Grey seals are scapegoated, says researcher

Award-winning Coast contributor Linda Pannozzo details her argument in new book.

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The grey seal is a political and social scapegoat, a convenient distraction from tackling the hard issues facing Canada’s fisheries, says award-winning journalist Linda Pannozzo. She details that argument in her new book, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: An Investigation into the Scapegoating of Canada’s Grey Seal.

Pannozzo began studying the seal issue in 2009, as the provincial NDP government was proposing to change the Wilderness Protection Act to allow hunting of grey seals on Hay Island.

Pannozzo watched testimony before the Law Amendments Committee, and her book includes an absurd exchange between Harold Theriault, then the Liberal MLA for Digby-Annapolis, and Hal Whitehead, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University. Theriault told Whitehead that the Australian government had instituted a cull of kangaroos, because the roos were interfering with golf course and were a road hazard.

“If there were eight million seals here on our land in Nova Scotia to Labrador,” asked Theriault, “eight million, and they were disturbing our golfing and driving up and down the roads, do you believe they would have a cull of the seal herd?” In response, Whitehead said he didn’t think seals would ever interfere our highways. The committee voted against the change, but was overruled by the NDP caucus.

The following year, Pannozzo discovered a federal plan to kill nearly a quarter of a million seals on Sable Island, using incinerators to dispose of the carcasses. She published her discovery in The Coast in May of 2010 (“How to kill 220,000 seals on Sable Island: the DFO plan"), garnering international attention. A month later, Pannozzo and Coast contributing editor Bruce Wark published a detailed examination of the issue ("Sable Island’s cod killer?"), for which they won an Atlantic Journalism Award. The book follows two more years of research by Pannozzo.

“The real reasons why the cod haven’t recovered would require an awful lot of change on our part, and a seal cull doesn’t require any,” says Pannozzo. “Killing the grey seal doesn’t require us to change our fishing practices or to deal with climate change.”

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