Inuit use social media to post “sealfies,” standing beside freshly killed seals

Humane Society says it doesn’t oppose Inuit seal hunt

Donation to group by Ellen DeGeneres sparked #sealfie social media campaign

The Canadian Press Posted: Apr 08, 2014

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Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson

A spokeswoman for the Canadian arm of the Humane Society International isclarifying the group’s position on the Inuit seal hunt, as a protest against TV star Ellen DeGeneres in the North gains support.

Rebecca Aldworth says recent reports on the protests are mixing up subsistence sealing in Canada’s North with the commercial hunt.

She says animal protection groups oppose commercial sealing in Atlantic Canada by non-aboriginal people.

Inuit in Nunavut have been engaged in a “sealfie” movement ever since DeGeneres took a celebrity selfie at the Oscars last month.

DeGeneres donated $1.5 million of the money raised by the star-studded picture to the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that fights seal hunting.

In response, Inuit are using social media to post pictures of themselves wearing sealskin clothes, standing beside freshly killed seals or looking forward to enjoying a seal meal.

“Commercial sealing advocates have long attempted to blur the lines between their globally condemned industry and the socially accepted Inuit subsistence hunt,” Aldworth said in a statement Tuesday.

“Unlike Inuit sealers, commercial sealers almost exclusively target baby seals who are less than three months old. Inuit hunters kill seals primarily for meat,” she said.

“Commercial sealers slaughter seal pups for their fur, dumping most of the carcasses at sea. Inuit sealers kill seals sporadically throughout the year, while commercial sealers often kill hundreds of thousands of seals in a matter of days or weeks.”

Inuit have long maintained that any opposition to the seal hunt, commercial or otherwise, harms Inuit by destroying the market for seal furs. That’s the reason Inuit launched a legal challenge against a European ban of seal products, even though that legislation included an exemption for seal products harvested by Inuit.

While it is true that most seals harvested in the commercial seal hunt are under three months old, all are independent animals. Hunting white coat baby seals has been outlawed in Canada since 1987.

To promote its own message, the Inuit land claims group Nunavut Tunngavik is supporting the sealfie movement and plans to operate a photo booth in its offices in Iqaluit this Thursday. It is also organizing a giant sealfie in Iqaluit on Friday afternoon.

The group says it wants to educate people about Nunavut’s sustainable and humane seal harvest.

During the Oscar broadcast on March 2, host, comedian and daytime TV star DeGeneres went into the audience and snapped a selfie that included luminaries such as Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep and Kevin Spacey. Smartphone manufacturer Samsung, which made the phone DeGeneres used, promised to donate a dollar to charity for every time the photo was retweeted.

The selfie almost immediately crashed Twitter and became the most widely retweeted photo ever.

In statements on her website, DeGeneres, a vegan, calls the seal hunt “one of the most atrocious and inhumane acts against animals allowed by any government.”


It’s Hard to Be Ethically Consistent While Tap-Dancing on Eggshells

Over the weekend I received the following question, which I’ll attempt to answer below…


Dear Mr. Robertson,

I was wondering your opinion on the subject of animal rights vs. the rights of indigenous people. What do you think about hunting by Native American tribes, or the hunting of seals by the Inuit? Also, of course, the various other tribes around the world that have their culture based off of hunting. What do you think about their participation in hunting, trapping, etc?


Hmmm, one of those questions…one of those I-wouldn’t-touch-that-with-a-ten-foot-pole kind of questions. Do I risk being called a hypocrite, or “culturally elite?” I could spend all day tip-toeing around this—tap-dancing on egg shells—but here’s an answer just off the top of my head:

My objection to hunting, trapping and seal clubbing is colorblind as well as culture-blind. I oppose cruelty to animals, no matter who is doing the shooting, trapping or clubbing. A victim doesn’t suffer any less because of the ethnicity or cultural beliefs of their executioner. An animal’s right to a life, free from harm, trumps anyone’s right to exploit or kill them (unless someone is literally starving to death and has no other options, which is not the case for most who hunt, trap, club seals, harpoon whales or trade in bushmeat).

