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Some 17,200 baby seals have been slaughtered
Some 17,200 baby seals have been slaughtered as part of the first stage of Canada's controversial annual seal hunt, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said on Thursday.

Canada has the world's largest commercial seal hunting quotas, which were further increased by 2%, to 280,000 harp seals in 2009. The second round of the hunt will begin on Friday.

The IFAW said it is set to gather evidence of the cruelty of the hunt for the European Parliament that is moving closer to introducing a ban on the trade in seal products in all the EU member states.

"I'm confident we will gather enough footage to provide European policy makers with the cold hard facts about Canada's commercial seal hunt - that it's unacceptably cruel," said Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with IFAW.

"We witnessed today a classic example of the cruelty associated with this hunt. An injured, bleeding seal escaped into the water before a sealer could get to it. The sealer tried to pull the seal out by the hind flippers but it slipped underwater anyway," said Cheryl Jacobson, hunt observer with IFAW.

"This wounded seal will most likely die underwater and unbelievably, that kill won't even be counted in the official catch number," she added.

In the EU, Belgium, Croatia and the Netherlands have already banned sales of seal products, while Hungary, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Italy are preparing to introduce a ban. Outside the EU, a similar ban has also been introduced in the U.S. and Mexico.

On March 18 Russia introduced a complete ban on the hunting of harp seal cubs under 12 months old. In late February, Russia completely banned seal hunting in the White Sea.

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