Greenland trade in Canadian seal pup skins
a background briefing by ecoadvise & communication Denmark
The basic facts
Greenland’s Home Rule Government is selling skins of Canadian seal pups as young as 12 days old through the Great Greenland trading company.
Nearly half of the Canadian seal pups are still being clubbed to death and the corpses are left on the ice to rot.
The sustainability of Great Greenland’s seal skin trade is now being questioned in the Danish press. Ultimately this could adversely affect the income of the Inuit hunters if consumers begin to boycott seal furs again.
The seal pup skins are traded by Great Greenland A/S – the company is owned 100 percent by the Greenlandic Home Rule Government.
Great Greenland received more than DKK 30 million Danish Crowns public funding from the Greenlandic Home Rule Government in 2005.
To a growing extent, Greenland’s Home Rule Government is buying sealskins in Canada through its sealskin company, Great Greenland A/S, and reselling them on the international market.
An unknown percentage of these skins come from seal pups as young as 12 days old that are clubbed to death on the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coast of Newfoundland by Canadian trappers.
Aobout half of Great Greenland’s turnover of skins and skin products come from Canadian seal pups. There is no information on this on the company’s web site or in its accounts.
Tax-payers in Greenland and Denmark are to a great extent helping to finance this trade in Canadian seal pup skins. Great Greenland A/S receives more than DKK 30 million annually in the form of a public grant from Greenland’s Home Rule Government. As much as 60 percent of the Greenland national budget is financed through a Danish block grant in excess of DKK 3.6 billion. Danish tax-payers are therefore indirectly financing the slaughter of these seals.
For many years, Greenland’s Home Rule Government has actively attempted to distance itself from Canadian seal hunting in order to secure its own exports.
Great Greenland trade Canadian seal pup skin
According to the Greenland press (AG/Grønlandsposten), Great Greenland A/S bought its first Canadian skins in 2002 at a price of just over DKK 119,000. When it rapidly became evident that these skins were of high quality, purchases in 2003 grew to DKK 20 million, which corresponds to approximately 50,000 sealskins. This figure should be seen in relation to the number of seals killed and purchased in Greenland, which amounted to 70,000 skins in 2004.
The growth in imports from Canada simply appears to be continuing. The latest figures from Statistics Greenland, broadcast on the Greenland news programme, KNR, on 30 December 2005, show that in the first nine months of 2005 alone, Great Greenland A/S bought Canadian sealskins for DKK 22 million. During 2005 as a whole, Greenland’s Home Rule Government spent DKK 25.4 million of tax-payers’ money, in the form of market support, on buying sealskins from Greenland hunters.
Great Greenland’s imports of Canadian sealskins therefore correspond by and large to purchases of domestic sealskins from Greenland hunters and threatens to oust what is already a hard-pressed Greenland hunting industry.
Imports of Canadian sealskins increased Great Greenland A/S’ turnover from DKK 31 million in 2003 to DKK 51 million in 2004 – an increase of more than 60 percent. Great Greenland A/S states in its latest annual accounts: “the major growth in turnover, however, was to a great extent realised through the production and sale of skins purchased abroad”. That is Canadian sealskins, which are imported for use in Greenland fur production and exported for processing in third-party countries. Furs from Great Greenland are also produced on license in Polan as an example.
In 2005, Great Greenland A/S received DKK 31 million as a direct operational expenditure grant from tax-payers in Greenland and Denmark to buy sealskins and for administrative purposes.
Canadians catch seal pups and still club them to death
Every year, trappers kill more than 300,000 seal pups in Northeast Canada. About half of these are clubbed to death – with what is known as a hakapik, a long wooden club studded with metal spikes, while the remainder are probably shot. In 2005, this amounted to exactly 44%, or 139,627 seal pups that were killed with hakapiks.
The pups, that are between 12 days and three months old, account for more than 96% of all the Canadian seals killed. According to an official statement from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, only 12,418 out of a total of 365,971 seals killed in 2004 were more than one year old. During that year, Great Greenland imported 44,000 Canadian sealskins according to the Canadian trade statistics. Assuming that Great Greenland bought all its sealskins from animals older than a year in 2004 on the Canadian market, there were still 32,000 skins in Great Greenland’s stores that must necessarily have come from seal pups.
Last year in 2005, 317,672 seals were killed on the ice off the coast of Newfoundland. Of these, 312,975 – or 98.5% – were less than two months old. In total Great Greenland bought 47.000 seal skins from Canada in 2005. At least 42.000 of these skins were from the seal pup kill.
Canadian exporters do not differentiate between skins that come from seals that were clubbed to death and those that were shot. This makes it impossible for Great Greenland A/S to substantiate that their Canadian skins come exclusively from animals that were shot with rifles:
“The sealskins are mixed together by the buyers and this makes it impossible to say whether the Canadian sealskins come from pups that were clubbed to death or not,” states Dr. Rebecca Aldworth, the Canadian representative of HSUS, The Humane Society of the United States.
“Broadly speaking all sealskins are bought by buyers from two factories in Canada: Carino, which is a subsidiary of the Norwegian Rieber Group, and Atlantic Marine Products, which is owned by the Canadian Barry Group,” says Rebecca Aldworth. “The two companies mix the skins of seals that were clubbed to death with hakapiks with those that were shot with rifles. And the official Canadian export documents contain no information on how the animals were killed,” concludes HSUS’s Canadian director, Rebecca Aldworth.
Animal protection organisations have long been of the opinion that this type of hunting is cruelty to animals. In 2001, an international team of independent veterinary surgeons examined seal pups and found that more than four out of ten – 42 percent – of them had been skinned while they were still alive and fully conscious. Other veterinarian investigations have shown that down to 5 percent og the seal pups were conscious. Canadian government veterinarians find that the clubbing is safe and humane.
At present, Great Greenland A/S buys around 50,000 seal pup skins from Canada annually and during the first nine months of 2005, Great Greenland spent more money than ever before on the Canadian sealskin market. In 2004, Greenland’s Home Rule Government officially claimed that all the Canadian sealskins bought by Great Greenland were from animals that were more than a year old. This is impossible because there are only 5-10,000 sealskins annually that come from animals older than a year that are available in Canada. Given such major purchases of skins from seal pups on the Canadian market, through Great Greenland A/S, Greenland’s Home Rule Government is a decisive player in the Canadian trappers’ business.
The official Greenland version of the trade in sealskins
Nowhere does Great Greenland A/S inform its customers that up to half of the skins sold by the company come from Canadian seal pups. The following statement comes from Great Greenland’s web site:
“When you hold sealskin from Greenland in your hand, you are holding the essence of Greenland’s nature and culture. The strong, beautiful skins from free-living animals have been the pride of Greenlanders for thousands of years. The surplus of skins are purchased all over Greenland…”.
On 30 March 2005, Greenland’s Home Rule Government wrote in an international press release on its web site:
“In Greenland, it is difficult to see the connection between possible problems with the Canadian hunt of seal pups and the wishes to ban the import of sealskin and other seal products. In Greenland, the seal hunt is based on sustainability and therefore there is no reason at all for not buying fur coats made of sealskin or other seal products.”
Video footage of the hunt that took place last March in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is available on the Humane Society of the United States’ web site at:
and click on “Disturbing footage from the 2005 Seal Hunt” on the right hand side of the web page.
Information about the Canadian seal hunt where veterinarians’ reports can also be obtained is at:
Great Greenland A/S’ web site:
Greenland’s Home Rule Government web site on seal pup hunting: