Save Our Swilers
DESCRIPTION: "Come all you Newfoundlanders and listen to my song About St. Anthony's visitors from 'away' and 'upalong.'" "They are out to ban the seal hunt." "We're the endangered species." Listeners are urged to vote for those who support the seal hunt
AUTHOR: A. R. Scammell
EARLIEST DATE: 1977 (Decks Awash 6:4)
KEYWORDS: hunting political nonballad
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, pp. 156-157, "Save Our Swilers" (1 text)
cf. "The Old Polina" (tune)
NOTES [630 words]: This is clearly based on actual events, when outsiders tried to shut down the seal hunt. Brian Davis, the first person mentioned in the song as opposed to sealing, is mentioned also in "The Sealers of Twillingate and New World Island" (which see); he originally worked with the S.P.C.A. before becoming involved with Greenpeace and similar organizations.
Franz Weber (1927-) is a Swiss activist who, according to WIkipedia, became active in ecology in 1965. "IFAW [International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of various organizations created by Davis] and Greenpeace were joined in 1977 by millionaire Swiss conservationist Franz Weber, head of the appropriately named Franz Weber foundation. Weber offered to pay the Candian government $2.5 million to stop the [seal] hunt, but he is best remembered for his proposal to establish an artificial-fur factory in Newfoundland to employ displaced sealers" (Candow, p. 124).
"Yvette" is actress Yvette Mimieux, who was enlisted by Davis; "Brigitte" is Brigitte Bardot, signed up by Weber (Busch, p. 249; Candow, pp. 124-125). According to Candow, p. 133, Weber didn't get much attention when he campaigned against sealing in 1977 minus Bardot.
The song is correct that there was a quota on seals -- of sorts (Candow, p. 121); it was called the Total Allowable Catch. It was debatable whether it was sufficient to maintain the population; there certainly had been studies that said the limits were sufficient, but I am not impressed with the methods used. What is certain is that seals were a lot more rare in the 1970s than the 1820s. Of course, a population can be sustainable and still be below its peak. The real problem in the discussion is that some people thought killing seals was the murder of a beautiful and fairly intelligent animal while others thought it was a means of making a living. The views were so divergent that neither side was really willing to listen to the other. Thus we see anti-Greenpeace protesters forming a group "Codpeace," which claimed that if the seals were left unchecked, they would kill off the cod that were even more important to Newfoundland (Busch, p. 253). The problem with this, of course, is that the cod did just fine, seals or no seals, before humans came along, and the cod stocks fell, seals or no seals, when humans fished them almost to extinction! Whichever population you cared about, the problem was humans, not the other critters.
One of those who thought the sealing quota sufficient to maintain the population was the "Tommy Hughes" of the song. Tom Hughes was, in 1966, general manager of the Ontario Humane Society. He was a member of a team of observers who, in that year, went to observe the seal hunt to see if the regulations were working. The majority of the observers, including Hughes, said that they were, although they cast doubts on the humaneness of the killing (Candow, pp. 117-118) -- and Hughes would presumably have known, since he was a campaigner for more humane slaughter of domestic animals (Candow, p. 120).
The Cashins were an important family of Newfoundland politicians and developers; I've seen several references to them in the histories. I haven't found anything about a Rick Cashin and sealing, though.
Arthur Scammell's crankiness in this song didn't do any good; in 1978, the year after he wrote it, new protests arose against sealing. Davies had been muzzled by a court decision, but Greenpeace was still around, and they brought in actresses Monique van der Ven and Pamela Sue Martin, plus several American politicians (Candow, p. 130). By this time, no one seems to have wanted the seal products. Sealing, except as a local means of getting food (comparable to, say, deer hunting in the U.S.) was dying, no matter what Newfoundlanders thought. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Busch: Briton Cooper Busch, The War Against the Seals: A History of the North American Seal Fishery, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1985
- Candow: James E. Candow, Of Men and Seals: A History of the Newfoundland Seal Hunt, Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1989
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