Seal Fur and Leather

Benefits
1. What are the benefits of seal fur and leather?

Seal skin, both as fur and leather, has been used for thousands of years to protect Canada’s northernmost residents from the harshest winter conditions. Seal fur repels water, blocks wind, durable and retains heat making it a superior material for clothing, boots, and shelters. Seal fur and seal leather products last a longer time (decades) and when the product’s life is done the material is biodegradable.

2. Is seal fur warm?

Yes. Inuit and other Indigenous peoples have been using seal fur to fashion clothing, footwear, and shelter for thousands of years. Seal fur offers protection from the wind, cold, ice, and rain of the harsh northern climate.

3. What is the difference between a tanned and a raw seal hide?

In Nunavut we considered naturally dried and softened pelts to be raw as they are not chemically tanned but they are not fresh of the seal. Today, “raw” seal hide is considered as an unprocessed seal hide, in its natural state. A tanned hide has been treated (tanned) to protect it from decomposing, increase durability, and in some cases add colour. It makes the hide water repellent but not water proof as a rawhide is. Hides can be tanned by a number of methods, using chemical or natural means.

4. What are the characteristics of adult seal fur?

Adult seal fur is water repellent, windproof, warm, soft, smooth, and durable — it has to be, given the seal’s natural habitat. Adult seal fur is also beautifully patterned, with various shades of white and grey.

5. Is seal fur durable?

Seal fur, properly processed, is one of the most durable textiles available today.

6. Is seal fur biodegradable?

Seal fur is a fully natural product and as such, it is biodegradable.

Products
1. Do seals have fur?

Yes, seals have fur, like many mammals.

2. What does seal fur look like?

Seal fur is soft, shiny, smooth, and in its natural form, can be a range of colours from near white to brownish to shades of grey to almost black. Many pelts have attractive spots and shading.

3. What seal fur colours are available?

In its natural state, seal fur is generally shades of grey, and black. Today’s textile artists, though, dye seal fur all colours of the rainbow, from red to blue to purple.

4. Why is seal fur tanned?

Seal fur is tanned as a method of preserving it. Once tanned, seal fur is durable, flexible, and resistant to deteriorating. Done properly, tanning will turn seal skin into soft leather, with the fur firmly attached.

5. How do we grade seal fur?

Seal fur is graded by size of the pelt, quality of the fur and colour. Any damage to the pelt specifically holes, missing fur (bald spots), and/or off colouration (yellowing) decreases the value of the pelt. Larger pelts start at a higher price point.

6. What are seal fur products applications?

Seal fur can be used to make a wide range of products, including outerwear, footwear, accessories, home décor, and much more. It can be used in fashion, design, and craftwork. Seal fur is increasingly being used to craft durable and fashionable clothes and shoes, and accessories such as earrings, bracelets, purses and bags. Designers are using it as trim and accents in high-end fashion. Seal fur is also good for the home, as a rug or throw. The applications are endless.

7. What kind of products can be made with seal fur?
8. What is the difference between seal fur and seal leather?

Seal fur makes use of the seal’s hair/fur, which is attached to the skin (leather). Seal leather generally refers to the tanned seal skin, with the fur removed.

9. How much is a seal pelt worth?

The price point varies based on sized of the pelt, quality, colour and how it is prepared for use (e.g. traditional tanning or modern industrial tanning). In general the price range for end market users would approximately from $100 for a small pelt, up to and potentially over $500 for an extremely large, high quality pelt that is well tanned.

10. Is seal fur legal in the US?

In 1972, the United States passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act; ever since then US markets have been closed to seal products.

11. Where can I find seal fur?

Seal fur and seal fur products are available from a number of specialty fur retailers, craft shops and artisans.

Sustainability
1. What is the difference between fake fur and wild fur?

Fake fur is just that — fake. It is made to look like fur but is usually made from plastic or another man-made product, involving chemical industrial processes and petroleum products. Fake fur also does not provide the same durability, warmth, and wind and water protection as wild fur.

Wild fur is a natural product. While it may be processed for preservation purposes, wild fur remains close to its natural state, and provides the wearer with warmth and protection.

2. Is seal fur environmentally friendly?

It is always ideal, environmentally and ethically, to use all parts of an animal that is harvested. Today’s seal harvest attempts to make full use of the animal by harvesting the seal meat, oil, and pelt.

