On Wednesday 1 July 2015, the activist organization The Seals Of Nam partnered with social media experts from The Seal Army in a global outcry against the Namibian seal hunt. The online protest set social media ablaze with hash tags #Namibia and #sealhunt trending in 5th place on Twitter. At the latest count, over 13 000 tweets condemning the annual slaughter were sent, peaking at over 6 000 tweets per hour.
The “Tweet Storm” received a further boost when UK celebrity Ricky Gervais, known for his stance against cruelty to animals, joined in. Gervais posted links on both Facebook and Twitter with the comment “RIP the 80 000 seals to be savagely slaughtered in Namibia.”
This is not the first time The Seals Of Nam has garnered the attentions of A-list celebrities in their online campaign against the hunt. In a similar event held earlier this year, celebrity George Lopez also took to Twitter in reply to a tweet, asking what people could do to help with the cause.
The Namibian seal hunt is fast gaining international notoriety, with calls for a consumer boycott having a negative impact on tourism. The ripple effect is expected to be further impacted to include Namibian fisheries when The Seals of Nam release a cell-phone app later this month. The app has a barcode scanner and will tell European consumers the background of the fish and the relation to the Namibian seal hunt.
This app could have devastating effects, particularly since over 95% of Namibia’s fisheries harvest is exported to the EU where produce from the seal hunt is banned. Speaking on behalf of the organization, Pat Dickens said the ethical reasons of the app have been translated into European languages. A series of emails targeting fish mongers, restaurants, hotels and catering outfits will be sent out once the app is released.
The Namibian government claims the slaughter is a population management control measure necessary to protect dwindling fishing stocks. This claim is rubbished by Dickens who points to bribery, corruption, incompetence and mismanagement of the resource.
Namibia is the only country in the world to slaughter seal cubs still on the teat. The slaughter is regarded by scientists as the cruelest massacre of animals on earth and amounts to the largest slaughter of wildlife in Africa.
When HBO’s “Luck” was canceled after a third horse died during production, it was natural to ask what was going on. Were animals being abused? Were people being careless?
The truth was nothing was that simple or savage. Apparently the horses were being treated well, with greater care than actual working racehorses. The third horse was reportedly in good health and high spirits the day it died. It was in such spirits that it reared up as horses sometimes do. This time it fell over backward, and landed on its head. Just an accident. All you can blame is the fragile frame of the thoroughbred horse, which was created for racing.
But that didn’t keep the show from being canceled – or critics from speaking out. Even before the third horse death, PETA charged that “two dead horses in a handful of episodes exemplify the dark side of using animals in television, movies, and ads.” Like all filming in the U.S., “Luck” was shot under supervision of the American Humane Association’s Film & TV Unit, the people who certify that “No animal was harmed in the making” of a film or TV show. (That’s a statement about animal welfare, not animal rights. If you don’t think animals should be filmed for entertainment at all, you’re not going to like AHA. Founded in 1877, it also promotes the welfare of children.)
Moreover, this latest incident shows just how much the treatment of animals has changed in Hollywood since the motion picture industry began.
The early days were rough. Take Thomas Edison’s elephant electrocution as a starting point. Topsy, like the producers of “Luck,” was charged with causing three deaths. The third was a cruel trainer who tried to feed her a lighted cigarette. Naturally, she killed him. Edison electrocuted Topsy with alternating current to show how dangerous it was, part of his feud with Nicola Tesla, and released “Electrocuting an Elephant” (1903). This seems unfair and crass to most people today, but the idea was to find the most merciful way to kill Topsy.
Beginning in the 1920s the motion-picture industry boomed, developing new genres as it went. In those days you could do almost anything to an animal (or an actor, for that matter). As many as 100 horses died in the making of the 1926 version of “Ben Hur.” Early Hollywood was an anarchic world, with upstart production companies launching grandiose projects on every side. Filmmakers did whatever struck them as a great idea.
With the advent of sound in 1927 profits took off. The studio system arose, concentrating filmmaking in a handful of dictatorially efficient corporations employing thousands and turning out movies at a tremendous rate. Animal actors were part of the process. Dramas, comedies, adventure stories, musicals, biographies – all would use animals, but the genre that used the most was the western.
