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From NBC, March 3, 2006:
Canada’s controversial annual hunt for seal pups hasn’t even started yet, but already this year the battle looks like a high-profile one, with singer Paul McCartney and his wife taking to the frigid ice floes off the Atlantic Ocean to protest.
Animal rights activists contend the killing of the doe-eyed baby seals, who are often clubbed to death, pierced with boat hooks or skinned alive, is cruel and unnecessary, but fishermen say they badly need the income.
Phil Jenkins, a spokesman for Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the activists who arranged the trip were misleading the public since white-coated seals have not been hunted since 1987. The seals’ white coats disappear after a few weeks, replaced by a spotted gray and white fur that eventually disappears completely as the seal matures.
“We see this every year. It’s the celebrity of the year. This year’s celebrity has a bit higher candlepower than last year’s but the facts of the hunt are that it’s more humane than ever, it’s growing as an economically viable industry and the herd is in fantastic shape,” he said. […]
The McCartneys, dressed in orange thermal jumpsuits, on Thursday traveled in helicopters with a dozen journalists, and members of the Humane Society of the United States and the British-based Respect for Animals.
Hundreds of seals and their fluffy white pups, only days old, were lolling on the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the mothers taking breaks from nursing to bob in the water to fish. The pups will shed their white fur within two weeks, when they become game for fishermen, who get up to $70 each for their pelts and blubber.
The former Beatle acknowledged residents have hunted seals for hundreds of years.
“Well, in our view, that doesn’t make it justifiable,” he said. “Plenty of things have been going on for a long time, like slavery. Just because it’s been going on for a long time doesn’t make it right.”
The McCartneys rolled on the ice with one pup, which gently nipped at Heather Mills McCartney and mewed for its mother. She expressed sadness it and others would likely be killed in a few weeks, their pelts going mostly to Norway, China and Russia.
“They sell the baby seal skins for fashions and fur — that’s what’s so horrific about it,” said Mills McCartney.
The former Beatle implored fishermen to turn instead to ecotourism like whale watching, as communities have done along the Atlantic Coast.
“This is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth,” he said. “It’s very rare that you can come to a beautiful, wild place like this. In our view, it would make more sense to look at ecotourism.” […]
Imagine a humpback whale emerging from the ocean in slow-motion, taking a big gulp of the water near the North Island. That’s the type of action Rolf usually captures with his camera. That’s why he was surprised when he received a phone call from the U.S. Humane Society.
“[They asked], ‘Are you willing to photograph a celebrity in the Arctic?’ And I said, ‘What?!’” Rolf smiles, recalling his disbelief. “‘[Then they said], ‘We can’t give you any more information right now.’”
It was a secret assignment for an anything-but paparazzo. While the nature photos on Rolf’s Instagram page certainly feature subjects with screen presence, like otters looking through his lens, his subjects don’t usually walk red carpets […]
“But whatever. If they pick me they got a reason,” Rolf smiles. “So of course [I accepted the assignment and asked] what’s involved.”
Rolf was told to start travelling across the country the next day, from his home near Port McNeill, Vancouver Island, to Prince Edward Island. He completed his flight, but his equipment didn’t. Rolf was stuck with what he had in his carry-on bag.
“I was down to two cameras and two lenses,” Rolf says. “For a photographer on a big shoot, that’s like going to the arctic half-naked!” […] “They told me that Sir Paul McCartney was coming. I was like, ‘Whoa!’ […] The most awesome experience was to feel how down to earth he was,” Rolf says.
The next morning, they flew 160 kilometres northeast of Prince Edward Island. Rolf was in a four-person helicopter with McCartney, his then-wife Heather, and the pilot. With the ice floes below, the previous day’s camera troubles seemed far away. McCartney provided the soundtrack by clapping his hands, drumming his knees, and making up a song.
“It’s amazing to see, when he’s relaxed, what he does,” Rolf says. “He starts singing and making music.”
When they arrived, Rolf started documenting McCartney’s protest against the seal hunt. It was so cold that Rolf lent Heather his gloves and Paul his hat. Although the photographer was more comfortable pointing his camera at the seal pups, aiming his lens at Sir Paul proved to be an unexpected pleasure.
“Well it was much more relaxing for me,” Rolf says. “Because [unlike many animals], he didn’t run away!”
“Sir Paul got my hat and I never got it back! He’s still got it!” Rolf says with false indignation, before breaking into a big smile and admitting he’s okay with it. “It’s a good donation to a good person.”
Last updated on March 16, 2021