Seal fur is a natural product and derived from a carefully managed harvest. Processed properly, seal fur will last for decades; durable products that will stand the test of time, and then biodegrade. The same cannot be said of fake fur products.

3. Is seal fur a renewable resource?

Yes. The Canadian seal harvest is well-managed and carried out following strict government regulations. Seal populations that are harvested for meat and fur are healthy and increasing.

4. Is fur cruel?

No decent human being wishes to use products associated with cruelty. However, the notion of cruelty can vary greatly among individuals based on many factors, often very personal. What matters most in a person’s decision to determine whether a given activity is cruel or not is to obtain factual, objectively derived information on this activity. In any such evaluation, it is always important to maintain respect for all components of that activity, which in the case of hunting or trapping include the animal itself, the environment in which it lives, and the people and communities that benefit from this activity, each of these components having its own set of parameters to consider.

5. How ethical is seal fur?

The answer to this question would be similar to that for the previous one. As far as the sealing industry is concerned, rigorous studies followed by specific recommendations have been made to ensure that, from an animal welfare perspective, the best possible killing methods are used. These studies are continuing, as new opportunities for the industry open up.

6. Is the seal fur trade legal?

Throughout Canada, the seal fur trade is legal. The US and the EU have restrictions in place; if you are from these areas, check before attempting to import seal products.

7. Is your seal source sustainable?

Yes. The seal populations harvested are stable and increasing. The harvest is completed according to strict management regulations and limits determined by the Government of Canada.

8. What are seals used for?

Today, almost all of the seal is used, including the meat, oil, and pelt. Full usage is the goal of seal harvesters, processors, and vendors.

9. Are baby seals killed?

If one uses the definition of “baby” as an animal which is still nursing, the hunt for this age group of seals has been prohibited in Canada since 1986. The seals that are now preferentially hunted are young that have been weaned by their mother at least a few weeks previously and are then totally on their own. The nursing period in the species currently hunted commercially (grey seals and harp seals) is very brief since winter or early spring conditions, when the mothers give birth, are unpredictable, and the young seals must acquire the necessary energy reserves as quickly as possible when they have a chance. Weaning is abrupt, the young seals do not see their mother again, and they are left on their own to acquire the necessary hunting skills.

10. How are seals harvested?

The vast majority of seals are now killed by a rifle shot to the head. For harp seals, the hakapik or club can be used only when the animals are on stable ice, which is less and less common because of climate change. For young recently weaned grey seals which in recent past could be born on the ice or on land but are now born almost exclusively on land, the hakapik or club is used exclusively since all these animals are still on land when hunted.

11. Why is seal clubbing a thing?

Through several studies, it has been well demonstrated that the hakapik or the club is the tool of choice to kill young weaned harp seals and grey seals. There are a few very good reasons for this. The skull of these young seals is very thin and can be easily fractured (and the underlying brain destroyed) by a single or very few blows from a hakapik or a club, achieving the same result almost as quickly as a well placed shot to the head from a rifle of high caliber. Moreover, if one or two blows do not appear to kill the seal immediately, the hunter is right beside the seal and can very quickly apply another blow. The same cannot be said about a rifle shot to the head since it can be very difficult to shoot at the head again, especially from a distance, when the wounded animal is moving. Finally, there are far less chances that the carcass of a dead seal will slip away into the water if close to the ice edge when the hunter is standing right beside it with a hakapik than when the seal is shot from a distance.

12. Why the seal hunt is good?

This is a personal opinion similar to above. I would note the need to also state here information about Indigenous and Inuit rights and the balance of an ecosystem theoretically replies on humans being omnivores and thus a predatory of animals like seals. This keeps ecosystems in balance when we harvest sustainably.

13. Is seal hunting legal in Canada?

Yes. Seal hunting is legal and strictly regulated and monitored by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Government of Canada. Harvesters are licenced and trained to follow best practices. Note here the rights for Inuit and Indigenous to harvest for their subsistence and economic purposes under different agreements including but not limited to settled land claims.

14. Are seal products legal in the US?

No. In 1972, the United States passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act; ever since then US markets have been closed to seal products.

