Down here at the bottom of the world, I get lots of calls everyday from journalists covering our campaign to protect endangered whales from the Japanese Whaling industry.
But I received one very strange inquiry from reporter Terry Roberts calling all the way from Newfoundland, Canada. He wanted to know why I was not honoring our reward offer for evidence of harp seals eating out the bellies of cod.
Yes, we did indeed put out a reward offer back in the Nineties when Newfoundland's silliest ever Fisheries Minister John Efford released a film showing hundreds of disemboweled cod at the bottom of a bay and blamed harp seals for the wastage.
I challenged John Efford to provide video documentation as evidence that harp seals eat only the stomachs of cod and disregard the rest. Neither Efford nor anyone else ever produced any evidence.
Now some Newfoundland blogger is saying that we are refusing to honor our reward because he has "indisputable evidence" to collect the reward.
It turns out he has a photograph of a seal with a fish in its mouth. Hardly the video evidence we demanded to back up John Efford's ridiculous theory that monstrous harp seals destroyed the cod.
We have not found a single credible fishery scientist that will back up Efford's silly accusations.
Anyhow, Canada being Canada, this actually became a news item this week. They probably needed a distraction over the embarrassment that all the invited G7 Finance Ministers snubbed the government's rather strange invitation to a feast of raw and cooked seal, beluga whale, narwhal, musk ox, and caribou meat.
The article as published in the Toronto Globe and Mail is below with my comments:
Blogger demands satisfaction, claims proof ends debate over whether harp seals indiscriminately rip the bellies out of codfish
By Terry Roberts
St. John's, N.L. The Canadian Press Published on Tuesday, Feb. 09, 2010
The long-running debate over whether harp seals indiscriminately rip the bellies out of codfish has resurfaced.
The latest chapter has a Newfoundland blogger and advocate for rural areas taking on Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an opponent of the annual seal hunt on the East Coast.
Darren Fancey of St. John's, creator of the pro-sealing website seashepherd.blogspot, is challenging Watson to make good on a pledge to pay $25,000 to anyone who could document the cod belly phenomenon.
Captain Paul Watson: I was not aware of this website but then again there are dozens of websites devoted to attacking Sea Shepherd, and quite frankly they have proven to have been rather boring so I don't pay much attention to them.
Mr. Fancey says a photograph published in the St. John's Telegram last spring provides indisputable evidence.
"I challenge him to pay the $25,000," Mr. Fancey said.
Captain Paul Watson: I don't know who Mr. Fancey fancies himself to be, but a single photograph of a fish in a seal's mouth is hardly 'indisputable' evidence. Our offer was for video evidence demonstrating that harp seals routinely eat the stomachs out of codfish. This is what former Fisheries Minister John Efford said they do and we demanded evidence to back up his ridiculous accusation. I never offered a reward for proof that seals eat fish. Of course they eat fish. That was never in dispute.
Mr. Watson said the reward is still on the table, but added that he needs more than one photo.
"A photograph doesn't mean anything. I need video evidence of it" Mr. Watson said Monday.
He was reached aboard the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin, which is engaged in a high-profile protest against a Japanese whale hunt in waters near Antarctica.
Mr. Watson offered the reward back in the 1990s after the federal fisheries minister at the time, John Efford, stated publicly that seals were ripping the bellies out of codfish and leaving the carcasses.
It came at a time when there was intense debate about the future of the seal hunt and suggestions that seals were slowing the recovery of cod stocks.
At one point, Mr. Efford called for a massive cull of seals.
"I said 'if you can show me evidence that this is taking place, then yes, we would pay that reward," said Mr. Watson. "Nobody has shown us any video evidence."
Mr. Watson acknowledges that seals eat cod, but he's not convinced that they just eat the bellies and discard the rest of the fish.
Captain Paul Watson: Cod makes up around 2% of a harp seal's diet. Harp seals actually prey on fish species that prey upon young cod so the fact is that seals benefit the cod.
"No marine biologist that I know of has ever heard of such a thing," he said. "That's what John Efford was claiming at the time."
The published photo in question was taken by Don Noble of Lewisporte, N.L.
It shows a seal biting into what appears to be a disembowelled codfish. Noble said at the time the seal had cleaned out the belly and then started nibbling away at the rest of the fish.
Captain Paul Watson: The species of seal is not identified and Mr. Noble admits that the seal was eating the rest of the fish - hardly evidence of eating only the bellies and discarding the rest of the fish.
Mr. Fancey has repeatedly e-mailed Watson's Washington-based group, challenging it to pay the money so he can turn it over to charity.
"To me, it's the proof he was asking for," Mr. Fancey said.
Mr. Fancey said his e-mails have been ignored.
Captain Paul Watson: Of course he was ignored. His demand for money is ridiculous and he has not provided a shred of evidence to back up his silly claim. I never asked for a photograph of a seal eating a fish. I've got hundreds of such photographs myself, I demanded video evidence of harp seals eating the bellies out of seals and discarding the carcasses. Big difference.
He also claims that a reference to the $25,000 payment that was on the Sea Shepherd website was removed last week.
Mr. Fancey provided screen grabs showing the site on Feb. 4 and the changes he said were made on Feb. 5.
Watson, who has been at sea for about two months, said he had no knowledge of any changes to the website.
Captain Paul Watson: I have not had access to the internet for two months so I'm not sure what he is referring to but it does not matter. The man is making a ridiculous claim for a reward without providing the evidence requested and that evidence was clearly stated as video or film documentation to back up the propaganda released by the former Newfoundland Fisheries Minister. In fact I am so positive that such evidence is not possible to obtain because what the Minister said has never been observed. In fact, I am so positive of this, that I will offer $50,000 for video evidence of seals in the wild eating only the bellies out of cod and discarding the bodies.