Historical archive

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Seals and Seal-Hunting - The facts and the myths

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 1st Government

Publisher: Utenriksdepartementet

Seals and Seal-hunting - The facts and the myths

Norwegian seal-hunting is restricted to two species of seal: the harp seal and the hooded seal. In the North Atlantic, the harp seal population alone numbers approximately 7,700,000 animals. Of these, approximately 2,500,000 are found in areas where Norwegians hunt for seal. The seal populations are growing and none are threatened.

Norwegian seal-hunting - sound resource management

In order to maintain seal populations at a reasonable level they must be culled. This is why Norway permits seal hunting. The daily energy requirement of a seal is 2.5-3 kilos of herring or capelin. The huge seal populations are making major inroads into fish stocks, including those that provide food for humans. In the North-East Atlantic, the harp seal alone eats as much herring as is caught by Norwegian fishermen.

All the various marine species influence each other, directly and indirectly. Those responsible for the management of these species have to take this interaction into account: Before deciding to harvest one stock, the consequences of this action on other stocks must also be weighed. This is a generally accepted principle for the management of all wild species which are not endangered.

Norwegian catch quotas for seal are set on the basis of scientific recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, and the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

Nature sets its own limits

When a stock of animals is not harvested but is allowed to multiply unchecked, Nature itself will sooner or later reach saturation point. As the number of animals approaches this limit, their health will deteriorate: the animals will grow more slowly, they will take longer to reach sexual maturity, their reproductive capabilities will be reduced and they will more easily fall prey to disease.

When a seal population becomes too large, some species, such as the harp seal and the hooded seal may migrate over long distances to find food. Sometimes they swim as far in as the coast. This food migration has caused massive "seal invasions" along the coast, where the animals eat large amounts of fish usually used for human consumption. In addition to causing extensive damage to fishing gear and fish farms, tens of thousands of seal have drowned after becoming entangled in fishing nets.

A traditional means of livelihood

Seal-hunting is one of the traditional means of livelihood in the countries bordering the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic. There is therefore a cultural dimension to Norwegian seal hunting in addition to the economic and resource management aspects.

Due to diminishing financial returns, the Norwegian government has subsidized the Norwegian sealing industry in recent years. This has been necessary in order to ensure a justifiable regulation of seal stocks. Sealing traditions must furthermore be kept alive in order to ensure the continuation of expertise, thereby enabling appropriate stock management in the future too.

High natural mortality rate in the first year of life

Norwegian authorities permit hunting of non-suckling pups of the harp and hooded seal, i.e. young seals that have been abandoned by their mother.

Mortality among seals is extremely high in the first year of life. Ecological, economic and resource management considerations therefore warrant the hunting of non-suckling young seals, as is done in other sealing nations such as Canada, Russia and Namibia.

Hunting of suckling pups is not permitted in Norwegian sealing.

Regulations and supervision

Norwegian seal-hunting is subject to strict, detailed regulations concerning hunting seasons, quotas, methods of slaughter, instruction and training of seal hunters, approval of vessels and supervision.

The regulations stipulate that the animals are to be slaughtered as quickly, humanely and painlessly as possible. Approved tools for slaughter are the rifle and a kind of gaff called "hakapik". Hunters are required to attend courses and shooting tests every year before they leave for the sealing grounds.

In order to ensure compliance with the regulations, there is an inspector on board each vessel. The inspector is a veterinarian or the equivalent, and he/she reports directly to Norwegian fisheries authorities.

"Luxury hunting"

Seals have traditionally been hunted for their blubber and fur. Most of the skins are used for common leather products such as shoes, gloves and clothes. Norway does not permit the hunting of whitecoats and suckling bluebacks, whose fur is the most sought after.

Parts of the meat and blubber are used for food in the same way as meat from other game or farm animals. The blubber is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which, as modern research has indicated, can play a significant role in preventing the most common cardio-vascular diseases.

"Primitive methods of hunting"

The only tools of slaughter Norwegian seal-hunters are permitted to use are the rifle and the "hakapik" (corresponds roughly to the Newfoundland gaff). Adult seals are shot with a rifle, while young seals are put to death with a "hakapik" or rifle. As a method of destruction, the killing of young seals by rifle has proven to be just as effective as the use of the "hakapik". The "hakapik" is also used on seals which have been shot in order to make sure they are dead. The "hakapik" may look primitive, but it is a simple and effective tool which ensures immediate loss of consciousness and rapid death.

According to a 1993 report from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, "clubbing", if correctly carried out, is as good as the usual methods of slaughter, causing the animal to die in the course of a few seconds.

Norwegian hunters are required to take courses and shooting tests before the sealing season starts.

"The seal is flayed while it is still alive"

Films have been shown of seals which appear to be "alive" even after death. Spasms in the body of a dead seal are a natural phenomenon. The seal spends a great deal of time under water and its blood is therefore capable of storing large amounts of oxygen. In addition, a seal's muscles can function for a while without a supply of oxygen. Consequently, the seal's body can display powerful spasms for a long time after its death.

"The seal cries"

The fluid in a seal's eye protects the cornea and has nothing to do with weeping. This fluid runs out of the eye because a seal's tear ducts are different from those of other animals.

"Dependency on the mother"

The length of time the young are dependent on their mother is very short; it is only a matter of five or six days from the time the hooded seal pup is born until the mother leaves it to fend for itself. The harp seal suckles its young for less than two weeks.

As soon as the suckling period is over, the mother leaves the pup to fend for itself. Norway does not permit hunting of seal pups during the suckling period.

Produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Reproduction permitted. Printed in February 2001.