Thousands of hunters armed with clubs, rifles and spears are taking part in the worlds largest seal hunt. The eastern Canada seal cull is expected to bring millions of dollars to poor coastal communities, but has been condemned by animal rights activists as barbaric.
For about six weeks, hunters will scour the ice floes near Newfoundland, killing an estimated 320,000 seal pups for their pelts.
The hunt usually begins in late March, about two-weeks after the seal pups are born and their fur turns from white to grey.
Activists, like A.J. Cady of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, say the animals are clubbed to death and often skinned alive.
"Just today, we found a seal pup that was struck and lost. It was clubbed and escaped and died under the ice," says A.J. Cady.
But sealers and government officials say the hunt brings badly needed income to coastal communities. They say the culling is performed under strict guidelines ensuring the seal pups die instantly.
One of the Canadian sealers says the seal hunt is like any other commercial fishing operation.
"We are just fishing, hunting. That's what we do all our lives and that's what we're going to do anyway," says a Hunter.
The Canadian government says the hunt earned about 17-million dollars last year, mainly from pelt sales to Norway, Denmark and China.
But many countries, including the United States, have banned the import of seal products.
Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans say the seal population has thrived in recent years and is at one of its highest levels on record.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare says the seal harvest damages the marine mammal population. The group's A.J. Cady says the point is not the size of the seal population, or how much money the hunt brings in.
"It's not about the price. What's a seal pup worth? It's worth more than a few dollars for a pelt. And the price for the level of suffering is just not acceptable," says A.J. Cady.
For now the hunt, and the controversy, go on.