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McCartneys to observe seal pups before hunt
March 1, 2006 News Staff 

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A baby seal takes it easy on a Pictou Island beach in Nova Scotia.

Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and his wife Heather are set to visit the Maritimes later this week to observe harp seal pups prior to Canada's annual seal hunt.

The Humane Society of the United States says the celebrity couple will highlight the work of animal protection groups that oppose the hunt.

The McCartneys, who are long-time animal rights activists, will take the trip on Thursday and Friday to "highlight the work of two animal protection groups to stop the Canadian seal hunt," the society said in a release.

"Heather and Paul's visit to the seal pups will shine a global media spotlight on this cruel and needless slaughter," said Rebecca Aldworth, the society's director of Canadian wildlife issues.

The hunt generally runs from mid-March through to mid-April, but the timing of this year's hunt is still uncertain.

Meanwhile, warm weather has left much of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is normally covered by thick ice, spotted with patches of thin ice.

As harp and hood seals generally give birth to their pups on ice floes, the thin ice could leave many of the young facing a fight for life.

Celebrities have long taken part in protesting against Canada's seal hunt, with the anti-sealing movement reaching its peak in 1977 when Brigitte Bardot cuddled up to baby seals on the ice floes.

In 2005, TV's MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson, added his voice to the movement.

The Canadian government has endorsed the hunt as a cultural right for many Maritimers -- announcing a management plan in 2003 with a quota of 975,000 seals over three years.

This outraged conservation groups and animal rights activists and protests resumed on the ice floes.

A year later, the federal government estimated there were 5.9 million harp seals on the East Coast, up from two million in the early 1970s. Ottawa estimated the value of the hunt was around $16 million.

In early February, 11 protesters convicted of getting too close to seal hunters in 2005 said they would spend 22 days on a hunger strike in jail rather than pay $1,000 fines.

Adopt-A-Minefield goodwill ambassadors Paul McCartney and Heather Mills McCartney pose for photographers before the Adopt-A-Minefield fifth annual gala in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP / Rene Macura)