2014-02-14 / Nature

Youth to Speak on Protect Seals Campaign

By Jack Kelly

The need to speak out against what one believes is wrong knows no age. Martin Welych-Flanagan, 13, of Syracuse, New York is just such an example. Since the age of 7, he has dedicated himself to a project that promotes the humane treatment of harp seals and raises awareness of the effects of climate change in the Arctic region.

At the age of 6, Welych-Flanagan discovered information about the annual Canadian baby harp seal fur hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the seals gather on ice packs to give birth to their young. The facts of this legal but ethically questionable hunt devastated the young child. He learned that most of the seals were under three months old and can be hunted at the age of 12 days. While the hunters club the seals multiple times in attempts to kill them, 40 percent are skinned alive. Unlike the native Inuit people, who only hunt adult seals and use every part of their body, fur hunters don’t use the bodies of the young seals; they are thrown onto the ice and left there. Quotas set for the hunt number over 300,000 and Canadian fishing interests claim that the high quote is to limit the number of seals eating fish in the Arctic waters. Yet, there is growing evidence that over-fishing of existing stocks is the real problem underlying fish depletion. Other concerns are the rapidly vanishing ice packs and the effects that continued hunting will have on the seal population in the future.

For a schedule of seal tours, see savebay.org. For a schedule of seal tours, see savebay.org. Welych-Flanagan took action and began his own campaign to stop the hunt. He made bracelets with messages that read “Save a Seal” and “No Fur” and sold them for one dollar at arts and crafts shows, as well as to his fellow students in school. He joined forces with the United States Humane Society’s “Protect Seals Campaign” and has raised over $11,000 for USHS, with the sales of his bracelets and other hand-fashioned wares. For the past 5 years he has traveled around New York conducting programs and talks, tailored to the ages in attendance, at schools, colleges and civic groups.

To date, Welych-Flanagan has been recognized by a number of organizations for his incredible work. The Disney Company recognized his efforts with a $5,000 prize, and Martin gave half to his school and the other half to USHS.

The Welych-Flanagan family is planning a trip to the Newport area during school vacation week this month. Martin will present his talk on the harp seal hunt, the plight of seals, and his efforts to stop this slaughter on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 10:30 a.m. at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center in Middletown. This free event is child-sensitive and familyfriendly. Martin, who has never seen a seal in the wild, is the recipient of a very special invitation from Save the Bay. On Friday, Feb. 21, he and his family will participate in a seal tour of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. Reservations and tickets for this 3 p.m. tour are still available. For more information, go to savebay.org/seals or call 401- 324-6020. Seal tours will be offered daily during vacation week and on weekends.

TO GO: Plight of Seals Talk WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 22,10:30a.m. WHERE: Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center COST: Free INFO: fws.gov/sachuestpoint

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