We had only known Paul Hiltz and his buddy for a couple of hours, so we thought they were kidding when Hay Island came into view. "See all those grey things?" Hiltz asks, pointing to what we figured were hundreds of big rocks. "Those are seals."
First, let's address the issue of cuteness.
A full-grown grey seal is bigger than any fat man you know, and when you walk up to one, it bares its teeth and makes a noise like the snoring that follows a dozen beer.
They defecate prodigiously.
Hay Island is an hour's trip from Main-a-Dieu in Cape Breton by lobster boat, and during our visit in mid-February, it was populated by thousands of seals.
The only ones with white fur were small pups that were stillborn or had died shortly after they were born. Bald eagles and seagulls had picked clean the meat from their heads, so their skulls were almost as bright as their frozen bodies.
The fur on a newborn grey seal turns from white to brown or mottled less than a month after birth.
"There's a nice one," Hiltz says of a seal as he walked the island, which we judged to be about the size of Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, although without a single tree.
"That one would make a nice mat."
In the spring, it will be lobster season for the fishermen of Main-a-Dieu, who, at other times of the year, supplement their living by dragging for scallops or diving for sea urchins.
Hiltz is also a seal hunter. Or rather, was a seal hunter. Once part of a crew that harvested 400 seals on Hay Island in a single day, he hasn't been on a hunt in three years. The market for seal products has all but disappeared.
"Why is it all right to kill cows and chickens, but not seals?" he asks. "I can't figure that out."
Read the full story at the Herald Magazine>>
National Fisherman Live: 8/14/14
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In this episode, National Fisherman's Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley talks with Frances Parrott about the Notus Dredgemaster.