaigning against the Inuit subsistence seal hunt, which occurs in Canada's arctic. Notably, most bans on seal product trade that we have worked to achieve contain a clear exemption for products of traditional Inuit seal hunts (this is the case in the EU, Russia and Taiwan).

What we are trying to stop is the industrial scale, commercial slaughter of seal pups that occurs off Canada's east coast and is conducted almost entirely by non aboriginal commercial fishermen.

iamChrisDornerAMAA172 karma

Not sure if I'm misinformed, but I heard seal hunting is beneficial in many ways. The main reason for seal hunting is to control the population of seal, because they threaten some species of fish. Meanwhile, it generates revenue and create jobs in the northern region. I understand massive seal hunting is unethical and can be problematic, but it is justifiable (assuming that those information are true).

What do you think about it? And can you confirm those information or they are just some excuses made up by the government?

rebeccaaldworth40 karma

In fact, the Canadian government states:

"The commercial seal quota is established based on sound conservation principles, not an attempt to assist in the recovery of groundfish stocks.

Seals eat cod, but seals also eat other fish that prey on cod. There are several factors contributing to the lack of recovery of Atlantic cod stocks such as fishing effort, the poor physical condition of the fish, poor growth, unfavourable ocean conditions and low stock productivity at current levels.

It is widely accepted in the scientific community that there are many uncertainties in the estimates of the amount of fish consumed by seals. Seals and cod exist in a complex ecosystem, which mitigates against easy analysis or simple solutions to problems such as the lack of recovery of cod stocks."


Canada's commercial seal slaughter occurs on Canada's east coast, and is conducted by commercial fishermen who earn less than 5%, on average, of their annual incomes from killing seals. There, the seal hunt is considered a fishery, and fishermen kill the seals for a few days between other fishing seasons.

It is the Inuit subsistence hunt that occurs in the north, and animal protection groups are not opposing it.

jinglejangl6 karma

Do you need help?

rebeccaaldworth-3 karma

We have saved more than 1.4 million seals in the past five years because of caring people around the world who are working with us to stop this slaughter. We desperately need people to get involved in the campaign and work with us to put this slaughter into the history books where it belongs. Please visit https://hsi.netdonor.net/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=104&ea.campaign.id=19536&ea.tracking.id=reddit to find out more about what you can do!

youthofthebeast3 karma

How about working with the local government bodies to replace the sealing industry in communities where it's one of the only source of income?

It seems you are only about saving the seals without considering the impact it has on the environment and the local economies. It always seems to be the case with these issues; save the animals, screw the communities that has lived from it since centuries.

So, my question is, do you have any plans or ideas to replace seal hunting in communities that live from it?

rebeccaaldworth1 karma

We are doing exactly that. What we are proposing is a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry. This is a simple plan in which the seal hunt would be ended, the sealers would receive immediate compensation, and economic alternatives would be developed in the communities involved. Such a plan would cost Canadian taxpayers far less than the subsidies required to keep the sealing industry going, and would put more money into coastal communities and the pockets of commercial fishermen than the sealing industry ever could.

Pussy_Crook2 karma

Allocate your time to defending helpless people in Africa being killed by disease and extremist groups than cute cuddly seals. I never understood how people can have such empathy toward animals and neglect your own species and fellow human.

rebeccaaldworth1 karma

I think you'll find that those of us who work to protect animals are dedicated to making the world a better place for people too. The one does not exclude the other.

poopbanana2 karma

You've been working to end something necessary to prevent over-population. You're wasting your time. I wish you no success in this.

rebeccaaldworth4 karma

There is no study, anywhere in the world, that would claim harp seals are "over-populated." In fact, the most recent Canadian government study shows that the population is on a decline http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/Publications/SAR-AS/2011/2011_070-eng.pdf.

The Canadian government is clear that the seal hunt is a market driven activity, not an attempt to cull.

factanonverba_n2 karma

What plan does your organization have to reintroduce a predatory species that will hunt the seals and keep their population form ballooning, as has been well documented in the past, to prevent the seal population from suffering from over-crowding, lack of food resources, and illness? Is there a "total view" view of conservation is your organization or is this a case of protecting a species that appears 'cute' (because they are certainly in no danger of extinction)? I ask because there have been many organizations in the past that have attempted this type of campaign in the name of protecting the animals, that have subsequently been successful, only to see these very problems occur. An example are the campaigns of the 1970's and 80's that saw a massive explosion of the deer populations in the North Eastern Seaboard of the USA and Eastern Canada, to wit, there is now an estimated deer population that exceeds that of all large domesticated animals by a substantial factor (something like 5-7 times larger). Further I enquire as to the total numbers killed in taped "callous" hunts vs the total number hunted. Is the number of hunts that are suspected of being vicious a significant portion of the total number of hunts? Finally, is there a compromise position that your organization would accede to? Such as allowing hunts, but only if carefully documented (ie each kill is recorded to ensure no brutal or exceptionally violent kills; tags are issued like with other animals such as deer; etc) or is this a total belief that a population of animals (now devoid of their natural predators thanks to humanity) should be allowed to expand until it reaches a steady state in its new(ish) environment?

I ask not to be an ass (although is may have come across due to phrasing) but because I seriously do have a problem with environmental campaigns whose only justification is one of the cuteness factor or NIMBY factor, as opposed to one of total environmental management, and would willingly support the latter.


rebeccaaldworth2 karma

In the case of harp seals (the targets of the commercial seal hunt) we need to think about how to protect this species, rather than how to increase predation in absence of commercial sealing. That is because climate change is fast destroying the sea ice habitat of the seals, which is causing mass mortality in the seal pups (http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/2012/01/04/harp-seals-on-thin-ice/ and http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=climate-change-life-harder-baby-harp-seals). Ultimately, climate change is posing a serious threat to the future survival of the harp seal population. While we cant halt the impacts of climate change in the short term, we can--and should--stop the commercial slaughter of the surviving pups.