Thousands of sealers armed with clubs, rifles and spears headed for the ice floes off eastern Canada yesterday for the world's largest seal hunt.
The annual slaughter of harp seal pups has been the target of protests since the 1960s. It begins about 12 days after the seal pups are born and animal rights activists say the pups are clubbed to death and often skinned alive.
But sealers and government officials who monitor the hunt insist the pups die instantly, under strictly monitored guidelines.
"It's just horrific out there. There is blood all across the ice and seal carcasses as far as the eye can see," Rebecca Aldworth, of the Humane Society of the United States, said by satellite phone from the Gulf of St Lawrence yesterday.
"We've seen seals that were moving around and breathing, that have been left in these piles, some left conscious and crawling," said Ms Aldworth, a native Newfoundlander who has observed the seal hunt for the past six years.