Humane Observer Report - 2008 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 250 years on the Pribilof Islands. During this time period, the native Privilovians 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 twenty-five years (1984-2008). The harvest is a well planned and orderly procedure. Young male northern fur seals 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, Spraker 1987-2007. This report will be limited to my observations of the humane activities of the northern fur seal harvest from 12 July to 10 August 2008.
Multiple factors were evaluated during this harvest. These factors included environmental conditions, methods of gathering and driving the animals and the harvesting of animals. These three areas will be discussed separately.
Northern fur seals were gathered and harvested 7 times this year (5, 8, 14 and 15 July and 6, 7 and 8 August) from four haulout areas (Polovina-twice, Big Zapadni-thrice, Gorbatch-once and Zapadni Sands–once). A total of 332 seals were killed during 2008 in 7 harvests. Of these of 329 were subadult male animals and three were females. One was killed on 6 August at Polovina, one on 7 August on Big Zapadni and the other on 8 August at Gorbatch.