THE FATE of tens of thousands of seals - and in particular their penises - is being angrily disputed between the Canadian province of Newfoundland and a leading animal welfare group, writes Nicholas Schoon.
Yesterday, MPs and celebrities joined the International Fund for Animal Welfare in marching on the Canadian High Commission in London. They demanded an immediate ban on the export of seal penises to the Far East for use in Chinese traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs. But the provincial government of Newfoundland denied there had been any mass export of seal parts and said it would not allow this to happen. Only whole carcasses could be shipped out.
The IFAW alleges that a group of entrepreneurs, fronted by a Mr Tsiu Wong from mainland China, are asking several thousand Canadian sealers to remove the penises of up to 60,000 seals. An advertisment in The Downhomer, a Newfoundland newspaper, states: 'Good news for sealers - wanted to buy seal organs. . .'
Frank Pinhorn, the Newfoundland fishery department's head of processing, told the Independent Mr Wong had been granted a licence to purchase whole seals during the last hunting season - from February to June - but he had never used it.
Mr Pinhorn conceded that organs from some Newfoundland and Labrador seals killed last season, including their penises and livers, were being taken for use in Chinese medicines. But only whole seals could be purchased, and he doubted whether exporting whole seals, weighing over 100lbs, to south-east Asia solely for the use of their penises would be economically viable. 'Besides, only 10 to 12 per cent of the seals killed are the large adult males which are suitable.'
Although there is a quota for 186,000 harp and hood seals to be killed each year along the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, less than 10,000 have been taken in recent years because the market for seal pelts collapsed in the 1980s, largely due to campaigning by the IFAW. The Newfoundland government has been trying to revive it ever since, praising the rich nutritional value of the seal meat.
But Richard Moore, the IFAW's director, said: 'Canada should ban this disgusting trade. Killing animals for their genitals to make useless sex potions is a gross violation of decent human behaviour.'