15. What is the difference between seals and sea lions?

Seals and sea lions are both marine mammals known as pinnipeds. Here are several general differences but should not be considered an exhaustive list, between the two groups of species:

• Sea lions are brown, seals are usually grey.

• Sea lions are loud — they bark! Seals do not.

• Sea lions have larger front flippers than seals, which they are able to “walk” with.

• Sea lions have external ear flaps; most seal species lack external ears.

16. What part of the seals are used?

Today, efforts are made to use all part of the seal: meat, oil, and pelt.

17. Is the seal endangered?

No seal populations in Canada are endangered; populations are in fact healthy, abundant, and increasing.

18. Are the seals you used farmed or wild caught?

Seals are not farmed. All seals used by the industry in Canada are wild caught — natural, organic, and sustainably harvested.

Culture & livelihood
1. When did Inuit started to hunt seal?

The Inuit have been hunting seal for over 4,000 years. Seals were one of the most valuable animals in a challenging landscape.

2. What was seal used for?

Every part of the animal was relied upon: the pelt for warm, waterproof clothing, boots, and shelter; the leather and sinew for harnesses; fat/oil for heat, light and its great health benefits; and meat to feed themselves.

3. What does seal hunt represent for Inuit and Indigenous communities?

The hunt is central to Inuit and indigenous culture, sharing customs, and skills and values passed from generation to generation. It is also about connection to the land, its resources, and the wider ecosystem. Over time, seals took on commercial importance as export products too, crucial to the survival of communities.

4. Where do indigenous hunting seals live?

The Inuit are indigenous peoples with similar cultures living primarily on the Arctic coasts of Siberia, Alaska, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Labrador, and Greenland. Canadian Inuit live primarily in the territory of Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Quebec, and in the Nunatsiavut settlement region in Labrador. The Inuvialuit live mostly in the Mackenzie River delta, on Banks Island and part of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories. Alaskan Inupiaq live on the North Slope, while the Yupik live in western Alaska and a part of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in Russia.

5. What is the importance of seal meat to northern Canadians?

In Canada’s north, where store-bought meat is expensive, a single seal can provide the equivalent of $200 or more worth of meat to a family—and a much higher level of nutrition than meat you can buy in the stores.

6. What seal species are hunted in Northern Canada?

The Inuit of Canada’s Arctic primarily hunt ringed seals, which are prevalent in the most northern areas of the continent. Many hunters will also hunt harp seals, breaded seals and hooded seals but to a significantly lesser extent.

7. When did Inuit start trading seal products?

The commercial value of seal was first realized in the north in the late 1800s, when European whaling vessels first arrived and, soon after, Hudson’s Bay Company began trading with Inuit. From then on, the animals were not only for subsistence, but also a source of revenue.

8. How does seal hunting contribute to the economy of the North?

Today’s hunt is family-centred and subsistence first. After a family has taken the food it needs, and the pelts required for art and craftwork, the rest may be sold. It is estimated the sale of seal products contributes about $1 million to Nunavut’s economy annually.

9. What impact did the European ban on the whitecoat seal hunt had on northern communities?

In 1982, the European Parliament, in response to high-profile pressure from Greenpeace and other activist groups, banned the import of whitecoat seal pelts. Although they made an exemption for Inuit hunters — who never did target whitecoats. The year 1983 brought a spike in suicides in northern coastal indigenous communities, a drop in annual income (for example: the annual income of a sealer in Resolute Bay dropped to $1000 from $54,000), and other devastating social and cultural challenges. Many of those who had been proud of working hard and making a living from their homeland struggled in the face of unjust and unfounded international scorn.

10. What was the impact of the European Union ban on all seal products?

In 2009, the European Union banned the importation of seal products. As in the earlier action of 1983, the EU exempted Inuit hunters from the ban—but the result was again devastating, reducing the number of pelts sold by 90%.

11. How important is seal hunt for food security?

Up to 70% of Inuit households are considered food insecure. Groceries can be prohibitively expensive in the north, and traditional food sources and hunting methods are eroding. Seal and other country foods can go a long way in ensuring a supply of nutrient-rich food. In Canada’s north, where store-bought meat is expensive. A single ringed seal can provide the equivalent of $200 or more worth of meat to a family—and a much higher level of nutrition.