Commentary by Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson,
Forty years ago on March 15th, 1977, French film star Brigitte Bardot traveled to the ice floes off the Eastern Coast of Canada to focus attention on the slaughter of baby whitecoat seals.
Her arrival was met with hostility by Newfoundland sealers and by the Canadian government, yet despite harassment and ugly threats she rode in my helicopter far offshore to meet the seals.
She was fearless. We flew through blizzard conditions with very poor visibility to over a hundred miles off the coast.
Upon arrival in the midst of thousands of seals, she posed cheek to cheek with a baby seal for photos that circulated around the globe and brought the issue of the slaughter of the seal pups to a global audience.
For the two previous years, we had worked to get media attention to this atrocity on the Eastern Canadian icefloes. The media had ignored us.
That all changed with the arrival of Brigitte Bardot.
The baby seals now had a guardian angel. Bardot and the baby seal appeared on the cover of magazines around the globe.
By 1984, the slaughter of newborn whitecoats was abolished and the market for whitecoat seal products ended.
The genesis of this achievement was Brigitte Bardot’s courageous invasion of the ice floes in defense of le petite bebe phoques.
The killing continued with the government allowing the slaughter of seals after they have shed their whitecoats. The lack of a sizeable market was met with Canadian government subsidies and although the quotas were raised, the kill numbers dropped due to lack of demand. In 2008, the market for seal pelts was once again struck a blow with a complete ban on seal products by the European Parliament.
In 2011, the government in a spiteful move set a new quota at 400,000 seals a year.
Over the last six years, the 400,000 number has never been reached. In fact, the total number of seals killed in all six years since 2011 is about 350,000.
There is no doubt that what Brigitte Bardot did in 1977 has saved the lives of millions of seals, an achievement that animal lovers around the world applaud and recognize her for.
So this year I wanted to honor her by sending an all female team to the ice floes to meet the baby seals.
I chose Sea Shepherd Toronto Director Brigitte Breau to be the team leader. It was her job to organize the logistics. The rest of the crew consisted of my wife Yana Watson, Canadian Animal Rights lawyer Camille Labchuk, Clementine Pallanca from Monaco and Hollywood movie star Michelle Rodriguez. In addition we had two helicopter pilots and Omar Todd to handle I.T. back at the base in Charlottetown.
Along with them were videographers Canadian Marketa Schusterova, Jasmine Lord from Australia and French photographer Bernard Sidler.
It was a simple mission. Take two helicopters, fly to the seals on the ice and take some pictures with some baby seals. An easy mission or so we thought.
A few days before their arrival, the team received a shock when they viewed Satellite images of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. What they saw, we had never seen before.