Page images
PDF
EPUB

tion.

selves into the water the moment they perceive the approach of their arch enemy.

“While encamped in their rookeries three or four sentinels are always Sentinels postel by posted to keep a lookout while the others sleep; and seals for self-protec. the moment a boat makes its appearance, though it be

a mile from the shore, these faithful watchmen promptly give the alarm, when in an instant the whole rookery is in motion. Every one makes for the surf with all possible expedition, so that by the time the boat reaches the shore they will nearly all be in the water, with the exception of a few females that have pups or young ones to take care of. These will remain to defend and protect their charge until the last moment, when, if hard pushed, they will seize their pups by the back of the neck with their teeth and dive into the surf, where they are obliged to hold the heads of the pups above water to prevent their suffocation.

The males, many of them, will also stand their ground and fight very hard for the young seals; often they will perish in the noble cause. “When excited their motions are very quick, like the flash of a gun on

touching the match; hence the name of clapmatch, which Quick motions.

sailors apply to the female. In pursuit, their speed (on land) is nearly equal to that of a man, and much swifter on the rocks than could be anticipated from their appearance. " About the latter end of February the dog-seals go on shore. These

are the young male seals of the two preceding years; Dog Seals.

but, owing to their youth and inexperience, are not yet al. lowed to attend the pregnant females or “clapmatches." The purposes for which they now seek dry land are to shed their coats, and give the new-starting crop of fine hair a chance to grow. By the 1st of May these objects are effected, when they again take to the ocean, and are seldom seen near the shores again until the 1st of July, when they appear and disappear alternately, without order or any ostensible purpose, for the period of a month; after which they are seen no more until the 1st of September following. During this month a herd of

young seals, male and female, resort to the shore; and Arrival of mature when they retire again to their favorite element, the Seals.

wigs, or large male seals, make their appearance on the land, for the purpose of selecting a suitable spot for their rookeries, where they are to receive the clapmatches, or females of age. This completes the annual round of visits made to the land by fur-seals of all classes." (Morrell Voyages and Discoveries, pp. 74–76.)

Captain Weddell, writivg of the fur-seals of the South Shetland Islands, says: "Nothing in this class of animals, and more particularly

in the fur-seal of Shetland, is more astonishing tban Relative size of males and females.

the disproportion in the size of the male and female.

A large grown male, from the tip of the nose to the extremity of the tail, is 6 feet 9 inches, whilst the female is not more than 34 feet. This class of males is not, however, the most numerous, but being physically the most powerful they keep in their possession all the females, to the exclusion of the younger branches; hence, at the time of parturition the males attending the females may be computed as one to twenty, which shows this to be, perhaps, the most polygamous of large animals. They are in their nature completely gregarious, but they flock together and assemble on the coast at different periods,

and in distinct classes. The males of the largest size Landing of Seals.

go on shore about the middle of November to wait the arrival of the females, which of necessity soon follow, for the purpose of bringing forth their young. These in the early part of December begin to land; and they are no sooner out of the water than they are taken possession of by the males, who have many serious battles with each other in procuring their respective soraglios; and, by a peculiar instinct they carefully protect the females and their charge during the whole period of gestation.

"By the end of December all the female Seals have accomplished the purpose of their landing. The time of gestation may be considered twelve months, and they seldom have Propagation of Seals. more than one at a time, which they suckle and rear apparently with great affection. By the middle of February the young are able to take the water, and after being taught to swim by the mother they abandon them on shore, where they remain till their coats of fur and hair are completed. During the latter end of February what are called the dog. seals go on shore; these are the young seals of the two preceding years, and such males as from their want of age and strength are not allowed to attend the pregnant females.

“ These young seals come on shore for the purpose of renewing their annual coats, which being done by the end of April, they take to the water, and scarcely any are seen on shore again until the end of June, when some young males come up and go off alternately,

“They continue to do this for six or seven weeks, and the shores are then again abandoned till the end of August, when a herd of small young seals of both sexes come on shore for about five or six weeks; soon after they retire to the water. The large male seals take up their places on shore, as has been before described, which completes the intercourse all classes have with the shore during the whole year.

“ The young are at first black; in a few weeks they become gray, and soon after obtain their coat of hair and fur. M. Buffon describes the longevity of the seal to be even so great as a hun.

Longevity. dred years.

I have estimated the female seal to be in general at its full growth within four years; but possibly the male seal is much longer, very likely tive or six years; and some which I have contrasted with others of the same size could not, from their very old appearance, be less than thirty years.” (Weddell, Voyages, pp. 137, 140.)

