It's dog eat dog in the killing fields

The strangest story of the week has to be the news that Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, loves little furry seals. The po-faced former KGB operator has publicly stated that the culling of puppy-faced harp seals, is a ‘bloody trade’.

As soon as his words were broadcast, the trade was banned by the Natural Resources and Ecology Ministry. In a way Putin’s sentimentality is likely to have the same effect as his predecessor Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of irritant nations within the old soviets. For the fur traders around the White Sea have no other business while the oceans are frozen over, the seals – by no means an endangered species – are vital to their communities until they can fish again.

I joined the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior back in the early 80s and steamed out to the harp seal killing grounds off Newfoundland. I was ready with my pen to tear the sealers to shreds. But I came away with a different view. These people need the trade when they cannot fish and have seen it as a heaven sent opportunity for hundreds of years. It’s true that only the pelts are taken now, whereas the whole carcass was used in the past. That is the only unfortunate and debatably ‘moral’ dilemma faced by the sealers.

But as one sealer put it to me ‘At first I looked at the suckling pups and felt sick, but after a while I just thought of my own kids and bashed even harder.’ The point is that clubbing them is the quickest way of despatching them. Guns would be deadly on ice and expensive. The seals are prolific breeders and will never be made extinct. If it were the pelts of rats which women wanted for overcoats we would never have heard about this trade.

Should Russia’s Natural Resources and Ecology Minister, Yuri Trutnev, discover harp seal sanctuaries are jeopardising the drilling for oil or gas, he may get another, less publicised directive from Putin. Mr Trutnev will then discover for himself that a club is the most ecological tool for the job.