Every spring the advent of seal-killing season in Canada is greeted bya loud outcry from US environmentalists and animal welfare groups, properly concerned that fishermen to the north seem determined to go on slaughtering harp seals even though their numbers are dwindling and there remains little evidence that the ages-old practice answers any significant economic need any more. what has perplexed the Canadian government, and understandably so, is the relative silence from these groups in regard to the annual seal slaughter at this time of year on their own United States shores.
From June 27 to August 1, some 25,000 seals on the Pribilof Islands off Alaska will be killed at taxpayers' expense, by US Commerce Department employees , and most of their skins sent to Japan and Canada. This is in accordance with a provision of a 1911 treaty designed to recompense the two countries for joining the US and the Soviet Union in agreeing to stop open-sea killing at a time when northern fur seal herds were near extinction. Although the Alaskan butchery is somewhat more humane than Canada's, in that newborn pups are not harvested, it seems even more pointless than Canada's.
For one thing, as noted by those few concerned US environmentalists whose voices of protest are at last being heard, Japanese fishermen over the years have continued to kill seals in US waters in violation of the openseas ban. Moreover, the extension of US territorial waters out to 200 miles in recent years now provides a zone wide enough to protect the migratory habits of the endangered seals if Washington is indeed serious about enforcing the ban on open-sea, or pelagic, killing.
Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress that would put a stop to the Alaskan seal killing and create a refuge for teh animals on the Pribilof Islands. More of that same kind of zeal conservations and animal welfare groups ahve exhibited against the Canadian slaughter will be needed to arouse Congress to act. With America's own seals protected, US-based lobbying in behalf of Canada's dwindling seal population may take on new importance.