The Instagram account for Netflix’s Seaspiracy, a documentary about the environmental impact of fishing, recently used its platform to target Canadian seal hunting.
The since-deleted post called to “Stop the Canadian Seal Hunt,” which included a link to a petition from the Humane Society that encourages the Canadian government to end the practice. It’s since inspired an online discourse about how Inuit seal hunting is often misrepresented.
In a TikTok post that’s since gone viral, an Iñupiaq woman named Ugrunna addressed the misinformation that’s being spread as the result of the call to action by Seaspiracy, which has over half a million followers on Instagram.
“Thousands of people have signed this petition not understanding the impact it has on Inuit,” she says in the video. “Yes, commercial fishing is a problem but Inuit should not be grouped into that.”
She goes on to explain that as a result of poverty, high cost of grocery store provisions and limited access to healthy foods, Inuit rely on traditional ways of hunting as a means to survive, particularly in a climate with extreme conditions. "Non-natives don't understand" that, she added.
“This form of action does absolutely nothing for positive change,” Ugrunna says at the end.
The crew running Seaspiracy’s Instagram account responded to her video in a since-expired story this week.
“We recently put out a post sharing information about the annual seal hunt in Canada...the post however did not make the important distinction between mass slaughter of seals and the Inuit subsistence hunt, which has understandably caused some confusion and concern,” it read. “We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Ugranna (sic) who brought this to our attention and clarify that we were referring to the industrial mass slaughter of seals, and not targeting those who depend on hunting.”
Ugrunna posted a follow-up video acknowledging the progress.
“I’m grateful that they’re listening, learning, and understanding the impact their voices have,” she said.
In a message to Yahoo Canada News, Ugrunna said she had heard about the situation with Seaspiracy from @koonoo.han, a Canadian Inuk.
In the post, she explained how the Seaspiracy account is spreading damaging information.
“It’s damaging because Indigenous people who still hunt for survival are being categorized in the same colour, in the same ugly picture,” she wrote. “Indigenous people who still hunt for food for survival, for their families, their communities.”
Crystal Martin-Lapenskie, president of the National Inuit Youth Council, says the spreading of misinformation damages Inuit communities and the dialogue happening on social media can be hit or miss.
“There’s so many conspiracies ... People will believe whatever they see on social media without looking at the legitimacy of the post or information,” she tells Yahoo Canada News. “TikTok is really popular and there’s a lot of Inuit that are on there trying to educate all people about who we are and what our cultures and traditions are like, but there’s always backlash to that.”
She adds that people need to understand that the seal hunt is an essential part of the Inuit culture and tradition and that won’t change.
“Seals do sustain our people," Martin-Lapenskie says. "The meat fills bellies, is shared amongst families and communities and even inter-communities. It’s not just the seal skin, which is the economy part, the food is the socio aspect of our lives.”
Users took to social media to share their thoughts on the original post and urging clarity and education on the differences between commercial fishing and the Inuit seal hunt.
In March, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans responded to a release by the Humane Society that called for the shut down of Canada's seal hunt that takes place every year around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The DFO told The Chronicle Herald that no Total Allowable Catches (TACs) have been set for the seal hunt since the previously announced TAC in 2016, because “removals remain well within sustainable levels.”
Minister Bernadette Jordan told the outlets that the government supports a “sustainable, humane, and well-regulated seal harvest, and we recognize the critical role it plays in Indigenous, rural, and coastal communities.”