Give Seals a Chance: An Interview with Paul McCartney
By Tanya Mulford
In the halls of their hotel, walking from the taping of an interview on the Canadian seal hunt for the Larry King Live show to the taping of their next interview, Heather and Paul McCartney broke into song. "All we are saying is give seals a chance," they sang to the reporters intent on capturing their every move during a recent visit to Prince Edward Island. The trip had been planned to draw international attention to the plight of the seals who, only now being born on the ice in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence, are doomed to be bludgeoned and shot to death in a few weeks. "Give seals a chance," the McCartneys sang, looking directly into the cameras.
Later, while Heather mapped out strategy with the ProtectSeals team, Paul took a few moments to talk about, among other things, their involvement with the campaign to end the seal hunt, what kind of reception they received in Canada, and how he thinks ending the seal hunt would benefit everyone, including sealers.
HSUS: How did you and Heather first become involved in the campaign to protect the seals?
Paul McCartney: Originally, many years ago, like a lot of people, we started seeing footage on the television of the seal hunt, and then in the 60s, people like Brigitte Bardot coming out to the ice brought a lot of attention to it for us over in Europe... and so, really, I think it's just a 40-year knowledge of the fact that this happens is what drew me to it originally. And then we were invited over to come and see this year - 2006 - and come and see the pups firsthand, so we were very happy to accept the invitation.
HSUS: What was it like to travel to the ice?
PM: The most striking thing about being on the ice was the natural beauty, the fact that it is a really pristine wildlife spectacle. And as you fly in, as we did, in a helicopter, you start to see one or two seals on the ice, and then you see more, and then you see more and more - and then you can see that each one is accompanied by a white pup. And as you get in, you just realize the sheer magnificence of the wildlife spectacle. And it gives you an even stronger feeling that this has got to be preserved for future generations.
You just realize the sheer magnificence of the wildlife spectacle. And it gives you an even stronger feeling that this has got to be preserved for future generations.
HSUS: Do you feel any desire to see the hunt?
PM: Not really. In truth, it may be chicken of me, but that's not something I would find very easy to do. Heather and I had said that if we were witness to that, we'd be very tempted to try to get in and stop them. So I don't think that would be a particularly good idea. We will no doubt see it on film, unless it's stopped - miraculously - in time. And, as I say, we have seen film in the past. It is a tragedy, and that’s why we're here, trying to get people to consider alternate solutions, to move forward.
HSUS: If you could speak to the sealers, what would you say to them?
PM: I would say to them that this is a brutal practice and that they know it. I don't think for one second that they think that what they're doing is humane. From what we've heard, they will club a seal, it becomes their property, they move on; they'll club another seal, it becomes their property, they move on; and they'll move through hundreds of seals. Obviously, with one single blow - or a couple of blows with the club or the pick - they're not necessarily going to put these animals out of their misery.
I would say to them, "This is brutal. We are now in the 21st Century. Why don't you yourselves start talking to your government, why don't you, through your union and through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, start saying 'Look, how about a license buy-back program?'" It would mean that they would be compensated. It would mean that the stain on Canada's character as a nation would be cleared up. It would then also mean that sealers would have some compensation. They would then have a future in the same way as whale-watching has become a great success. (Canada banned commercial whaling in 1972; since that time the whale-watching industry has thrived and is worth more than the seal hunt.) This area could be one of the key locations that tourists from all over the world come to, to view this magnificent spectacle.
It is a tragedy, and that's why we're here, trying to get people to consider alternate solutions, to move forward.
Heather and I would say to the sealers, "Consider the options - don't be frightened, and don't automatically set yourselves against ending the hunt. Just quietly, now, talk amongst yourselves, talk with the government about your options. And before making a decision, just look and see if there is anything that would provide a solution for everyone involved."
HSUS: What would you say if you were to speak to Prime Minister Harper? (The McCartneys attempted repeatedly to speak with recently elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper during their visit to Canada, but they were told that he was in meetings.)
PM: I would put the arguments to him. I would suggest the whale-watching argument because you have a clear success on your hands there. And the circumstances are pretty similar, where you've got a magnificent stock of wildlife right on your doorstep, and instead of taking this kind of advantage of it, by brutally clubbing them - or whatever methods used - to death, enhance the reputation of Canada. Because, other than this, Canada has a great reputation in the world. And the seal hunt is one huge stain on that reputation.
I would suggest that Prime Minster Harper try to take advantage, perhaps, of our visit, which will have focused attention on the issue. Instead of shirking the issue and saying "Well, it's humane, it's this, that, and the other, and we want to continue doing it," look at some radical solutions: Look at the solution offered by ecotourism and look at a license buy-back program, because then things like the boycott of Canadian seafood that's happening around the world would end. This would be one way to immediately end the boycott, which is losing Canada countless millions of dollars.
I would suggest to Harper that he and his team look at an overall program with which they can attack this problem and not feel bullied into it. The last thing we want to do is make the Canadians feel that we're telling them what to do. We are, though, asking them to consider an alternative to the hunt - for their own sake as much as for the sake of the world community and for the seals. There's something here that could be done that would be a win-win situation for everybody involved, including the animals.
HSUS: What kind of reception did you receive in Canada?
PM: I think we got as good a reception as we could have got. We didn't breeze in and breeze out and not look at the other side of the question. We listened to a lot of people, had a long conversation with a man from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (the McCartneys were approached during their flight to Prince Edward Island by a representative of the DFO, who appears to have taken that flight in order to present the government's position on the seal hunt) who put his point of view quite well. He asked us to have an open mind, and we said, "We ask you to do the same thing."
The last thing we want to do is make the Canadians feel that we're telling them what to do. We are, though, asking them to consider an alternative to the hunt - for their own sake as much as for the sake of the world community and for the seals.
We feel that amongst the people of Canada, we had a good reception. We hope that we haven't left any anger amongst the sealers, because we are basically trying to help them. It's just that our opinion is different: We do feel, along with millions of people in the world, who - well, you could say that: "Well, they don't live here, so they're interfering," but it's just not true. This is an international issue - it has to do with international morals - and everyone in the world is allowed to have an opinion about it.
HSUS: Do you have a message for all the people working to protect the seals?
PM: I'd like to say to all the people who are involved in this campaign, and have been, and will be in the future, "Thanks for your great efforts. Now that we've been out here and seen for ourselves first-hand the beautiful wildlife spectacle, it is even more important that people like yourselves are working day and night to try to bring some justice to the situation. I believe that with a concerted effort, we all can come together. This may be the beginning of the end for the seal hunt. We pray that that's so, and we thank you for every bit of help you've given - onward and upward!"
*The Canadian government has successfully implemented many license buy-back (also known as license retirement) programs in the wake of fisheries closures. In these programs, the government buys back fishing licenses from fishermen, compensating them for lost revenue resulting from fishery closures. A sealing license buy-back program would fairly compensate fishermen (who hunt seals in the off season) affected by the permanent closure of the commercial seal hunt.
Tanya Mulford is the web editor for The HSUS's Wildlife and Habitat Protection section.