The popularity of westerns was particularly hard on horses. Westerns were a staple in ’20s and ’30s Hollywood, and then boomed in the 1940s. In the early days, people were more familiar with horses, more attuned to the dangers of a runaway team, or the dangers of a horse and rider falling. Directors showed lots of falls. They used pitfalls, or tripwires to make horses fall, and there were also some stunt horses, who would fall at a signal. Trained horses jumped through windows or through flames. They leapt over wagons. They rampaged through saloons. All this was at the regular cost of injury or death.
Sometimes individual horses became known, and they were protected because of their fame, and because the actors loved them. Western star William S. Hart had a famous pinto, Fritz. Beautifully trained, Fritz would fall on command, lie down to act as a shield in a gunfight, even play scenes with a monkey. “Singer Jim McKee” (1924) had a scene in which Hart rode Fritz off a cliff into a gorge, but the actor didn’t want to risk Fritz, or a stunt horse, so a fake Fritz was constructed. Hart was filmed galloping to the edge on Fritz, at which point, on cue, the horse did a fall to one side. Then he was led away and replaced by the fake Fritz, held up with wire. When the wires were cut, the two toppled into the gorge. Hart was “badly shaken” by the fall, wrote Petrine Day Mitchum in “Hollywood Hoofbeats,” but once edited, the footage of falling man and “horse” was chillingly spectacular – so much so that the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Organization, aka the Hays Office, called Hart in to explain why he had been so cruel to Fritz.
Fritz was one of the exceptions to the rule. Most Hollywood horses were less famous, less recognizable, and often disposable. In 1939 two horses were killed in the filming of “Northwest Mounted Police” and two more in “Jesse James.” The horses in “Jesse James” were wearing movie blinkers with eyes painted on them. Unable to see, the horses had no idea they were running off a 75-foot cliff over white water until it was too late. The footage was impressive, the stuntman was well-paid, and the horses were dead.
This was the single biggest turning point in the history of Hollywood’s treatment of animals. Word about the deaths got out and there was a tremendous furor. In reaction to the outcry, the Hays Office worked with the AHA to write guidelines for animal performances. Starting in 1940, the AHA was granted access to sets. The Hays Office, well known for prissy extremes such as insisting that marital bedrooms feature twin beds and that Betty Boop dress more modestly, also banned apparent animal cruelty. Films were submitted to the office before release to get a certificate of approval and often changes were demanded before a certificate was issued.
In 1968 the Hays Code was dumped, mostly because it was ridiculous. Now you could have actors curse. You could ridicule the clergy. Married couples could be shown in the same bed. It was good news for the movies, but not for animal welfare. The end of the Hays Code contributed to the rise of the New Hollywood, a golden age of moviemaking. Younger filmmakers were creating realistic and daring movies, with more subtlety and less dependence on formula, contributing to a cinematic renaissance and a move toward realism and location shooting — and, sadly, more problems with animals.
