NEWS FROM THE WORLD OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Estonians could regain the right to hunt seals
August 29, 2010
A news that should make us think: the 500 residents of the small island Kihnu, 40 km southeast of Pärnu, in the Gulf of Riga (Estonia) in the Baltic Sea, could regain the right to hunt the gray seal (Halichoerus grypus), which is prohibited to date from a moratorium that lasted 30 years. The inhabitants of the island have in fact claimed the right of being able to return to eat seal meat at the local Ministry, as their tradition dictates, as the population of the pinniped has increased and therefore it should be possible to resume hunting. In fact, according to the Ministry, the gray seal population has increased from 1,500 to 4,000 in the last ten years thanks to the better conditions of the Baltic Sea. As a result of this request, the government is therefore drafting a bill to make the reopening of hunting legal, estimating that 1% of gray seals per year could be hunted, calculated on those counted in the previous year.
The issue is complicated, however, by the fact that the competent authorities are considering whether to give this permission only to the inhabitants of the island of Kihnu or whether to extend the privilege to other neighboring islands as well. Why should only the few inhabitants of Kihnu be favored? Seals are mobile animals, which also go to nearby islands, so why not give the inhabitants of the other islands the opportunity to hunt them too? Furthermore, the local authorities are discussing another serious issue: recognizing the right to hunt only to the descendants of the first inhabitants of the island or even to newcomers who have nothing to do with local traditions but have only bought a house on the island. .
It makes us think how in an era where we talk about animal rights, animals in extinction, marine reserves ... there are still those who, to "safeguard the tradition of eating a seal stew", ask to reopen the hunt for an animal considered threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List.
Surveys indicate a total population of around 10,000 throughout the Baltic, mainly in the Swedish and Finnish areas and in Estonian waters. This figure represents a remarkable recovery of a population that was around 2,000 in 1970, but it is estimated that a century ago, the Baltic had a population of around 100,000 gray seals. Hunting was the main cause of their decline until 1940, while reproductive problems, diseases, pollution, were the main problems from 1960 to today.
Today gray seals die because they are trapped in fishing nets and it is not known what figures can be talked about because fishermen are not required to report these catches. Furthermore, it is now established that the meat and fat, especially of the Baltic Sea gray seal compared to other populations living in other areas of the world, are loaded with pollutants such as PCB and DDT in consideration of the fact that they are coastal animals living in the vicinity of cities and the Baltic Sea is a particularly polluted sea, as well as residues of trace elements such as mercury, cadmium, lead and selenium have been found. In addition, all gray seals are carriers of the Morbillivirus, ie the «Distemper virus of seals» (PDV), in all populations of the world, including those of the Baltic Sea. There have also been significant increases in intestinal ulcers, the cause of which is still unknown, and a significant decrease in the thickness of fat in the tissues over the past 10 years.
As a result of these observations, the gray seals of the Baltic Sea do not seem healthy animals whose meat can be eaten without reflecting on what you are doing, so the question arises: why want to hunt an animal whose edible use is very doubtful?