One of two seals at the Aquarium des Iles who were set to be killed because they could not be released into the wild. They have been given a reprieve, but petitioners will need to raise $73,000 by next week.

The fate of two harp seals at an aquarium in the Iles-de-la-Madeleine has raised an international outcry, with more than 124,000 people from around the world signing an 11th hour petition to save them.

Originally slated to be killed Saturday, the strength of the opposition has led the Aquarium to spare six-month-old pups Zak and Mika – for now.

But it is still not clear who will take care of the seals, and at whose expense.

Every spring for the last 25 years, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans catches two whitecoat harp seals to put on display at the aquarium in the Iles-de-la-Madeleine, to be released back into the wild when the aquarium closes in the fall.

But with new directives from the DFO this year barring their release because of concerns they may transmit disease to wild populations of seals and other animals, the aquarium planned to kill the two seals Saturday as it closed its doors for the fall and winter.

One of the workers at the aquarium alerted a wildlife rehabilitation centre on Saltspring Island, B.C., however, and the petition was born, drawing thousands of signatures a day for the past week.

In response, the Aquarium des Iles issued a statement Friday suggesting it could send the animals to Oceanopolis, a facility in Brest, Franceif those who signed the petition come up with the $73,000 needed to care for them in the meantime, by Sept. 21.

Wildlife organizations were not impressed.

“It feels a little like they’re taking the seals hostage – like a ransom note: “Now that you’re upset, give us some money or we’ll kill them,” said Michelle Cliffe, a spokesperson for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is helping to organize the effort. “We think it’s the responsibility of an aquarium to have a plan and the finances to care for animals prior to taking on those animals.”

Cliffe said the sheer number of people that have signed on, from as far away as Russia and Greece and across the U.S., show that people do care about the animals, and so should the aquarium.

“The mandate of the aquarium is to educate the public about these animals, and create a bond with them,” Cliffe said. “It seems very strange and very sad that they would then destroy the very animals they are trying to educate people about – what is the message and what is the learning there?”

Aquarium directors could not be reached for comment yesterday. But a caretaker said it’s been “hell” for the last three days, as the fate of the seals is all anyone is talking about.

Cliffe said her organization is in contact with the DFO and is looking into whether there is a way to mitigate the medical risks of releasing the seals to the wild — the best, and cheapest solution.

Barring that the IFAW is also examining the conditions in which the seals would be cared for, both en route and at Oceanopolis. In terms of minimizing suffering, euthanasia may be preferable to putting the seals in a cage on an airplane for eight hours, she said.

But the situation raises bigger questions about why the DFO is capturing marine mammals to begin with — at taxpayers’ expense — and about the lack of legislation protecting marine mammals both in the wild and in captivity.

Based on the testimony of three workers at Marineland, the Toronto Star has published a series of stories highlighting the poor living conditions at that aquarium in Niagara Falls, and more than 76,000 people have now signed a petition calling on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to enact laws and regulations to protect animals in zoos and aquaria.

The DFO stopped the capture of whales for the benefit of aquaria following recommendations made in 1999, Cliffe said. It should now stop capturing all marine mammals

News Link:-: http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/Iles+Madeleine+harp+seals+spared+after+worldwide+outcry/7248949/story.html#ixzz26aJwwsLJ