Humane Observer Report - 1996 Fur Seal Harvest on St. Paul Island
Independent observer report on the northern fur seal subsistence harvest
Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) have been harvested for their pelts for the last 200 years on the Pribilof lslands. During this time period, the native Pribilovians could freely take the meat of the harvested animals for food. On St. Paul Island, the commercial harvest for pelts ceased in 1984; therefore a subsistence harvest began with only immature males taken for food. This subsistence harvest has continued for the last thirteen years (1984-1996).
The harvest is a well planned and orderly procedure. Young male Northern fur seals usually 2 to 5 years of age are gathered by driving them from their haul out areas to a specific killing field where they are held in a large pod. Five to ten seals are then cut from this large pod and driven to a group of three to four men who stun the animals by hitting them on the skull or upper neck with a solid wooden club. The animals are dragged a short distance away from the killing area where the chest and heart are cut·open. The animals are then skinned and butchered for human consumption. For a more detailed description of the procedures of the harvest, see Humane Observer Report: Stoskopf 1984; Letcher, 1985; Dorsey, 1986; Zimmerman et. al., 1986. This report will be limited to my observations of the humane activities of the fur seal harvest for July and August 1996.