Friday, March 27, 2009

The Seal Hunt and Catholic Thinking

Protests over animal rights have grown louder and louder in recent years. Many believe killing animals for any reason is immoral. Others believe using animals for fur goes too far. Some seem to be against only killing certain types of animals. Do any of these positions make sense, and should Catholics have any concern for animals, and to what degree?

Recently one of the main protests for animals has been over the seal hunt. The seal hunt takes place annually in Newfoundland and other parts of Canada. In Newfoundland there are around 500,000 people, but there are approximately 5.5 million seals. That means there are about 11 seals for every man, woman, and child in the province. Trying to imagine a herd of 5.5 million animals is very difficult. These seals are slaughtered, sometimes with gaffs, long sticks with a hook on them. According to DFO, this method kills the animals quickly and efficiently.

Why do people protest the seal hunt more than other animal killings? I believe there are several key reasons.

1) 99% of the world have nothing to do with seals. They are a foreign animal that have little relevance to people. Therefore, seeking to end the seal hunt will have no effect on most peoples' lives. Compare this to protests against eating chicken. Most people eat chicken, so people would then be forced to weigh their animal rights activism with their desired diet.

2) Seals can look very cute. "Baby" seals, who are basically balls of fluff which float around joyfully in the ocean create a very cute image. People personify these little pups and almost make them out to be human. People do not protest snakes being killed or manatees, but people find an affinity with seal pups. They are cute little muppet-like creatures. This of course is illogical. A seal is no more human than a rat, so to judge whether something ought to be killed or be protected based on looks is poor judgment.

3) The terms used evoke emotion. People have been saying "baby" seals so long, it has become common parlance. But think about it. How can we call any animal a "baby". A baby by definition is a human child. I believe it is wrong to call any animal a baby. This has been an effective way for animals rights activists to gain support for their cause. By personifying animals, they evoke clear emotions. You might not mind people culling sea-mammals, but you might well have a big problem with vicious blood-thirsty sealers "murdering defenseless baby seals".

We of course have a responsibility toward animals. God put us on this Earth to be guardians of it and its inhabitants. But we are also in charge of nature and it is here for our benefit. This is hard for many people to hear. I saw an episode of Kill of the Hill, and there was an environmentalist lady there who was praising environmental efforts, and she said it's almost as good as if humans had never existed. Although many people will not say this out loud, behind the scenes, this is what they are thinking. We cannot confuse our human love and compassion with the respect owed to animals. If we do, we do not value animals more, but rather we value humans less. From my own experience, some of the strongest animals rights activists are also very much for abortion. Ironic, isn't it.

Let's look at Catholic teaching on animals:

The Seventh Commandment, according to Catholic Tradition, is "Thou shall not steal". The Catechism puts our obligations towards animals in this category. It states the following:

2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.195 Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.196

2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.197 Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.198 Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

Therefore, we ought to respect animals, but we should never value them more than humanity.

St. Thomas Aquinas felt the main problem with abusing animals was that it could carry over to our interactions with other people. Here he is rightly ordering our concerns for our fellow man vs. that of animals.

As long as the seal hunt is done in a way that minimizes animal suffering within reason, and is done sustainably, it should be continued for it provides clothing, food, and medicine to humanity.


  1. That was one the most self centred pieces of rubbish I have ever read. Humans are dying every day. And so they should. They will never face extinction by the hand of another species. I am impressed when Mother Nature shows off and cleans a few up. How can you justify the fact that humans are better than any "animal"? They are not. They have no idea how to like with respect or have a symbiotic lifestyle. Pray for your money, pray for your grades, pray for a good life. You lack the ability to do any of these greedy things without a crux to relieve you of your responsibility.

  2. When I clicked on G-Man, it linked me to a page titled Vaticide666. I'm not sure what that means but there are a couple of elements. Obviously 666 is the number of the beast in the book of Revelation. Vaticide could mean anything, but usually things ending in cide mean to kill, and vati could be referring to the Vatican. I hope you do not have such intentions, and perhaps you can clarify your name.

    I'm interested that you decided to post in this forum, but I will try to address your issue. First of all, this is a Catholic blog. We believe God created the universe and this world with a purpose in mind. There is a way to live and behave which conforms to this world. We are stewards of creation, which one can clearly see. We are unique from other animals in our ability to reason, have morality, make laws, to truly love one another, etc. We have a rational soul, whereas animals have only an animating spirit.

    I will assume that you do not approach this topic from a religious point of view. In that case, there is still good reason for humans to eat meat. First of all, our biology presupposes this. We have teeth designed to eat meat. Human populations from around the world have consistently eaten meat without realizing any other group was doing the same.

    In the case of the seal hunt, it would be greedy to cull every seal and have none left, but as it is now, the hunt is very renewable. We make sure only to hunt as many seals as necessary to maintain the population or for the population to grow a little each year. We are not obliterating the population. Of course, seals have natural predators as well, and we are one.

    The Church always believes we must respect the Earth and its creation, but respect has natural guidelines. Respecting nature for example does not mean never going for a walk in the woods. This would be an unnatural respect, and in fact would not be respectful at all.

    Thanks for your comments, and I pray that God will be with you.

  3. I reread your comment and perhaps I should be a little more worried than I first let on. Humans do not "deserve" to die. We deserve to live and love God. All people have the right to life, from conception to natural death. Is it not ironic that you have more concern for animal life than for human life? Would you really value a worm more than your brother or sister?

  4. I believe in very strict hunting laws and respect for animals and nature but if seals are not on the edge of being extinct then (and the hunting methods are not painful to the animals) I see no reason whatsoever for G-Man's attack on Phil. And even if we were to compare to animals - why should humans deserve to die? That's beyond my understanding.