Congrats to gays in America- you’re now able to endure the plight of marriage and serve the flesh of tortured animals at your wedding like every other entitled American. So glad your ‘suffering’ is over. And before everyone gets all whiny pissy pants on me, let me remind all that since the dawn of this country and even before, every human being has had a far better life than that of the ones suffered by animals due to human interaction and cruelty, and while everyone is dancing around in their rainbow undies, animals are sinking deeper into hell. Every black, white, asian, hispanic, male, female, gay, straight, transgender, jewish, muslim, christian and atheist; every fat person, skinny person, healthy person, sick person, free citizen and even incarcerated prisoner has been able to live with far more rights and freedoms at their lowest than animals have ever had the luxury of at their highest. Even the most sadistic of serial killers in solitary confinement are able to turn around and move their own limbs should they wish to do so, but that is not the case for billions of innocent animals born into humanity’s evil grasp. We turn their skin into shoes that we walk through the mud with. We turn their fat into soap to wash our asses with. We turn their menstruation into breakfast to slowly clog our arteries. We turn their fur into ridiculous looking coats to keep us warm. We turn their newborn babies into nothing more than a midnight snack. Have lesbians ever had to endure being skinned alive and turned into jerky for some redneck trucker to snack on? I think not. Billions upon billions of animals are born into slavery every year. Billions of animals as loving and intelligent as any dog or human child are born into a world where they are raped and beaten and viciously killed within a fraction of their natural life. Billions of animals who never once know the warmth of sunshine on their face or the softness of grass under their feet. Billions of animals who have their babies stolen and beaten to death right before their very eyes, all to satisfy the stupidly ego driven blood lust of humanity. And yet every day there is still some human complaining about THEY don’t have enough rights. The world will stop what they’re doing to protest the waving a flag, or unite to march in a parade to wave more flags and still the stomping of the feet never ends. We’re living in a country that is actively making and vehemently enforcing new laws which protect animal abusers and criminalize the few people who risk their own safety to bring such crimes to light. We’re living in a country that promotes the continued slavery, torture and slaughter of billions of animals every year in order to keep it’s own people sick and unhealthy while destroying the land, sea and air we all need to survive. We’re living in a country that keeps it’s people stupid in order to make them more easily misled by every lie thrown at them, particularly in the dietary department. We’re living in a country where an individual smoking a plant gets thrown in jail for 10+ years but a corporation that brutally rapes and slaughters millions of animals every week gets government subsidies like they’re heroes. Humans are all about ‘me me me’ and never ‘them them them’, and it’s that ego that makes America, as well as every other country far more shit than sunshine. The death of eight humans turns the country upside down but the death of billions of animals is just ‘business as usual’. Has a life with the inability to legally say “I do” or cast a vote for your favorite crooked shitmouthed politician really been comparable to even ONE day of living in the sick hell that factory animals endure? It’s all about the human ego wanting whatever it can get its hands on and then when they do, they want something more, like a kid who constantly gets new toys then gets bored with it by the next day and cares nothing for those who’ve never and will never have any toys at all. Mind you, this has nothing to do with me being a straight white male either because like many people who actually give a damn like myself, my entire existence is pure shit from dusk till dawn, and that’s fine. I speak only for the animal rights, not for my own. Go ahead and take away my ‘right to vote’ , because I can’t think of the last time there was ever a candidate worth voting for and elections are as fixed as a carnival bottle game anyway – take away my ‘right to get married’, because monogamy is about as natural as a 10 pound GMO tomato and almost always ends up in divorce, resentment or just giving up & settling either through sheer laziness or ‘for the kids’ – but don’t blow this happy “love wins” victory smoke up my ass while the only living beings in this country that don’t belong behind bars are the overwhelming majority that are – the animals. Gay or straight, a person knows nothing of love or compassion while there’s a corpse on their plate and I will continue to have zero ‘respect’ for any person, of any race, of any gender, of any sexual orientation, that willingly contributes their money towards the evil human empire over the innocent animal kingdom. I’m sure the 10,000 pigs who were stabbed in the eye with a pitchfork since I started writing this statue give a good god damn that Joe & Bob can have that festive wedding they always wanted now, maybe even catered with their flesh. Any non-vegan holding up a sign for ‘gay rights’ or ‘feminist wawa’ or ‘save the environment’ needs to sit down and take a good look at just how good they have actually have it and maybe try putting a little more effort into being a voice the the voiceless first and foremost, because as Leo Tolstoy said, “As long as there are slaughter houses there will always be battlefields.” Even if caring about non-humans is too much to ask of most shitty humans, remember that factory farming is the number one polluter and destroyer of the environment, so when all the water is too filthy to drink and the air is too polluted to breathe and the land is too toxic to yield crops, don’t expect that ring on your finger to save you.
This week about 10,000 dogs and a number of cats were killed at an annual dog-meat festival in south-western China, to celebrate the longest day of the year. For the BBC’s Juliana Liu it was a reminder of one of the most traumatic days of her childhood, in the Chinese city of Changsha.
