The modern era
1900s and 1800s
|Disaster on the ice
1914, the crew of sealers aboard the "Newfoundland" were left unprepared
on the ice for two days with little food and light clothing during a
fierce snowstorm. 78 men froze to death on the ice, and many of the 55
survivors lost limbs and were crippled for life. In addition to this
tragedy, another 175 sealers died doing their job that year.
Seal oil was the main reason for the early commercial hunt. Large quantities were shipped to Britain to be used as fuel for lamps, as lubricating and cooking oil, in the processing of leather and jute, and as a constituent in soap.
By the 1860s, the hunt accounted for about one-third of Newfoundland's exports.
By 1857, there were 370 vessels and 13,600 men engaged in sealing.
Catches further increased following 1820 and reached a peak in 1832 of more than 740,000 seals.
Catches rose to an average of 100,000 for the period 1804-1817.
In the beginning …
Offshore hunting began in the late 1700s. Average reported annual catches were 27,000 for the period 1723-1803.
Men involved in two or three day hunting excursions near their homes were known as "landsmen" because they reached the seals on foot.
Settlers from the North Shore of the St. Lawrence and the northeast coast of Newfoundland began hunting seals commercially in the early 1700s.
There is evidence that seal hunting occurred as far back as 3,000 years ago (early Dorset culture).
Inuit people of the Thule culture about 1,000 years ago harpooned seals.
The French explorer Jacques Cartier found Labrador Inuit hunting seals when he sailed into the Strait of Belle Isle in 1534.
By the end of the 16th century, seals were a crucial part of the European fleets' catch on their annual fishing expeditions to the Magdalen Islands.
Basque, Breton and Norman fishers caught seals at the end of the 1600s.