Commercial seal hunts in Norway and Canada have been given the green light to continue as “essential” activities despite full or partial lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. In Norway, the Ministry of Fisheries recently announced that this year’s harp seal hunt can proceed with a quota to kill 18,548 seals. The only concession to COVID-19 infection risks is that no animal welfare inspectors are allowed onboard hunting vessels, contrary to usual practice. 

Animal-rights groups Humane Society International (HSI) and Norwegian group NOAH have written to the Norwegian government to express their dismay at the hunt being permitted during a global pandemic. As well as the hunt breaching social distancing recommendations, the absence of an inspector raises additional animal-welfare concerns for a hunt that has seen several animal cruelty convictions in the past.

Along the Atlantic Ocean in Canada, the commercial seal hunt has been allowed to continue despite most people in the country being under strict public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the threat of hunters, harp seals in Canada are already at risk due to climate change melting the sea ice habitat on which they rely for breeding. Whale hunts in Japan are also scheduled to continue. “It’s disturbing to think that while all over the world people are making extraordinary sacrifices to stop the spread of COVID-19, whalers and sealers are carrying on with their bloody business as usual, risking infection spread amongst crews and their families,” Claire Bass, executive director of HSI in the United Kingdom, said. “We urge the Norwegian, Canadian and Japanese governments to call an immediate stop to these cruel and unnecessary hunts.”

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