The following recent account of the habits and breeding places of the southern fur-seals is from the affidavit of Mr. George

Account of habits, Comer, who for ten years, beginning in 1879, wasengaged by Mr. George in sealing in the southern hemisphere. Hespent fourteen comer. months at a small island, called by the sealers West

West Cliff Island, Cliff, Chile, about 100 miles north of the Straits of Magellan. The shores, he says, of all the many seal rookeries he visited, “ are of much the same character. There is a narrow beach line, from which cliffs rise abruptly to the height of 75 to 150 feet. Through these are narrow crevasses in the rocks or small ravines, where streams flow into the sea; it is at such points the seals are to be found. The animals clamber up these rocks, often going where it is impossible for man to go. The climate of these localities is peculiar. The sky is constantly overcast, and during the summer the average temperature would be between 400 and 45° F. Rain falls nearly every day, keeping the atmosphere constantly moist, but no hard storms take place, the rain falling in misty showers.

“ During the fourteen months passed at West Cliff, heretofore men

Chile.

tioned, I had an excellent opportunity to examine and study the seals which frequent that coast. Along the coasts and islands near Cape Horn snow oes not fall to any extent, and never remains for any length of time. No ice forms along the shore. There is very little

difference in the temperature of winter and summer. Habits of Seals.

The seals inhabiting these shores do not migrate, but always remain on or near the land, only going a short distance in search of food, and at all seasons and in every month of the year seals can be found on shore. Toward the latter part of October the “wigs,' or full-grown males, begin to congregate on the breeding rookeries. A

wig’ weighs anywhere from 250 to 500 pounds, and must be 4 or 5 years old before he has strength and endurance enough to maintain a place on the rookery. The battles for position between rival. wigs’are most fierce, but at last they all get their places, and await the coming of the clapmatches' or females. About the 10th of November the females begin to arrive, and land on the breeding rookeries. Each wig' gets about him as many clapmatches' as he can, the average number, I should say, being from ten to twenty. The wig' never allows the clapmatch' to leave his harem for some time, always seizing her and dragging her back if she attempts to go into the water. Almost immediately on landing the female drops her pup, it seldom being more than a day after they come on shore.

“A clapmatch' gives birth to only one pup, except in rare instances, when she has two. I never saw but one case where a éclapmatch’bad more than one pup at a birth. Within a few days after the birth of the pup, the clapinatch' is served by the wig.' 'After being served, the - wig' lets her go into the water to feed, as she has to do in order that she may nurse her pup. “The pup when burn weighs about 4 or 5 pounds, and is covered

with shining black hair, beneath which there is no fur.

When four or five months old, this black hair is shed, and a new hair of a brownish-gray color comes out, and the fur appears with it. A pup does not go into the water until he is three or four months old, and then he works gradually from the puddles into the surf, and I have seen clapmatches' in stormy weather pick up their pups in their mouths and carry them out of reach of the waves. Until the pup sheds his black hair, he is entirely dependent on his mother's milk for sustenance.

A black pup walks on all fours, raising his body more from the ground than an older seal. .. AU seals can move very rapidly on land when forced to do so, and seem to have remarkable powers of land locomotion when the formation of their flippers and body is taken into consideration. “The young wigs,' or nonbreeding males, not being allowed on the

rookeries, herd by themselves and never molest the

harems. They go into the water, but during the breeding season hang around the rookeries, never going far from shore.

“ About the 20th of November we used to begin killing and up to that time the “wigs' had never left their positions to feed or drink. I do not know how much longer they would have staid there fasting if we had not molested them."

From the foregoing, and from much similar testimony that might be brought together, it is evident that the habits and places of resort of fur-seals is much the same everywhere.

Habits of pups.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The

young males.

Family PHOCIDÆ.

SEALS.

Hair-Seals.

of the world.

The seals proper, or the hair-seals, have no external ears, are short necked, rather thick-bodied, and have the hind limbs permanently directed backward and useless for terrestrial locomotion. They vary greatly in size, from the common barborseal only 4 to 5 feet in length, and weighing about 150 pounds, to the gigantic sea-elephant or elephant-seal, which attains a length of more than 20 feet, and a weight of probably over 2,000 pounds.

The seals, unlike the walruses and eared-seals, are of almost worldwide distribution, being found on the coasts of nearly all countries, except within the tropics; they also as

Inhabits all parts cend many of the larger rivers for long distances, and occur in some of the inland seas, as the Caspian and others in Asia. Their pelage is harsh and destitute of under fur, and hence the commercial value of their skins is comparatively small. Seals, however, being excessively fat, are extensively hunted for their oil, of which some of the species yield a large amount, possessing qualities which renderit a valuable commodity.

