Activists, Hunters Spar Over Seal Hunt

On the ice floes of the Gulf of St Lawrence, tourists dressed in fluorescent orange life suits traveled thousands of miles to photograph and to touch the newborn seals.

But the overwhelming beauty of the baby harp seal is overshadowed by the tragedy of its fate, reports Jennifer Santiago of CBS affiliate station WFOR in Miami.

For three weeks during the months of February and March thousands of seals come to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to give birth, turning the whole area into a giant floating nursery. But unfortunately a third of the baby seals — according to some estimates — will become victims to the hunt.

The hunt — which takes place every year both on the Gulf and off the coast of Newfoundland — has brought condemnation from animal welfare groups, particularly the Humane Society of the United States and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. International celebrities have also joined the cause, such asPaul McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills McCartney, who traveled to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to pose with the newborn pups.

"Unless something is done about it, "he's going to be clubbed to death in a few weeks," said McCartney pointing to a seal pup during his trip.

Hunters shoot and club the seals to sell their coveted skins to overseas markets. By the time the hunt is over 325,000 seals will have been slaughtered.

But not everyone is against the hunt — including a man who put down his club almost 20 years ago.

This ex-seal hunter — who doesn't want to be identified by name — now works for the Colorado-based Natural Habitat Adventures. NatHab organizes trips like the photo tour hoping that by bringing more tourist dollars to the area, the locals — who kill to provide for their families — will no longer need to do so on anything like this scale.

The ex-seal hunter says he regrets his years killing baby seals: "Once you start working with nature — it's like your own children," he says.

Yet he falls short of calling for an end to the tradition. "Its part of (the local hunters') income. It feeds their families," he says.

So, on the ice floes — where cruelty and compassion collide — the debate continues with animal activists hoping the cries of the baby seals are heard around the world and the more likely public outcry demanding an end to a tradition.

ByJennifer Santiago