The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Russian, zveroboinyi promysel), the killing of hair seals, ringed seals, für seals, and similar animals. (Whaling is usually considered to be a separate type of hunting activity.) The products of seal-hunting include furs and hides; seal oil, which has nutritional and medicinal properties; meat, which is used to feed dog teams and fur-bearing animals; and internal organs (liver, endocrine glands), which are used in the production of vitamin A and certain other pharmaceutical preparations.

Hunting for seals is an ancient form of activity. Initially it was widespread in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, where as early as the first millennium B.C. cultures of maritime inhabitants were formed that obtained their means of existence by hunting for sea animals—walruses, whales, and seals. The meat and oil of the animals was used for food and for heating and illuminating houses; the hides were used in sewing garments and making home furnishings or were stretched over the hulls of boats; the bones and skulls of whales served in the construction of dwellings, and the tusks of walruses were used for making various weapons and tools. The most complete development of seal-hunting was attained in northeastern Asia among the ancestors of the modern Eskimo; from here it spread to the arctic and subarctic regions of North America and Greenland. It also played an important role in the life of the peoples of the Okhotsk coastal area, the island part of the Far East, the Kuril Islands, and northern Japan.

In Russia seal-hunting as the leading branch of the economy was widespread among the Eskimo, the coastal Chukchi and Koryak, the Komandorskie Aleuts; and as a secondary branch among the Samoyed, the Saamy, the Okhotsk Eveny, the Itel’ meny, and some peoples of the Amur River and Sakhalin Island. The seal-hunting methods of these peoples were extremely primitive; they used harpoons with stone and bone tips and canoes and kayaks covered with walrus hides. There are indications in the chronicles that as early as the ninth century the inhabitants of the Kola Peninsula paid tribute in skins from sea animals. In Russia seal-hunting existed from the 16th century on the ice of the White Sea; later it began to develop in the northeastern part of the Barents Sea. Russian hunters and trappers hunted for sea animals in Spitsbergen long before Spitsbergen was discovered by W. Barents (1596). Hunting of the Caspian seal began long ago. In the Far East seal-hunting first developed along the coast; it was only beginning in the 18th century that seal-hunting by ship became widespread. Rapacious and in-discriminate hunting led to a sharp reduction in the animal reserves of some species and the almost complete annihilation of others. One of the first decrees of the Soviet government was a decree on the protection of national resources; therefore, limitations on the hunting (or its complete prohibition) of sea animals whose numbers had become very small were introduced.

The principal regions in which seals are hunted in the North Atlantic are the White Sea and the Barents Sea (the White Sea herd of harp seals), the Greenland Sea (the Jan Mayen herd of harp seals and the hooded seals), and the Newfoundland region (the Newfoundland herd of harp seals). In the first region hunting is carried on by the USSR and Norway, in the second by Norway, and in the third by Canada and Norway. In 1965 the hunting of harp seals from ships in the White Sea was prohibited for five years, and the hunting of “white coats” (baby seals from three to seven days old) was permitted only by the local inhabitants to the extent of approximately 25,000 head annually, with the complete prohibition against killing adult females in rookeries. In the Greenland Sea a prohibition was introduced against hunting female harp seals, since the numbers of harp seals had decreased. In the Newfoundland area Canada and Norway introduced measures to protect the herd—a prohibition against killing females in rookeries and against the hunting of molting seals. The harp seals and hooded seals that inhabit the northwestern part of the Atlantic are protected by the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (1949). It is also in this region that the ringed seal is hunted, the killing of which may be increased because of its numbers.

The following seals are hunted in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean: ringed seal, bearded seal, harbor seal, ribbon seal (of the true seals), northern für seal, and Steller’s sea lion (of the eared seals). Owing to a sharp decrease in the number of walruses in the northern and Far Eastern waters, their hunting was prohibited beginning in 1957, and strict limitations on the hunting of these animals were introduced for the local population.

Seal-hunting is usually carried out on the ice during periods when the animals congregate for breeding purposes—in rookeries—and during molting periods (at the end of the winter and in the spring). The large animals are shot with rifles from a distance of 50–80 m; the young ones are killed with hooks.

The skins and fat (khoroviny) are removed from the dead animals on the ice. Motorized seal-hunting ships and icebreaking ships are used in seal-hunting. Airplanes are used to conduct reconnaissance of herds. (The first seal-hunting air reconnaissance of sea animals was carried out in 1926.)

In the Caspian Sea area hunting is carried out in the north-eastern part at the rookeries from the beginning of February to the middle of March; the objects of such hunting are the offspring (“white coats”). Hunting is carried out from motor vessels; by using the information gained from air reconnaissance, they sail through the clear water amid ice floes to the region where the animals congregate. Moreover, hunting is also carried on by groups of seal hunters who move out onto the ice in sledges. Reserves of the Caspian seals are not large; therefore, in order to regulate hunting, killing females during the winter, killing seals while they are in the water, and shoreline killing during the autumn are all prohibited. The hunting of Far Eastern seals is carried out amid the ice of the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea in May and June, using sealhunting ships. In both the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea the ice conditions during certain seasons do not permit hunting to be carried out in a number of regions. During March and April (the molting period) hunting is carried out in the Sea of Okhotsk only in its southern part and in the northern part only along the edge of the ice. In the Bering Sea animals are hunted near the Pribilof Islands and the island of St. Matthew. During May and June (the molting period) the circumstances are more favorable for hunting. However, even at this time not all regions are opened up for hunting.

Scientists from many countries have studied seals in the southern hemisphere. Observations on the biology and distribution of crab-eating seals, leopard seals, Ross’ seals, Weddell seals, elephant seals, and southern fur seals have allowed us to draw conclusions concerning their numbers; however, the density of their herds in specific regions varies. Regions with good prospects for hunting include the region of the Balleny Islands, Peter I Island, Graham Land, and the sea near D’Urville. According to preliminary data, the possible catch of seals of these species would amount to approximately 500,000 head annually (1970).

Hunting of für seals is carried out at their rookeries. In the northern part of the Pacific Ocean there are rookeries on the Pribilof Islands (USA), the Komandorskie Islands-Mednyi and Bering islands (USSR), and Tiulen’ Island (USSR, near the eastern shore of Sakhalin Island). The rapacious hunting of northern für seals in the late 19th and early 20th century led to the virtually complete annihilation of these animals in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean. The reserves of these valuable animals began to be restored after the signing in 1911 of the International Convention on the Preservation of für Seals. In 1957 the USSR, USA, Canada, and Japan signed a provisional convention on preserving the für seals in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean. It provides for regulating the kill and for coordinated studies to be conducted by member countries to work out measures that would ensure the maximum allowable stable kill of für seals. Because of this work the number of für seals in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean has increased considerably.


Issledovaniia morskikh mlekopitaiushchikh. Murmansk, 1967. (Collection of articles.)
Lastonogie severnoi chasti Tikhogo okeana. Moscow, 1968. (Collection of articles.)
Morskie mlekopitaiushchie. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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