Perhaps the greatest danger to seals at the present time is pollution of marine habitats which is causing a decrease in their ability to fight off infections. About one half of the European seal population died of a form of distemper because of their weakened condition from living in the highly polluted North Sea.
Seal penises are used in traditional Chinese medicine as an aphrodisiac and the popularity of this mythical sexual stimulant encourages the unregulated hunting of seals, including protected species. The species involved in the seal penis trade include harp seals hunted by Norway in the northeast Atlantic, Cape fur seals from Namibia, South American fur seals in Uruguay, northern fur seals in the USA, and harp and hooded seals from Canada. The size and value of the trade in seal penises is unknown, but is believed to be lucrative and growing. A Chinese syndicate reportedly offered to buy 60,000 seals in Labrador and Newfoundland in 1993, and another company subsequently offered to buy and process 250,000 seals. In 1994, fishermen on the Galapagos Islands killed an undetermined number of Galapagos sea lions, a small population numbering 30,000-40,000 and sent a consignment of their penises to Japan.