What's the origin of "club a baby seal"

I’ve seen this term used, apparently to describe someone heartless. Is there any particular story behind it, because I can’t imagine that anyone has actually clubbed a baby seal before, except maybe Eskimos who intend to eat it.

Actually, clubbing is a common method wherever seals are hunted, and this goes well beyond Eskimos (or the more acceptable term; Inuit). Hunting “whitecoats” (i.e. young harp seals that still have their protective white fur) was banned in Canada in 1987 but by then enough video footage existed to permanently burn the image into the public perception. Older harp seals, and seals generally, are still taken in large numbers (check out the Newfoundland annual hunt) and using a club is a lot cheaper than using a rifle.

Video not for the squeamish

Well according to this page over 80,000 baby seals were clubbed to death in Namibia in 2006.

Along with whale hunting, this used to be one of the big environmental and animal cruelty issues, but other Big Deals have overshadowed it somewhat.

I think it may also be less widespread than it used to be, which is another reason you don’t hear about it much anymore.

And the phrase entered common usage during the several years prior to the hunting prohibitions. Since, as with many mammals, colonies of seals tend to give birth in the same month, at a certain point, the number of white-furred baby seals would hit a “harvestable” number and large hunts would be organized. At some point, this came to the attention of people who were outraged by the hunts and for several years there was a lot of excitement about people attempting to stop the hunts in very public ways, recording as much of it as possible on film.

Since seals are not particularly frightened of humans, (who walk among them rather than running at them as wolves might), a baby seal hunt presents a graphic view of what appears to be wanton cruelty as the sealers walk among the seals simply clubbing the babies to death. (Clubbing does not mar the hide as a knife, spear, or bullet would do.)

One result was a series of posters, (one more famous than the rest), that adorned the halls of every campus dorm, with a large-eyed, soulful looking baby seal staring into the camera.


I thought “Inuit” was no better a term than “Eskimo”, as there are lots of hyperborean humans who aren’t Inuit and resent being lumped in with those who are?

Baby harp seal

I think one of the issues that made the seal hunt so controversial worldwide is that the animals being killed are a) extremely cute and b) inherently helpless.

Cute and helpless, combined with a repulsive method of dispatch–it’s a nightmare.

Personally, I would really prefer Canada did not conduct these hunts, but if the animals in question were less appealing and didn’t hit the “aww…” reflex, I wonder if the issue would have become so globally notorious?

A baby seal walks into a bar…

Bartendender says, “What’ll you have.”

“Anything but a Canadian Club.”

Well someone had to say it.

There was also the issue that they were being killed for their fur, a luxury product that people wanted rather than needed.

Inuit tends to be the word preferred to the East while Eskimo identifies a separate ethnic group on the far West. By the accident of European invasion plus geography, Eskimo tends to be considered an insult throughout most of Canada. There are Inuit in Alaska, but the larger number of indigenes in Alaska use the word Eskimo. There are also several false etymologies purporting to “show” why Eskimo is an insult, although they are pretty far off the mark.

Mostly it comes down to the typical human situation of one group lumping a lot of other groups together as if they were one, then sticking a label on them. (As when Brits and Aussies referred to citizens of Georgia or Alabama as “Yanks” during WWII or when guys from the States called Scots or Welsh “English.”) When the lumpers/labelers have political power, the labeled find it insulting and when the labeled begin to assert their own political power, the labels become bones of contention.

I can’t resist.

I can’t believe I’ve never heard that. That’s gold.

As others have said, the clubbing is the traditional method of “harvesting” fur seals.

As an example, here are the lyrics to a traditional song about it: Ferryland Sealer.

Others have covered all of this already but, to add emphasis to things, seal clubbing is real and it got picked up literally as an animal rights poster child in the 80’s - early 90’s and all youngish people at the time were exposed to it. It wasn’t obscure at all and some of the backlash accused animal rights groups of exploiting only the cute animals to further their cause.

I remember back in the early nineties when the animal right activists where all up in arms about seal hunting and whaling here in norway. The results - a marked decline in seal hunting with thousands of seals starving to death along the beaches due to lack of food, after consuming a large proportion of the fish in coastal waters. Not a pretty sight at all…

So yeah, clubbing cute little baby seals looks bad, but the alternative is much worse. Watching them starve to death almost on your front porch. At least the rules where changed somewhat, so seal cubs are no longer hunted, they get at least a year or so of living before the hunters go after them. And the methods has been changed somewhat, but clubbing remain the most effective and humane (believe it or not) method.

I hate to do this, but cite that this is a natural occurrence and not due to human-related fishery depletion?

One of the most blackly humorous things I ever saw was a short informational film that had been produced by some Canadian government agency or other, probably back in the 1970s or thereabouts, quite obviously before the baby harp seal slaughter had achieved any widespread notoriety among animal rights groups. Maybe it was actually that film that initially called attention to the practice, I don’t know. As I recall, the film was evidently intended to lure business to Canada by pointing out the vast wealth of natural resources that was just lying around, in this case right out on the ice.

So the film depicted all these loving shots of adorable harp seal pups, looking up at the camera with their big moony eyes, all fuzzy and cuddly in the snow. Then a greasy-looking guy in a parka would step into shot, bludgeon it to death with a baseball bat, then immediately flip it over and start skinning it. Then there were all these shots of big piles of steaming, freshly bleeding pelts being stacked up on an icebreaker, with all these flensed baby seal carcasses lying around, as the narrator droned on about Canada’s rich untapped bounty.

All this was supposed to encourage people to come to Canada. Honestly, how oblivious can you get?

Oh, I’m sure its related to the fact that we’re over-fishing (is that even a possible word combination in English?). Therefore hunting seals is necescary if we want to continue fishing and avoid similar incidents.