Caught On Tape, A Killing Season

Off of Canada's East Coast, it is a new killing season for seal pups. From Boston, WBZ-TV Reporter Virginia Cha reports on a Massachusetts animal rights group that has caught on video acts of cruelty by hunters to seals that are apparently illegal.

The video, taped last month near Prince Edward Island, shows seals left bleeding and writhing on the ice for several minutes after being clubbed on the head. Sealers then struck the animals again.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said the footage showed more than 140 violations of seal-hunting regulations, and it accused government officials of failing to enforce the rules.

Six New England Senators including Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have asked the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to curtail commercial seal hunting.

Newfoundland's fisheries minister, Fred Efford, said the incident will likely be a small setback for an industry that has been struggling to gain credibility at home and abroad. "What I've seen is pretty gory and pretty sickening," Efford said. "Either these people were totally insane, totally brain-dead or they got paid one hell of a lot of money. There is no other answer for it."

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it could take several months for officials to determine if charges would be filed. Most of the violations carry a maximum penalty of $ 70,000 and a year in jail.

At a news conference in Ottawa, seal-hunt foes aimed their attack primarily at the Fisheries Department for lack of monitoring, not at the sealers themselves.

"They (sealers) are doing what they were taught to do," said activist lawyer Clayton Ruby. "It's long past time somebody woke up and laid some criminal charges."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare released similar video footage last year as part of its long-standing campaign to stop the hunt. The hunt resumed in earnest three years ago after being virtually shut down by the animal-rights movement in the 1980s.

It has become an increasingly important industry, especially in Newfoundland, since the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992 and with the emergence of new markets for meat, oil and pelts. This year's quota is more than 280,000 seals.

In 1996, four Newfoundland sealers pleaded guilty to five illegal hunting offenses as the result of an IFAW video. The men were fined and banned from sealing for three years.

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