Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd has dedicated his life, and at times his safety, to protecting the harp seals of Canada from brutal, club-wielding sealers who kill the animals for their pelts.

“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,” Captain Watson recently wrote in an open letter on Sea Shepherd. “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.”

This adversity-filled visit propelled the plight of the animal to a level of global awareness. The photos of Bardot posing cheek-to-cheek with the baby animals created outrage, which led to the abolition of newborn whitecoat seal slaughter in 1984. Sadly, the killing of older seals is still permitted, even while the interest in seal products diminishes.

In an effort to end the slaughter of seals for good and honor Bardot’s pivotal trip, Captain Watson and an all-female team, including actress Michelle Rodriguez, set out on the ice floes to meet the baby seals face-to-face again.

“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,” Watson wrote. “The Gulf of St. Lawrence was completely ice-free.”

For decades Captain Watson had traveled the ice floes and had found them packed with thick, solid ice. The disappearance of these floes is not only alarming, but potentially lethal for the animals that depend on them.

“Without the ice the seals cannot be found. The ice is essential for the seals to give birth to their pups. The Latin name for the harp seal is Pagophilus groenlandicus or the ‘ice lover from Greenland.’ The ice floes are their nurseries, and now that hard ice security was nowhere to be found,” the captain added. 

Climate change has become a bigger threat to these babies than the people who club them for their pelts.

It took days for the team to find ice strong enough to support the seals and their pups, and even then it was treacherous. Rodriguez had to jump out of the helicopter that was carrying the team to reach the animals.

“It was worth the risk,” Rodriguez said. “They are such beautiful creatures.”

Bernard Sidler was able to capture several photos of the Fate of the Furious actor among the small, white pups, reminiscent of those Bardot took decades before. Rodriguez hopes that these shots and Captain Watson’s words do for these pups what Bardot’s pictures did in the ’70s. But this time it’s not sealers that animal lovers need to worry about, it’s the drastic effects of climate change.  

“I was expecting to see thousands of seals on a solid ice pack. What I saw is an ecological disaster,” Rodriguez said in a statement after returning from her trip.

To join Rodriguez and Sea Shepherd in their fight to protect these animals and raise awareness of how diminishing ice floes are putting their lives at risks, visit seashepherd.org.

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