Jump to:  Early 16th - 17th century
                Early 18th century
                Late 18th century
                1818-1862 - the Golden Age
                Mid-Late 19th century
                Early 20th century
                Mid-Late 20th century


  • Archeological evidence indicates that the use of seals by the indigenous peoples of eastern North America dates back at least 4,000 years.

Early 16th and 17th century

  • During the early 16th and 17th century, Spanish Basques, Portuguese, French, British and Acadians begin to exploit walruses and seals off present day Atlantic Canada.

  • French settlers hunt harp seals in the St. Lawrence River during the winter, using rifles and nets.

Early 18th century

  • English settlers on the Northeast coast of Newfoundland begin sealing using nets.  Whitecoated pups are hunted in the spring, when the ice brings the whelping herd within walking distance from shore.  Harp seals are also hunted later in the season using small boats and guns.

  • 1723 -Seal hunt becomes a recorded annual event.

  • Large quantities of seal oil are shipped back to Britain to be used as fuel for lamps, as lubricating and cooking oil, in the processing of leather and jute, and as a constituent in soap.

Late 18th century

  • Fishermen begin to use wooden schooners to hunt seals on the ice floes during the breeding season.

  • These men, involved in 2 or 3 day hunting excursions near their homes, are known as landsmen.

  • Large-scale commercial seal fishery begins; sealing becomes second in importance only to the cod fishery, accounting for up to one third of Newfoundlands total exports.

  • Seal hunt becomes securely entrenched in the economy, culture, and tradition of Newfoundland.

1818-1862: The Golden Age of Sealing

  • Peak of sealing industy; more than 18 million seals are landed during this period.

  • In some years, catches exceed 500,000 seals.

  • By the early 1860s, catches of seals begin to fall due to years of overharvesting; the record catches of the Golden Age are never seen again, despite continued investment and technological advancements.

Mid - late 19th century

  • Large steam powered vessels are introduced and quickly recognized as superior to the small sailing schooners.

  • Annual catches begin to increase again, averaging around 320,000 in the 1860s, and 430,000 in the 1870s.

  • Transition from sail to steam dramatically increases the expense involved in the annual seal hunt; only wealthy boat owners can afford to operate sealing vessels.

  • Large profits become the industrys driving force; sealers are forced to travel from outport communities to compete for berths on vessels and conditions of employment deteriorate rapidly.

  • 1890s Price of seal oil drops due to increases in petroleum production, exports of seal products account for less than 10% of the total value of Newfoundlands exports.

  • 1895 First laws enacted to protect animals of breeding age; sealing vessels are prohibited from making more than one trip per season to the ice.

  • Century ends with a total recorded kill of 33 million seals.

Early 20th century

  • Revitalization of sealing industry; wooden steamers are replaced with larger, more powerful steel hulled vessels.

  • World War I brings a brief reprieve and only 47,000 seals are landed in 1915; catches remain low through the 1920s.

  • Potential of using aircraft to locate depleted seal herds is recognized; catches increase to an average of 154,000.

  • 1937 Norway begins to send large vessels to the hunt.

  • World War II - catches reach lowest levels ever recorded; in 1943, no seals are reported taken.

  • After WW II prices for seal oil are high, leading to an immediate resurgence in sealing.

  • Average annual landed catch increases to more than 200,000 seals from 1946-1949.

  • 1949 Newfoundland joins Canada - the Newfoundland seal hunt nominally becomes Canadas seal hunt.

  • Norwegian advances in treating and processing skins provides new incentive to kill seals for fur; seal skins replace seal oil as principal product of the sealing industry.

  • 1950s Canadian scientists begin to study the seal herds and express concern about the number of animals killed.

Mid-Late 20th century

  • 1950-1970 Norwegian industry accounts for more than half of the annual catch of seals, sets the prices for pelts and controls the bulk of the processing and marketing. Canada merely supplies the raw materials.

  • 1961 Closing dates implemented to limit the length of the sealing season.

  • 1965 Government enacts the Seal Protection Regulations, which prohibit killing adult harp seals in the breeding or nursery areas.

  • Annual catches remain high, averaging around 284,000 between 1960-1969.

  • 1969 International Fund for Animal Welfare is founded.

  • 1971 Scientific evidence that the seal herds are being depleted, combined with mounting pressure from the anti-sealing movement leads to the introduction of quota management for harp seals.

  • Harp seal population continues to decline. Scientists conclude that the population declined by 50-66% between 1950 and 1970, and is now in serious trouble.

  • 1972 United States passes the Marine Mammal Protection Act, prohibiting the importation of marine mammal products.

  • 1983 European Community implements a two year import ban on products derived from whitecoat seals.

  • Lack of markets for harp seal products causes landed catches to plummet.

  • Norway withdraws from the Northwest Atlantic seal hunt, but continues to import seal products from Canada.

  • 1985 EU import ban extended for 2 years.

  • 1987 Sealing policy now includes prohibitions on the use of vessels over 65 feet (19.8 metres) long, and on the commercial sale of whitecoats.

  • 1989 European community import ban on whitecoat seal products is extended indefinitely.

  • 1993 The new Marine Mammal Regulations replace the Seal Protection Regulations.

  • 1995 Brian Tobin, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announces new subsidies to encourage sealers to kill more animals, including a new "personal use" licence. The quota is increased to 250,000.

  • 1996 Landed catch skyrockets to 242,000 harp seals, giving the Canadian harp seal hunt the distinction of being the largest commercial hunt of a marine mammal anywhere in the world.

  • 1997 Harp seal quota increased to 275,000.

  • 1997-1999 Landed catches in Canada remain high; catches in Greenland increase.

  • 2000 Markets for seal products are saturated, prices for pelts plummet and Canadian catches are low.

  • 2001 Herb Dhaliwhal, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, maintains a quota of 275,000 seals, despite evidence that this level of killing is not sustainable.