Each spring hunters around the remote Canadian outpost of St. Anthony, Newfoundland venture out on the Atlantic ice to kill as many baby Harp seals as they can. The trusting animals are bludgeoned to death, then skinned for their valuable pelts. Outraged animal lovers the world over have condemned the slaughter—this year’s predicted kill was 170,000 seals—and a delegation of protesters recently flew to the scene. Among them was actress Brigitte Bardot, 42, who had become appalled at the seals’ plight and was determined to do something to help. Keeping a diary, Bardot wrote the following account of her mission:
We take off from Le Bourget Airport in Paris, bound for Canada. I feel terrible—frightened, as always when I have to travel. The plane isn’t very big. We are squashed in with the baggage, unable to stand or stretch out, with 14 hours of flying time ahead of us.
Stopping off in Reykjavik, Iceland, I call Paris. My housekeeper tells me that French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing just called, wanting to talk to me about the baby seals. Too bad. I would have loved to talk to him and explain my feelings.
Hours later we fly over the ice fields where the hunters will be killing helpless baby seals tomorrow. A rage swells up inside me. I think about these poor little creatures who live so peacefully, with no defense against their attackers. I feel sick.
The next day I wake up at 6 a.m. in Sept lies, Quebec. Environmentalist Franz Weber paid in advance for seven helicopters, and now there isn’t one available. What a catastrophe. I feel totally helpless.
Later I call Paris. Wonderful news! President Giscard d’Estaing’s secretary has just rung saying that as of today, the French government will prohibit the importation of sealskin.
Now the Canadian press has learned that I am here. The journalists interview me as if I were promoting a film or spending a holiday. I tell them I have asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau. I tell them that if the hunting savagery stops, the Franz Weber Foundation will construct a factory to make synthetic fur, which would employ the local population. I will allow them to use my name without any royalty charge.
Trudeau doesn’t call back. I call him, but he is always busy with a ministerial meeting.
Our arrival in St. Anthony the next day is terrifying. The journalists are hostile to me. Most are Danish, Norwegian, Canadian, and they have come to fight for their sealskin industry. I am attacked on all fronts. I am asked if I eat meat. They accuse me of wearing sealskin.
I respond in my broken English that if I eat meat, it is to survive, whereas sealskins keep no one alive. In 1900 there were 10 million seals and today there are scarcely 800,000. The journalists mock me, nudging each other and laughing. I can’t stand this anymore.
Later, at Blanc Sablon, Quebec, I try to pull myself together for another meeting with the press, but my hair has lost its body, my eyes have circles under them, and my clothes are crumpled. My makeup is nonexistent, but I am not exactly here for a beauty contest. It’s almost like being at war.
At the press conference, Franz tries to explain why we are here, but no one listens. At this moment, a strength rises in me and I get up. I look them all in the face and order them to shut up. Finally a silence falls over the room. I am not here for fun, and I am speaking for the entire world.
“In Europe,” I say, “you are called ‘Canadian assassins.’ ” There is a frosty silence, then agitation. A voice comes out from the crowd: “Miss Brigitte, would you like to show the journalists a baby seal who has been freshly killed this afternoon?”
This is too much. There is the little body of a still-warm baby seal in a plastic bag. I feel like vomiting. Tears come to my eyes.
The next morning two helicopters take us onto the ice fields for a meeting with the hunters. The men are upset. They earn $15 for every skin and don’t understand that they are killing off a species in danger. But they are interested in working in a factory here, since they are poor and the only money they make all year is during the hunt.
The next day we try again to reach the ice fields. I am worried. The temperature is 20 degrees below zero (centigrade), and I am not used to this. Later, snow falls. Our helicopter pilot can’t see anything. We are thrown about in the storm. The wind so strong we have to shout to be heard. The pilot sends out an SOS. I am numb with fear. It would be so silly to die like this.
But now a miracle! Suddenly I see tents and a flag through the fog. Later the men at the camp below—volunteers trying to stop the hunters—lend me special shoes with enormous socks. They make me drink rum from a bottle. I admire them for their courage and devotion.
The next day we make our last try to get to the ice fields. The skies clear. The pilot asks if there are any seals below, and all of a sudden I see some—babies covered in white fur, like little balls of yarn. I feel like laughing and crying at the same time.
The helicopter drops us off on the ice. The baby seals look at us confidently with their big, soulful eyes. I take one in my arms. I kiss his wet nose and my tears join his.
Suddenly, the mother seal’s head appears, and her cries beckon the baby. She gives me a quizzical look, discovering me kissing her baby. Could she be jealous? I’m sorry, Mama Seal, but I will spend my life fighting for him.