National Geographic : 2004 Mar
Oblivious to the heated controversy surround ing it, a whitecoat rests on the ice. Today harp seals in the northwest Atlantic number an esti mated 5.2 million, three times the total in 1972, and officials say the future of the species is secure. Others are less optimistic, but hope that the harp seal will keep beating the odds. processed into capsules and sold as a health supplement. Researchers have also developed a hand cream from the oil and are working on a protein derivative from seal meat. Success on every front? Not quite, for quotas can't address the most fundamental question: Should seals be killed at all? And so the battle still rages between those who view sealing as a legitimate use of a renewable resource and those who believe seals, along with whales and dolphins, should be above exploitation. For now the Canadian govern ment has opted for sustainable use, a decision that distresses nature lovers but that allows fishermen like Jocelyn Theriault to maintain a way of life they cherish. Look at a harp seal and what do you see? Lamb of God or wolf of the sea? Nature's sanctity or nature's utility? Perhaps it is possible to see both. On the bridge of the Manon Yvon, tacked above the main window, is a small printed prayer with a silver crucifix dangling from it. Theriault's grandmother gave him the note when he launched the boat. The prayer is simple but suggests stewardship, the old-fashioned word for sustainability. "Lord, my vessel is small and your sea is vast," it says. "Help me this day, for the riches of the sea belong to you. Merci." l WEISITE EXCLUSIVE Sustainable harvest or senseless slaughter? Share your opinion about harp seal hunting when you join our online forum-and hear Brian Skerry describe the joys and challenges of photographing baby seals-at natlonalgeographlc.com/magazine/0403.