Why oppose the Japanese or the Faeroese for slaughtering dolphins or pilot whales and not the Makah for killing grey whales, or even the Inuit for hunting bowhead whales? We’re all part of the species, Homo sapiens, and our ancestors all used to live by hunting and trapping. For better or worse, we’re all moving forward technologically, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t all move forward in our treatment of non-human animals.

That’s my humble opinion, anyway. It might not be popular, but it’s ethically consistent.

Text and Wildlife Photography© Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography© Jim Robertson

Something Serious to Protest

On Friday, May 4, my wife and I stopped at the East Moring Basin on the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon, to see the sea lions who spend the daytime hours hauled out on one of the floating docks there. It’s always a treat to watch their antics and to hear the raucous roaring of competitive bulls mouthing off to anyone who might try to wriggle in and crowd their personal space. As expected we heard bellowing as soon as we arrived, but this time the sea lions had something serious to protest: an unfortunate herd-mate had been trapped and was being held down tightly and tormented by a group of strange and menacing two-leggers wearing orange raingear, one of whom pulled out a hot iron and repeatedly branded the restrained sea lion. As the victim struggled, acrid smoke from his burning flesh drifted for a hundred yards across the harbor.

The searing pain of the branding may have been temporary, but now the sea lion is branded in the figurative sense of the word as well, and his troubles are just beginning. With the numbers viciously burned onto the animal’s back, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife thus has a clever way to recognize him. Later, they will decide whether or not to add him to their annual hit list of 92 sea lions they plan to kill if they reach the man-made dam that impedes the ancient migration route of spawning salmon.

It speaks volumes about the trusting nature of sea lions that they are willing to return to Astoria year after year. Since its establishment in 1811 as a hub for the booming, bloody fur trade, Astoria has been the scene of countless crimes against marine animals, including sea lions, who were killed along the Oregon coast by the thousands—exclusively for lamp oil. 


Charles M. Scammon—whaler, sealer, mariner and infamous discoverer and exploiter of the gray whale birthing lagoons in Baja California—devoted a chapter to sea lions in his book, The Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America: Together with an account of the American Whale-Fishery. He begins that chapter with the lines, “Among the numerous species of marine mammalia found upon the Pacific coast of North America, none excite more interest than the sea lion;” Scammon goes on to describe an average day in the life of the pitiless sealers, and the last day ever for a group of sea lions. “On the south coast of Santa Barbara Island was a plateau, elevated less than a hundred feet above the sea, stretching to the brink of a cliff that overhung the shore, and a narrow gorge leading up from the beach, through which the animals crawled to their favorite resting-place. Several unsuccessful attempts had been made to take them; but, at last, a fresh breeze commenced blowing directly from the shore, and prevented their scenting the hunters, who landed some distance from the rookery, then cautiously advanced, and suddenly, yelling and flourishing muskets, clubs, and lances, rushed up within a few yards of them, while the pleading creatures, with lolling tongues and glaring eyes, were quite overcome with dismay, and remained nearly motionless. At last, two overgrown males broke through the line formed by the men, but they paid the penalty with their lives before reaching the water. A few moments passed, when all hands moved slowly toward the rookery, which had slowly retreated. This maneuver is called “turning them” and, when once accomplished, the disheartened creatures appear to abandon all hope of escape, and resign themselves to their fate. The herd at that time numbered 75, which were soon dispatched by shooting the largest ones, and clubbing and lancing the others, save for one young sea lion, which they spared to ascertain whether it would make any resistance by being driven over the hills beyond. The poor creature only moved along through the prickly pears that covered the ground, when compelled by his cruel pursuers; and, at last, with an imploring look and writhing in pain, it held out its fin-like arms, which were pierced with thorns, in such a manner as to touch the sympathy of the barbarous sealers who put the sufferer out of its misery with the stroke of a heavy club.”

Scammon ends his chapter with the prediction that the Pacific Coast sea lions “…will soon be exterminated by the deadly shot of the rifle, or driven away to less accessible haunts.” Today the few sea lions who have managed to hold on are again under attack, this time for the crime of daring to survive despite industrial scale over-fishing depleting their only food source.