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Stop Proposed Plans to Hunt Seals in Hokkaido

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Dear Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda,

Problems caused by human overfishing are again being used to scapegoat sea mammals in Japan as Japanese seals are blamed for the decline in fish numbers. Plans have been announced by Japanese authorities in Hokkaido to start killing spotted seals using the same “pest control” rational that they use to give licenses that allow the killing of 23,000 dolphins and porpoises each year in Japan, 2,000 of which occur at the notorious Cove in Taiji.

According to officials, it is estimated that over 11,000 spotted and harbor seals inhabit coastal areas in Hokkaido, although the exact number remains unknown. Harbor seals are a protected species and their hunting currently forbidden. Historically, they had been hunted to make leather, oil, gelatine and fertilizer. Over 6,000 of them were killed per year by the time of WWII.

Hokkaido is a relatively poor prefecture where seal watching is one of the key tourism resources. Visitors flock to the area photographing the popular sea mammals, who are known there affectionately as goma-chan. The Japanese Government now plans to shoot them. Shooting is not a humane death. In a 2007 Canadian study, 82% of seals shot did not die from the first bullet. Another showed that only 15% of seal deaths during hunts are carried out according to legal methods.

Because their habitat consists of the ice front at the southern edge of the sea ice, the spotted seal is threatened by climate change as the area that may change due to global warming. The Dalian Seal Sanctuary in China, which is a nature reserve established in 1992 at Liaodong Bay in the Bohai Sea, is being upgraded to a national level so that the seals can be protected from illegal hunting, loss of habitat, food shortages, and disturbance. And sadly as China works to help the seals, Japan wants to kill them.

It’s fairly straightforward that the reason for the slaughter of seals is financial, and it clearly ignores the human induced ecological disaster which is happening in the seas around Japan. Japanese fishermen have hunted many species of fish to the point of extinction with many of them already 90% depleted. Japan eats 6 times more fish than any other developed nation and is hunting the oceans dry. No one likes competitors, so they attempt to remove all other consumers of what stocks are left. Whales, dolphins, now seals.

Humans can choose what they eat, whereas seals and sea lions don’t have the option. We don’t have to eat fish to survive, yet the most common argument used to defend this is that “eating fish is traditional” in Japan, no one pushing this fallacy more forcefully than the Fisheries Agency of Japan themselves. How can eating Tuna from Spain or whale from the Antarctic be “traditional”? It is not. The Japanese “traditional diet” before Westerners arrived in Japan had been primarily plant based for around 1,000 years. People were only able to eat a small percentage of the amount of sea food they eat today.

Considering all this, and all the negative publicity surrounding seal hunting in other parts of the world, particularly Canada and Namibia, we wish to inform the Japanese government that we strongly condemn the proposed decision to hunt these spotted seals. Furthermore, we request that the Japanese Government act immediately and decisively in preventing this proposed hunt from taking place. Not only are global citizens appalled by your plans, but any such hunt would be an embarrassment and an insult to the good people of Japan and a mockery to the principles of conservation. Japan is already suffering a public relations nightmare since it was discovered that they had lied about the severity of the Fukushima threat, diverted funds from tsunami relief to bolster a barbaric whaling campaign and were feeding toxic mercury laden dolphin meat to school children in Taiji. Stop plans for the hunt and save further embarrassment.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.



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