Seals, as a rule, are not polygamous, and resort to the land or ice fields to bring forth their young, according to the species. They are also more or less migratory, passing to wariner latitudes in winter, and returning to their breeding stations in summer.

The seals vary much in the structure of the teeth and in the conformation of the skull, in consequence of which differences

Subfamilies. they are commonly separated into three subfamilies, namely, (1) the Phocinæ, embracing nearly all the seals of the Northern Ilemisphere, of which the common harbor-seal is a good example; (2) the Cystophorhina, including the hooded-seal of the North Atlantic and the sea-elephants; (3) the Ogmorhinina, confined to the southern and antarctic seas.

Habits.

1.-Subfamily PHOCINÆ.

1.-Genus PHOCA LINN.

1. HARBOR SEAL, Phoca vitulina Linn.

Habitat: Coasts of the North Atlantic from New Jersey and the Mediterranean northward to the Arctic regions, coasts of the North Pacific from southern California and Japan northward to the Arctic regions.

This species was formerly much more numerous than at present along the coasts of both continents, particularly southward. Though not eminently gregarious, it was not uncommon to find a considerable number associated together at its more favorite littoral resorts. Owing to the difficulty of capturing this species and its comparative scarcity and small size, it has never been of much commercial importance.

2. RINGED SEAL, Phoca foetida Fabr.

Habitat: North Atlantic, from the coasts of Labrador and Finland northward, Bering Sea and the Arctic seas generally.

The home of the ringed-seal is almost exclusively the icy seas of the north. It is essentially a littoral, or rather glacial, species, resorting to the ice floes to bring forth its young, but passing most of the year in bays and fjords. It is a small species, attaining a length of about 5 feet and a weight of about 200 pounds, when adult. It is very important to the Eskimos as a source of food and clothing. It has, however, never had much commercial importance, although the Scotch whalers buy their skins (with the blubber attached) of the Eskimos of Cumberland Sound, to the number of a few thousand annually.

3. HARP-SEAL, Phoca groenlandica (Fabr.).

Habitat: North Atlantic, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the North Sea northward to the Arctic Sea; also Bering Sea.

The harp-seal, known also as the saddle-back, white-coat (when young), Greenland seal, etc., is by far the most important commercially of all the true seals, being the principal basis of the Newfoundland and Jan Mayen seal fisheries. It is of medium size, having, when adult, a length of 5 to 6 feet, and a weight of 600 to 700 pounds, or a little more when in prime condition. It is preëminently gregarious, migratory, and pelagic. It is nowhere a permanent resident, and annually traverses a wide breadth of latitude. Although often met with far out at sea, it generally keeps near the edges of drifting ice. It appears never to resort to the land, and is seldom found on firm ice. About the beginning of March they assemble at their favorite breed

ing stations, selecting for this purpose immense ice fields Habits of Harp Seal.

far from land. Their best known breeding grounds are the ice packs off the eastern coast of Newfoundland and about the

island of Jan Mayen. Off the Newfoundland coast the Breeding grounds.

young are chiefly born between the 5th and 10th of March; at the Jan Mayen breeding grounds between the 23d of March and the 5th of April. The females take up their stations on the ice very near each other, the young being thus sometimes born not more than 3 feet apart. The males accompany the females to the breeding stations and remain in the vicinity, congregating mostly in the open pools between the ice floes. The mothers leave their young on the ice to fish in the neighborhood for their own subsistence, but they frequently

return to their young to suckle them, of pups.

grow very rapidly, and when three weeks old are said

to be nearly half as large as the old ones. They have now attained their greatest fatness; later they decrease in fatness, while they continue to increase in general size. The young are said not to voluntarily enter the water until at least twelve days old, and that they require four or five days practice before they acquire sufficient strength and proficiency in swimming to enable them to care for themselves. After they take to the water they congregate by themselves, and when they mount the ice assemble in large compact herds. During the last century sealing was carried on from the shore in a

small way in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coast Sealing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and of Newfoundland. Early in the present century small on the coast of New. vessels began to be employed and the sealing industry foundland.

rapidly increased in importance, and by the year 1820 the annual catch exceeded 200,000 seals. From 1830 to 1850 the animal Newfoundland catch varied in different years from about 350,000 to nearly 700,000, the largest recorded catches being about 680,000, in the years 1831, 1814, and 1816. In recent years the catch has varied from

The young

Growth and habits

« PreviousContinue »