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Group reaches across nation to save seals

Sep 20 2012
A harp seal, one of two at a Quebec aquarium, saved from a death sentence after a petition. 

A harp seal, one of two at a Quebec aquarium, saved from a death sentence after a petition.

Photograph by: Submitted , Times Colonist

Two harp seals at an aquarium in Quebec have been given a reprieve from imminent execution with the help of a small animal welfare group on Saltspring Island.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada on Tuesday granted the Aquarium des Iles-de-la-Madeleine, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, permission to release Zak and Mika, two harp seals captured by DFO and on display since spring.

For the past 25 years, seals captured for the aquarium by DFO have been released back into the wild in the fall. This year, the aquarium was told by DFO that the seals must be euthanized because of a new policy on health threats to wild marine mammal populations. They were scheduled to be killed last Saturday.

One of the workers at the aquarium sent out an SOS to animal welfare organizations across Canada. The situation came to the attention of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, and the animal rights group turned to the Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre.

"They asked what we could do to help and we got on board and it just grew like Topsy," said Jackie Ballerone, director of the Saltspring Island centre.

An online petition launched by the centre garnered more than 140,000 signatures in less than two weeks. The International Fund for Animal Welfare was asked for help and emails of protest poured in to DFO and the aquarium.

"Island Wildlife learned that, this year, the aquarium agreed to take the pups despite advance knowledge that they would face execution when the tourist season ended," Ballerone said.

"Once that became public knowledge, the ensuing massive outcry forced everyone involved to take another look."

In a letter sent Tuesday to the aquarium, Sylvette Leblanc, DFO acting area director, says "considering the current situation surrounding the case - DFO has no objections to the fact that you release the two harp seals currently kept at the aquarium."

The public outcry initially prompted the aquarium to call for donations of $73,000 so the seals could be transported to a facility in Brest, France, but IFAW and the Wildlife Centre were adamant they should be released.

The aquarium thanked its donors Tuesday on Facebook for contributing to the cost of keeping the seals until they are released.

"We intend to proceed to the release of the seals at sea as soon as possible," says the posting, written in French.

"They will be well taken care of to ensure their good health and welfare."


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