When I was three years old, after months of begging, my parents finally gave in to my pleas for a puppy.
The day that my uncle, a lorry driver, brought me a fuzzy yellow mongrel from my grandmother’s mountainous, faraway home was the happiest of my young life.
I named him “Doggie”, and we immediately became inseparable.
As an only child born in 1979 at the beginning of China’s one-child policy, I had always been alone, and Doggie became my best friend. He loved running around outside our one-room flat, gobbling up left-over rice and snuggling near the coal fire.
But these halcyon days did not last. After just one winter, my parents told me Doggie had to go.
In Chinese cities in the early 1980s owning a pet was considered highly undesirable, bourgeois behaviour. None of my neighbours had one. It was also not entirely legal. There was no access to animal vaccines or vets, so pets could pose a public health risk.
One day, my mother announced we were going shopping – and when we returned a few hours later Doggie was no more. He had been strung up by the legs in our communal yard, and was soon turned into a stew, complete with herbs and hard-boiled eggs.
No-one paid any attention to my tears. I heard the neighbours say I would soon forget the whole thing.
They, on the other hand, were in a celebratory mood. In the years before China’s economic boom, when some food was still rationed, it was rare to have the chance to feast on a whole animal.
I refused to eat the stew – and I have never eaten dog in my life.
In China, the tradition of dog-eating goes back far beyond written history.
Along with pigs, oxen, goats, horses and fowl, dogs are one of the six animals domesticated during the Stone Age.
On the other hand, it is not the kind of thing that is eaten every day. It is a speciality meat, commonly believed to confer strength, vigour and virility on the eater.
How dog is eaten
Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop writes:
Judging by the sporadic waves of outrage about dog-eating in China, you might think it was one of the pillars of the Chinese diet. Actually, however, the consumption of dog meat is extremely marginal: it’s seldom seen in markets and on restaurant menus, and most Chinese people eat it rarely, if at all.
Dogs, like pigs, have been reared for their meat in China since the Neolithic age, but in modern times their flesh is regarded as a delicacy in just a few areas, such as Hunan and Guizhou. Even in these places, it tends to be eaten only occasionally, and in certain seasons. According to traditional Chinese medicine, dog is a “heating” meat which can offer a useful energy boost in midwinter, but is best avoided after the lunar new year.
In culinary terms, dog meat is normally blanched or soaked before cooking to dispel the earthier, heavier aspects of its flavour. It is then, typically, made into slow-cooked soups and stews seasoned with ginger, spring onion, rice wine and spices, although it may also be roasted, or served cold as an appetiser. The tender meat of puppies is favoured over that of older dogs.
In the course of many years of studying Chinese cuisine, I’ve only eaten dog meat on a handful of occasions. The first time, it reminded me of pork; the second, in a fiendishly spicy Hunanese stew, it recalled the taste of lamb.
About 716 million pigs are slaughtered in the country every year, and 48 million cattle. The number of dogs slaughtered is far lower – one animal rights group puts the figure at about 10 million.
But where do these dogs come from? According to some researchers, many are pets – like Doggie, except they have been stolen from their owners.
As dogs were arriving for the dog-meat festival at Yulin in Guangxi province this week, Peter Li of Humane Society International saw no animals with quarantine inspection certificates to indicate they had been farmed.
“All of them can be suspected to be stolen urban pets, rural guard dogs and stray dogs and cats,” he says.
A four-year inquiry into the dog-meat industry by Animals Asia also concluded that most dogs eaten in China are stolen.
“During the entire investigation, we found no evidence of any large-scale breeding facilities, where 100-plus dogs were bred and raised,” says the report published earlier this month.
“The difficulty of large-scale breeding of dogs for food and the greed for profit give rise to stealing, snatching from the streets and even poisoning of dogs.”
But Li says there is mounting pressure on Chinese authorities to take action against the eating of pets – and that society is turning against the idea of eating dog altogether.
There were far fewer stalls selling dog and cat meat at the Yulin festival this year than in 2014, he says.
“The overall attitude is against dog eating. China has 130 million dogs, of which 27 million are urban pets. That’s a big number of pet owners.
