Canada set for mass seal hunting
The largest single seal hunt in half a century begins in Canada on Monday.
The government is allowing more than 300,000 seals to be killed this year, many of them in a 36-hour mass cull.
The hunting of young seals for their fur almost stopped off Canada's east coast 25 years ago in the face of international outrage.
Animal rights groups are hoping to sway international opinion against the hunt, but Canadian officials say it is now both humane and necessary.
The seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador withered 25 years ago as brutal images of men clubbing infant seals horrified the world.
Up to 350,000 baby harp seals to be killed this season
Preliminary culls started at the beginning of April
2,500 men and 150 trawlers to gather for intensive 36-hour phase of cull on 12 April
Up to 10,000 seals to be killed per daylight hour
Killing of "whitecoat" seals - aged up to 12 days - banned
The US banned imports of seal products in 1972 and the EU followed suit a decade later with a ban on white pelt imports, taken from the youngest babies.
As a result, the Canadian government reduced quotas for seal hunting to as low as 15,000 annually - mainly for meat and local handicraft.
But with fur again in fashion the hunt is back.
Last year Canada increased the quotas again, allowing a million seals to be killed over the next three years.
It is now being conducted under tighter regulations and most seals are now shot, not clubbed, but the number of animals expected to be taken this year will be the highest in decades and once again it is drawing international attention.
Hard to convince
At the weekend, Canadian Natural Resources Minister John Efford said many claims made overseas about the hunt are simply wrong.
He says the hunt is more humane than ever while the seal population is exploding and commercial fish stocks in the region are vanishing.
But the BBC's Ian Gunn in Vancouver, Canada, says against images of dying seals that can be a hard argument to make convincing.
The Canadian tourism commission admitted last week they are keeping an eye open for an international backlash should the protests gather strength.
Officials estimate there are 5.2 million harp seals in the north Atlantic currently.
Far from being endangered, the seals are responsible for the depletion of cod stocks, they say.
Animal rights groups accuse officials of "attempting to scapegoat seals" for their own fisheries mismanagement.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) also says government guidelines on humane hunting methods are being ignored.
"We filmed and witnessed seals being skinned alive right in front of us," Ifaw activist Rebecca Aldworth told Reuters news agency last week.
"We saw live seals being dragged while conscious across the ice with boat hooks, we saw stockpiles of dead and dying seals, it was really horrific."
Another group, the US-based Humane Society, is taking full-page adverts in prominent American newspapers to urge for a travel boycott on Canada.
They also designed shirts reading "Club Sandwiches Not Seals".
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