UPDATE: We are happy to announce that on Tuesday, September 18, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) finally gave the Aquarium des Iles permission to release Zak and Mika into the wild. We would like to thank the 140,000 animal advocates and lovers who signed the petition! “The sudden and unexpected decision by the Department of Fisheries & Oceans to allow the seals to be released back into the wild brought a collective sigh of relief from everyone who has been working so hard to save the lives of these two innocents,” said Jackie Ballerone, Director of the IWNCC. The aquarium plans to proceed with rehabilitation as soon as possible to ensure the seals’ good health.
Alisa Manzelli, Global Animal
Two harp seal pups slated for death at the Aquarium des Iles in Quebec, Canada were granted temporary reprieve on Saturday due to an overwhelming public outcry from animal activists all over the world. The six-month-old pups, Zak and Mika, were to be killed on Saturday after the aquarium in the Gulf of St. Lawrence closed for the summer. However, the decision has been temporarily reversed as a petition targeting the Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to spare the seals’ lives has garnered over 140,000 international signatures.
The two pups were taken as newborns from the wild this spring by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO-MPO) and placed on display for the summer. The aquarium accepted the young seals despite knowing they would not be released back into the wild at the end of the season, but instead slaughtered in the name of ‘research.’
A seasonal employee who assisted with the seals’ daily care learned of Zak and Mika’s fate and alerted animal-rights groups across the globe, including a wildlife rehabilitation center on Saltspring Island in British Columbia. Jeff Lederman’s small group, the Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre (IWNCC) launched the worldwide petition that accumulated thousands of signatures per day over the past week.
The aquarium claims it has been receiving seals from the DFO for 25 years and seals are typically released back into the wild at the end of the season, including harp seals. But now, the aquarium added, “According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the release of the seals in the environment poses a risk of contamination not only to the seal herd, but also to other marine mammals.”
Fortunately, a solution to save these animals is underway as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has offered to donate the funds and facilities to ensure Zak and Mika’s safe release back into the wild. The plan calls to transport the seals to the Atlantic Wildlife Institute near Sackville, New Brunswick, for short-term rehabilitation before releasing them into the Bay of Fundy.
But, instead, the Aquarium des Iles has taken advantage of the situation’s surge in public interest and is now calling on people to donate $73,000 to care for the seals before transporting them to the Océanopolis aquarium in Brest, France. However, the transfer would require several hours of transportation as well as a dramatic change in habitat, which could pose serious risks to the health and well-being of these six-month-old seals. The aquarium issued a statement on their Facebook page:
We’re aware that a petition was recently launched on the web seeking to find a solution to this situation. To ensure the welfare of Zak and Mika, the Aquarium des Iles two seals, until they can be transported to a new aquarium, we are urgently seeking financial support from all the people who signed the petition in order to achieve the funding goal of $ 73,000. This amount corresponds to the daily needs for food, employees caring for the seals and their diet, infrastructure utilization costs, essential elements to ensure the animals’ well-being until their transfer. The web site http://aquariumdesiles.ca/will allow participating to this fundraising, which needs to be completed by September 21st.
The aquarium’s call for donations has prompted several individuals and groups to criticize the effort, suggesting the bid is simply a way to have the public pay for what should have been the aquarium’s responsibility in the first place.
“It feels a little like they’re taking the seals hostage — like a ransom note: ‘Now that you’re upset, give us some money or we’ll kill them,'” said Michelle Cliffe, an IFAW spokesperson. “We think it’s the responsibility of an aquarium to have a plan and the finances to care for animals prior to taking on those animals.”
Cliffe is urging the DFO to end its practice of capturing marine mammals, as it did with whales in 1999, while emphasizing the importance of legislation in order to protect marine mammals in Canada.
“There are no rules. There is no legislation protecting marine mammals in captivity,” she said. “We are in contact with DFO at the moment and we do intend to push for legislation.”