“The younger generation, born in the 1990s, is not tolerant of animal cruelty.”
In 2014, animal rights activists intercepted 18 lorries carrying dogs intended for eating, resulting in the rescue of some 8,000 animals, he says.
The Chinese media often carries stories of such rescues, in which activists force vehicles to stop and pool money to purchase the animals.
He dates the rise of animal protection activism in China to 2011, the same year when, for the first time ever, more people lived in cities than the countryside.
City dwellers, he says, view dogs and cats more as pets, rather than as working animals – guard dogs, for example – or sources of meat.
In May, on a visit to Shanghai, I saw a sight that delighted me.
While strolling on the Bund, I stopped a young tourist named Yang Yang who was carrying her tiny, fox-like dog in a sling on her chest, the way I normally carry my human baby.
“Oh, this way I can take him into restaurants and on airplanes,” she explained. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t be allowed in with me. Where I go, he goes.”
All three of us posed for a photo in front of Shanghai’s iconic skyline.
How I wish more people had taken this attitude three decades ago.
My parents, now utterly embarrassed about having allowed my pet to be cooked, generally avoid the topic entirely.
But when I was five years old, my father left China to study abroad and the very first gift he sent me was a fuzzy, yellowish stuffed puppy.
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry’s your man. (And we’re happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
The Fur Institute of Canada has reached what could be a new low. According to recent news reports, last year, it presented the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) with a plan to sell penises of grey seals to be used by predominantly Asian buyers as aphrodisiacs.
According to news reports, the DFO is thinking about it.
Why am I not surprised? Disgusted, yes—but not surprised.
The current government of Canada, under the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is the worst I can recall. I believe this is certainly the most divisive, secretive, and downright destructive government in this country’s once positive and respected image within the international community.
Some background: The species of seal targeted is the grey seal, found on both sides of the north Atlantic, on our side from northern Labrador south into the New England states.
The grey seal was once so rare that it was thought to have been extirpated from Canadian waters. But, its numbers have recovered.
No, it’s not a fish—but DFO also manages marine mammals. Its management of fish, under well-documented political pressure trumping science from a time well predating Mr. Harper, has led to some disastrous collapses in various fisheries.
And seals, being consummate consumers of seafood, are scapegoated for human greed and ineptitude. The simplistic view of DFO is that the fish seals eat would otherwise be available for commercial fisheries.
To see what we’re up against, read this account of a seal biologist trying to explain basic seal and fish ecology to a federal Senate committee charged with recommending what to do about grey seals. Or, if that’s too long or technical, check this out.
The bottom line is that there is no true science behind the contention that grey seals are responsible for the catastrophic decline in certain fisheries, especially the northern cod—and no consideration is given to the positive role seals could be playing in the slow recovery of cod stocks. Grey seals were at their most abundant when cod were, as well.
But, none of the destructive forces want to admit culpability when there are seals (or other fish-eating wildlife) to be blamed and killed. Both the industry and the government want to kill them in large numbers.
But, to do so with any hope of making a significant decline in grey seals would cost too much… unless, of course, they could be sold.
However, there is no market for grey seals. For the last several decades, the federal government has tried to placate East Coast voters by developing markets for seal products, including meat, leather, fur, heart valves for human surgery patients, oils, and, yes—genitals.
But now, the harp seals are not to be killed until they are about two weeks old (no longer “babies” in the eyes of the government and industry) and even then, most former markets have rejected the product and the major buyer has stopped buying.
The very different grey seal has never been marketable, however. And, of a quota of 60,000 last year, DFO admits that only 82 were killed.
They all know, of course, that the product does not work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop those desperate to try whatever holds the promise of enhanced virility.
And, apparently that’s just fine with Mr. Harper, his government, and the Fur Institute of Canada—the latter having made the proposal, in the interest of killing 140,000 grey seals over a five year period in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The plan, secretly tabled in March 2014, promotes use of “every part” of the dead seal. “The penises of juvenile and adult animals may be dried and sold as sexual enhance products, particularly to Asian buyers,” says the institute, according to reporters who obtained the report.
