Hunters put a spin on the seal market

ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland (AP) - Weary of being branded thugs and butchers, Canada's seal hunters are fighting back with a slick marketing campaign touting such products as seal pepperoni and seal-oil pills.

It is a new tactic for the sealers, who face a high-decibel transatlantic protest campaign as the seal-hunting season moves into full swing.

The anti-sealing lobby is recruiting celebrities to help oppose what it calls "the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world". But in Newfoundland there is determination to keep the hunt going, and even to expand it into new markets.

The province's first seal-leather tannery recently opened and, in Asia, seal penises are being sold for use in aphrodisiacs and powdered seal meat for use as a protein supplement. Canadian health stores are stocking seal-oil pills that allegedly can ease arthritis, unclog arteries and relieve diabetes symptoms.

The London-based International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), claims that seals are skinned alive and abandoned on the ice after their penises are removed. It also contends that baby seals continue to be killed, even though this practice was banned.

The public-relations kit being prepared by the sealers' association contains no images of seals, but it does include a video featuring a sealer and his wife defending their way of life. "My family has gone sealing for generations," says Wilf Alyward ofNewfoundland. "It's a vital part of our culture."