According to Canadian law, seals must be humanely harvested using a three-step process developed and endorsed by the Independent Veterinarians’ Working Group, an international consortium of experts.
First, the animal must be stunned, inducing irreversible unconsciousness (or death), and rendering it insensitive to pain. Stunning is achieved using a regulation weapon; either a rifle, hakapik, or club.
After striking a seal, the sealer must check its skull as soon as possible. Sealer safety is of paramount importance; sealers must watch the seal for any directed movements (twitching, sniffing, or other signs the seal may confront the sealer or escape) before approaching the animal. Then the top of seal’s head is examined by manual palpation to confirm that both hemispheres of the skull have been crushed.
To ensure death, the two large axillary arteries under the seal’s front flippers must be severed, and the seal allowed to bleed out. Only after a minimum of one minute of bleeding may the sealer take the pelt and meat.
This standardized three-step method (stunning, checking by palpation of the skull, and bleeding) was implemented to ensure rapid death with minimum pain and suffering. Training in Humane Harvesting (the three-step process) is mandatory before any commercial or personal use seal licence is issued, and has been part of the Marine Mammal Regulations since 2009.
The hakapik is a multipurpose tool of Norwegian design used when harvesting seals on the ice (in Canada, is it used mainly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence). This method is certified humane and helps ensure good quality products for the harvester.
Most Canadian sealers employ a hakapik to help retrieve seals from the water and/or ensure a quick and humane death. Firearms in the hands of skilled marksmen—the target is the seal’s head—are used in any hunt conducted from boats (such as on the Front, off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador), or across an expanse of ice (often the situation in the high north). Any of the regulated weapons, in the hands of a trained professional sealer, may be used in this certified humane hunt, ensuring harvester safety and a good-quality product for market.
Learn More About The Harvest
“…many seals can be, and are, killed rapidly and effectively without causing avoidable pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering, using a variety of methods that aim to destroy sensory brain functions.”
—European Food Safety Authority, 2007