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The people of Greenland should be allowed to continue hunting seals, according to evironmental protection organisations WWF and Greenpeace. A WWF biologist interviewed over the weekend said the hunt was part of the Greenlandic culture.
“Even though Greenlandic culture is becoming more urbanised, it is still very much based in nature,” biologist Eva Garde told Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “It is a lifestyle still based on finding food just outside one’s door and the WWF prefers that Greenlanders trap seals than import chicken and increase the world’s carbon dioxide footprint.”
Tightening EU restrictions on the sale of seal products, coupled with declining consumer interest in sealskin in the wake of Greenpeace campaigns against sealing in Canada, where - unlike Greenland - seal pups are clubbed, have led to the collapse of Greenland’s sealskin exports.
Exports of sealskin have fallen from 60 million to 6 million since 2006, and Tønnes Berthelsen, a spokesperson for Greenland’s Professional Hunting and Fishing Organisation (KNAPK) said that families in Greenland are suffering.
“These are not huge commercial enterprises,” said Berthelsen. “These are families that can no longer sustain themselves.”
The situation means that Inuit men can no longer take care of their families as they have for hundreds of years and women are being forced to try to find work, according to Berthelsen.
A way of life Berthelsen wasn’t sure what the opposition to Greenland’s seal hunt was based on.
“There are 16 million seals in Greenland, and we only hunt 150,000 each year,” he said.
Hunters in Greenland know they have an uphill battle against what Berthelsen called a “professional propaganda campaign” against seal hunting.
He said that grisly images of the blood of baby seals drenching the white snow, popularised by the Greenpeace campaign, didn’t reflect the reality of Greenlandic hunters responsibly taking a small number of mature seals every year.
“Those pictures are not from Greenland,” said Berthelsen.
Greenpeace, which normally comes down heavily against seal hunting, described the Greenlandic hunt as “sustainable”.
“We have no problem with hunters in Greenland,” said Jon Burgwald of Greenpeace Arctic.
A slow death Dyrenes Beskyttelse, a Danish animal rights group, disagreed with the environmental organisations, especially because Greenlandic hunters use nets to trap seals under the ice, resulting in their slowly drowning.
“It is definitely wrong to catch seals with nets under the ice so they cannot breath,” said Michael Carlsen, a spokesperson for Dyrenes Beskyttelse Jyllands-Posten. “It is a reprehensible way to hunt.”
But, according to Henrik Sandgreen, the head of KNAPK, net trapping was the only method available to hunters.
“In northern Greenland it is totally dark all day long for two months in the winter, so net trapping is the only option,” he said. “Seal hunting is enormously important because there is no other work way out in the country.”
Sandgreen welcomed suggestions for alternative methods. “But I don’t see what they could be in pitch darkness under extreme conditions.”
For the WWF, the importance of seals to Greenlandic society as a resource, was an important factor on their decision to support the hunt.
“So long as the catch is sustainable in biological terms, and the seal thrives before it is trapped, we have no problem with the hunt,” Garde said. “We would prefer that the seals die instantly, but that is not always possible.”