March 16, 2005
(Fisheries and Aquaculture)
White coat seals
manipulated in lobby groups’ fundraising campaign
"White coats" have not been harvested
since 1987, but there is evidence that they are being exploited by
the anti-sealing interest groups who profit from Eastern Canada’s
It has long been recognized in Newfoundland and Labrador that the
white coat (which references a harp seal’s white fur that molts away
after approximately three weeks) is a critical component to some
lobbyists’ fundraising campaigns. A harvesting and trading ban of
white coats has existed under Marine Mammal Regulations since 1987.
However, some political action committees appear to rely on the
donations that are generated in response to their blatant promotion
of such images.
"We respect even extremist groups’ right to disagree with
Newfoundland and Labrador’s cultural, historical, and economic links
with the seal harvest," says Trevor Taylor, Minister of Fisheries
and Aquaculture. "But many anti-seal groups must come clean. They
purposely promote the more appealing image of white coats, which
have not been harvested for almost two decades. It’s time that they
stopped exploiting these seals for their own fundraising purposes."
To substantiate his claim, the minister documented images of white
coat seals that were collected from environmental organizations’ Web
sites on March 10, 2005. Fourteen of 22 lobby group Web sites
discussing the seal harvest displayed one or more images of white
coats, typically in a high profile manner. (A fact sheet follows)
"Not every organization concerned with the seal harvest promotes
photos of white coats. But the most vocal activists do, typically in
a blatant attempt to tug at your heart as a means to tugging at your
purse strings," says the minister. "These people use photos of white
coats to sustain a myth and to generate an emotional response. How
do you take action? You donate to a lobby group to stop a harvest
that ended in 1987."
This misrepresentation contributes to the reasons why such
organizations’ arguments fail to resonate among sealers,
journalists, and members of the public. For example, the only two
photographs of seals on the Animal Alliance of Canada’s site were of
white coats, and yet that same organization circulated an article in
its Spring 2004 newsletter stating that the Canadian government
"continues to mislead" the public about the seal harvest.
Today’s seal harvest is environmentally sustainable and remains both
economically and culturally important to some remote coastal areas
of Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the sealing industry
employs thousands of harvesters and hundreds of plant workers on a
seasonal basis. In 2004, the landed value of seals in the province
was $15.4 million, and produced a market value of over $45 million
for products such as pelts, Omega-3 oil, and meat.
Use of white coats in anti-seal groups’ Web sites
The following is a summary of the use
of white coat images collected from a sample of advocacy groups’ Web
sites. The review was performed on March 10, 2005.
Sampled Sites Discussing Seals and Using Images of White Coats
Animal Alliance of Canada: The only two seal photos on the seal
harvest section were of white coats.
Animal Protection Institute: The only photograph of a seal was a
Boycott Canada: The largely text-based Web site displayed a drawing
of a white coat in its main banner.
Fundacion Altarriba: Displayed at least one photo of a white coat
accompanying an adult seal.
Global Action Network: Displayed at least one photo of a white coat.
Harpseals.org: The site’s homepage included a Macromedia Flash
presentation that included photos of white coats. Of five seal
photos the most prominent was of a white coat.
Humane Society of the United States: The banner photograph at the
top of all seal harvest pages was of a white coat. Another photo was
of a white coat appearing to suckle its mother.
HSUS Fund for Animals: The Web site’s homepage had a photo of a
white coat and an adult placed in the centre.
International Fund for Animal Welfare: Multiple photos of white
coats, one of which was accompanied by a staff member. The left-hand
side banner on the home page prominently displayed a white coat with
the text "Protecting animals and their environments worldwide." A
March 8, 2005 news release posted on the United Kingdom version of
the site stated "IFAW today issued pictures taken within the last 24
hours of harp seal pups off Canada’s east coast. These pups are
between five and ten days old, and still being suckled by their
mothers on the ice…It is legal to kill a harp seal pup as soon as it
begins to moult its white coat at around 12 days old."
International Wildlife Coalition: The site’s banner on its seal
harvest page had the words "Stop the Canadian seal hunt" emblazoned
across a photo of a white coat. At the bottom of the page was a loop
of photos of white coats; text such as "please help me" was
Organisation Internationale pour la Protection des Animaux: Tab on
homepage linking to protests, and a description of these protests,
used images of white coat seals.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: The seal section of the
site’s "Fur Is Dead" campaign displayed a photograph of a white
Sea Shepard Conservation Society: The centre of the site’s home page
displayed a photo of a white coat under the title "Help save the
seals!" The site’s seals page had four photographs of white coats.
One was overlapped by a photograph of celebrity Martin Sheen and one
photo named "PWwithwhitecoat" was of SSCS founder Paul Watson
holding a white coat. Numerous other white coat photos on the site
abound, including ones of workers "Allison" and "Ian" cuddling white
coats as part of public service video shoot.
World Society for the Protection of Animals: The site’s section on
seals had a single large photograph of a white coat.
Sampled Sites Discussing Seals Without Images of White Coats
Earth Island Institute
Humane Society International Asia
Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Vancouver Humane Society
World Wildlife Fund
Media contact: Alex Marland, Communications, (709) 729-3733,
2005 03 16