TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 19, 2012) - The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and nearly 140,000 people from across Canada and around the world are elated that Zak and Mika, two young harp seal pups who were slated for death at the Aquarium des Îles de la Madeleine in Quebec, will now be released back to the wild. However, questions are being asked about how this situation arose, and how it can be prevented in the future.
Upon learning that the seals were to be killed when the aquarium closed for the season, a petition was started by the Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre (IWNCC) that, in just two weeks, gathered the signatures of nearly 140,000 people asking Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield to spare the lives of Zak and Mika, and allow for their release.
"The story of Zak and Mika touched the hearts of people around the world, and we are pleased that the Government of Canada has responded by allowing the seals to be released. We are confident that the Department will take steps to ensure the animals are healthy prior to release and that they will be able to survive in the wild" said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW's Seal Program.
The plight of Zak and Mika brought forth offers of assistance from a number of organizations, including the Atlantic Wildlife Institute and Hope for Wildlife, who offered their expertise and assistance to rehabilitate and safely release the seals.
Surprisingly, the DFO has been providing the aquarium with seals to display for the past 25 years, with the aquarium releasing them, and its other marine creatures, back to Canadian waters at the end of the season. This was the first year that the DFO required the seals be killed, and the reasons for this change in policy remain unclear. The DFO has indicated that it will be reviewing its policy concerning the rehabilitation and release of marine mammals to the wild over the coming year.
Zak and Mika's story raises several questions about why the DFO has been capturing wild marine mammals for aquaria, especially those that are not accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It also highlights a disturbing attitude towards animals as "disposable" creatures that can be euthanized when they are no longer wanted. A 1999 review of live-capture and captivity of marine mammals in Canada prepared for the DFO outlined several problems with the live capture and captive care of marine mammals, and recommended a moratorium on this practice until concerns could be addressed. IFAW believes that wild animals belong in the wild, and is calling for DFO to examine its policy on the live capture of marine mammals and urging an immediate moratorium on this practice.
"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has made the right decision by allowing Zak and Mika to be released back to the wild, for which we are grateful. This issue is far from over, however, and we need to examine the policies that allowed this situation to occur, and ensure that it never happens again" said Fink.
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats.
For more information on IFAW, visit our website and follow us on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.