“Asian consumers, particularly athletes, also consume a beverage called Dalishen Oral Liquid that is made from seal penis and testicles, which they believe to be energizing and performance enhancing.” They aren’t, of course, but honesty is not a hallmark of the fur industry.
The sad fact is that trade in animal products used for various medicinal properties they either lack, or that are available from other sources, are driving many wildlife species toward extinction. Encouraging such nonsense is clearly antithetical to protecting endangered species, making a mockery of the fur industry’s claim that it is concerned about conservation.
It’s not a new idea. There was a market for the long-established and very commercially driven slaughter of harp and hooded seal pups, mostly, and some adults for many years, and it did include seal penises sold for hundreds of dollars each. But, the widespread use of male aphrodisiacs, such as Viagra, pretty well destroyed demand. The Fur Institute is suggesting sending out five boats and 40 hunters to use nine mm. semi-automatic rifles with silencers, currently banned in Canada, at an investment cost of around $9 million Canadian (currently about $7.4 million U.S.).
That the DFO would even consider all of this is a sad commentary on a country poorly served by its government. I am ashamed of what’s being done with my country’s once stellar reputation, but live in hope that, come the fall federal election, we can start a new chapter with a government that cares about conservation.
Moose stabbed to death in Alaska park; suspects in custody
By RACHEL D’ORO Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska • Three men are in custody in Alaska’s largest city after a young moose was stabbed to death at a popular local park.
Anchorage police say 25-year-old Johnathan Candelario, 28-year-old James Galloway and 33-year-old Nick Johnston are under arrest in connection with the death of the yearling moose Tuesday night near a bike trail in Russian Jack Springs Park.
The men were arrested on charges of animal cruelty, wanton waste of big game and tampering with evidence. It’s unclear if they have attorneys.
Police say several witnesses called shortly before 7:30 p.m. reporting that the three men were jumping on the animal, kicking it and stabbing it with a large knife.
Police officers quickly located the three suspects nearby. The animal was found dead.
In an effort to minimize inhumane treatment, the Canadian government mandates that seals can only be killed using a high-powered rifle or shotgun, a club or a hunting tool called a hakapik. Yet with the hunt in full swing, last week Humane Society International released shocking footage of baby seals being shot, clubbed and dragged aboard hunting vessels — footage that, the group alleges, shows the hunt is anything but humane
Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI’s Canada chapter, told The Huffington Post that despite the legal protections, “what happens to these baby seals is some of the worst suffering I’ve ever witnessed.” She spent last week in a helicopter off the northeast coast of Newfoundland getting a firsthand look at the seal hunt — her 17th year doing so.
“Ever year we go out there, we see the same kind of cruelty,” Aldworth said. “The seal is moving on the ice, the ice is moving on the ocean and the boat is rocking on the waves, so you often see a seal that’s just wounded because it’s incredibly difficult to make that shot.”
The hunt takes place in northeastern Canada between November and June, with the majority of the seal hunting happening in March and April. The animals are killed mainly for their furs, and young harp seals tend to be in the highest demand because they have the most valuable pelts.
The Canadian government maintains that safeguards are in place to ensure animals are killed quickly and humanely. When asked about the scientific rationale for the hunt, a spokesperson for the country’s Fisheries and Oceans Portfolio directed HuffPost to an online FAQ page about the seal hunt.
The huge annual quota is all the more surprising given that the number of seals harvested each year has fallen dramatically over the past decade, thanks to a shrinking market. Around 94,000 animals were hunted in 2013, down from about 366,000 in 2004. Harp seal populations in Canada are nearly three times what they were in the 1970s, currently numbering close to 7.3 million animals.
The Canadian Sealers Association recently announced that it will scale back operations in light of the difficult financial situation caused by a constricted commercial market. Carino, the top buyer of sealskins in Canada, said it wouldn’t be purchasing any pelts this year because it already has a stockpile that didn’t sell in 2014.
