JOHANNESBURG — Namibia's annual commercial seal hunt will go on despite objections by animal welfare groups, a government official said Monday.
Frans Tsheehama of the Namibian fisheries and marine resources ministry said that the season started on July 1 and will run until Nov. 15.
Hunters are expected to club over 90,000 seals, including 85,000 pups.
The hunt was expected to begin last week, but there was confusion over whether the killings had begun after numerous media reports that a South African-based animal rights activist was in negotiations to halt them.
Namibia is one of only a few remaining countries with a commercial seal harvest. The government argues that the seal population needs to be controlled to protect fish stocks.
However, animal rights activists say the practice is inhumane and outdated.
Seals are hunted for skins, fur and meat, and seal genitals are sold as traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs in Asia.
Activist Francois Hugo of Seal Alert South Africa said last week that he had made a bid to buy out the company that purchases the Namibian seal pelts, effectively halting the hunt.
Hugo said that clubbing an animal to death is cruel, criminal and in defiance of international animal protection laws.
He also challenged the Namibian government's claim that the hunt maintained healthy seal populations, saying that in the past whole colonies had been devastated.
Namibia's seals number about 850,000 and live on a dozen remote, rocky islands off the coast of the sparsely populated southern African country.
The hunt takes place under clandestine circumstances to avoid the glare of publicity _ and to avoid upsetting tourists.
The government has said seals consume 900,000 tons of fish each year, more than a third of the fishing industry's catch, and that the cull is needed to protect fisheries. Animal welfare groups counter that most of the seals killed are still-nursing pups.
AJ Cady of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said that the industry is "collapsing" worldwide, citing a recent European Union ban on the import of seal products combined with the global economic downturn. In this year's Canadian harvest, sealers killed less than a third of their quota on weak demand.
"The great question here is who is really buying these things?" Cady said. "The cruelty is so obvious."