The lower demand is partially a result of growing international concern for animal welfare. The entirety of the European Union banned the trade in 2009 due to worries about the inhumane nature of seal hunts in Canada, Greenland, Namibia and other countries. Canada appealed the decision to the World Trade Organization, but the agency upheld the EU ban in 2014, noting it was “necessary to protect public morals” related to animal rights.
Captain Paul Watson, founder of the marine wildlife conservation group Sea Shepherd, told HuffPost that while his organization supports the work of HSI, it no longer actively opposes to the hunt due to the “collapse” of the market.
“There simply is no market today,” he said. “Sea Shepherd’s role has been to oppose the sealing ships, and there are no more ships on the water and in the ice killing seals.”
Watson noted that despite the large number of seals designated for hunting through the government’s quota, it’s likely that fewer than 60,000 will be killed this year because of the lack of demand.
Aldworth told HuffPost that HSI is hoping to help broker a deal between the sealers and the Canadian government that would bring about an end to the hunt through a federal buyout of sealing contracts. She said the plan would be similar to the shift that took place when whaling was ended in the country in the 1970s. Parts of Canada now have a burgeoning whale-watching industry.
But for now, her group believes a single seal killed is one too many.
“HSI’s concern is that the seal hunt is inherently inhumane. Because it’s inhumane, it must be shut down,” Aldworth said. “The only progressive thing to do, the only acceptable solution is to shut down the slaughter forever.”
How did it happen? How did I go from being a high school student who played in a rock band to a mad scientist conducting cruel animal experiments?
To this day, I’m not sure. As a child, I liked animals. Growing up, I loved playing with our family dog. I wasn’t particularly interested in science and didn’t even want to go to college. I was planning on making it big as a rock musician, but in 1966, when my band broke up and a college offered me a generous financial aid package, I found myself a depressed, bewildered freshman at a university. I wanted to study music, but without classical training, that door was closed.
At the end of freshman year, my roommate told me about a great psychology course he was taking where he studied B. F. Skinner’s experiments with rats and pigeons. I was amazed that someone was actually able to predict and control behavior. Why people behaved as they did had always been a mystery to me. So I decided to take the course.
I was fascinated by one class lab where we taught pigeons to peck at a colored disc for food. In my junior year, I attended a class in which the professor made a compelling argument for conducting animal research related to punishment. He promoted it as having the noble goal of finding ways to minimize the use of punishment in humans while maximizing its effect. When he announced he was looking for a student to work in his lab for class credit, I took the job.
First, I had to learn how to shock a pigeon. A graduate student demonstrated how one person held the pigeon upside down while the other plucked out the feathers in back of its legs, cut two lengths of stiff stainless steel wire from a spool and pushed them through the skin and under the pelvic bones. The wires were then soldered to a harness placed on the pigeon’s back. The harness contained a plug that would be connected to a source of electric shock during experiments. No anesthetic or sedative was used.
One day, while programming an experiment, I accidentally touched the electrodes and got a jolting shock that numbed my entire arm. I was amazed that, according to my professor, the shock level was the correct one to use for pigeons. I told myself that pigeons must not feel pain as much as I did.
The pigeons lived in individual wire cages about a cubic foot in volume, in a bleak, windowless cinder-block room. I was told that everyone had to take a turn killing the pigeons after the experiments were finished. A graduate student showed me how to dump a couple of dozen birds into a clear plastic garbage bag, then pour a splash of chloroform on them and tie the bag shut. I remember the first and only time I did the killing; I thought the birds on the bottom were already suffocating because they were completely buried in other birds.
In graduate school, and later as a research technician, I also conducted punishment experiments on rats. The rats were deprived of food or water for 23 hours each day so they would be motivated to press a lever or lick a tube to receive a small reward of food or water. After learning that behavior, they would be shocked through metal rods on the floor for pressing the lever or licking the tube. We were recording how much the pressing or licking was suppressed by the shock.
Each year dozens of animals would be brought into the lab to live their brief lives suffering deprivation and shocks before being killed. At least in graduate school and as a research technician I did not have to kill the animals. There was a full-time lab custodian who took care of that.