« PreviousContinue »
but more or less were at all times on shore upon their favorite beaches,
which were about the islands of Santa Barbara, CerIslands off the coast ros, Guadalupe, San Bonitos, Natividad, San Roque,
and Asuncion, and some of the most inaccessible points on the main land between Asuncion and Cerros."
Half a century ago vessels were freighted off the California coast with cargoes of oil and other seal products, where, the killing being as usual unrestrained and indiscriminate, now only a few individuals remain of the former great herds.
17. SOUTHERN SEA-ELEPHANT Macrorhinus leoninus (Linn.).
Habitat : Southern portions of the South Pacific, South Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and Antarctic Seas.
The “sea-elephant" of sealers has a wide geographical distribution, occurring off the coasts and about the islands of nearly the entire southern half of the southern hemisphere, or from about latitude 300 south nearly to the Antarctic Circle. Whether these so-called sea elephants are all referable to a singlespecies, or to several species, has notas yet been satisfactorily settled, owing to lack of specimens in our museums. It is sufficient in the present connection to consider them collectively as seaelephants, since the specitic differences, if such truly exist, are obvi. ously of slight iinportance; even the California sea-elephant does not differ very appreciably from its relatives of the far South.
The sea-elephant is the largest of the Pinnipeds, the walruses alone possibly excepted, the full-grown males attaining a length of 20 to 22 feet, and a girth of about 12 feet. While thus longer than the walrus they are rather slenderer. They yield a very large amount of oil, the nature of which has led to the slaughter of many thousands of these huge beasts. A full-grown male, when very fat, will yield, it is said, about 4 barrels of oil. The females are less than half the size of the males and lack the elongated snout. At the approach of the breeding season they resort to sandy beaches
in large herds, the males preceding the females, and Habits of Sea Ele- the whole herd remains on shore for several months, phants.
or until the young are able to take the water. They also again come on shore to renew their coats, remaining more or less on shore from January to May, at the end of which period they become very lean. Captain Morrell thus describes their habits, as observed by him in
1823, at Kerguelan Land and the islands south of Cape Habits described by Horn: “ The male sea-elephant comes on shore the latCaptain Morrell, 1823.
ter end of August—the female late in September, or about the 1st of October.
When the males first come on shore they are so excessively fat that I have seen two from which might be produced a tun of oil; but after a residence of three months on land, without food, they become, as might be expected, very lean and emaciated. About the middle of December, their young being old enough to take the water, the whole breeding herd leave the shore to follow where instinct leads them among the hidden recesses of the deep. About the 1st of January the brood of the previous year come on shore to renew their coats; and in the middle of February the full-grown males and females do the same, and by the 1st day of May they bave all disappeared, both old and young.” He adds: “I have seen the male sea-elephant more than 25 feet in length, and measuring about 16 feet around the body; whereas the female is never half that size, and in
form resembles the hair-seal.” (Morrell, Voyages and Discoveries, p. 76.)
Captain Weddell, writing more especially of the sea-elephant of the South Shetland Islands, which he visited in 1820 and following years, gives the following respecting their habits: “ The males come on shore about the end of August and beginning of September, and in this month and the first part of October they are followed by the females, which, being with young since the preceding season, choose the land at this time for the purpose of parturition and procreation. When the males first arrive the fat of three or four will inake a tun of oil; but the average of both males and females is about seven to a tun. As they live, while on shore, entirely without food, by the middle of December they have become very lean, and their young being at this age able to take the water, the whole of the breeding herd leave the shores.
“A second herd come up about the middle of January for the purpose of renewing their coat of hair; in March a herd of full-grown males come up for the same purpose, and by the end of April every kind of them has returned to the sea." (Weddell, Voyages, p. 135.)
Sea-elephants were formerly found in great abundance at nearly all of the Oceanic Islands south of the thirtieth parallel of south latitude. Kerguelan Land and Heard Island Pacific and were especially favorite resorts for them. They were also abundant at the Falkland Islands, Staten Land, South Georgia, throughout the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, on the coasts of Patagonia, and as far north on the Pacific coast of South America as Maså-Fuero and Juan Fernandez. They also occurred in large numbers at the Tristan d'Acunha group, the Crozets, the Prince Edward Islands, St. Paul and Amsterdam Íslands, the coast and islands of southern Australia and New Zealand, and the numerous islands to the southward and eastward of New Zealand. At most of these points, however, they became long since practically exterminated, though still occurring at Kerguelan Land, fle:urd Island, and at a few other points in sufficient numbers to render sea elephant hunting attractive to the few sealers and whalers who still frequent these waters.
Sea-Elephant hunting began early in the present century, and for many years, either exclusively or in conjunction with whaling, proved a lucrative employment, largely mo
History of Sea-Ele
phant hunting. nopolized by Americans. From the incomplete statisties at hand, sea-elephant hunting appears to have been begun in 1803 on the coast of Patagonia, and was prosecuted there more or less regularly till 1819, during which period a total of about 15,000 barrels of sea-elephant oil appears to have been taken from Patagonia alone. In 1817 about 2,500 barrels were taken at the Falkland Islands, and also about 2,500 barrels in 1837. In 1820–22 about 4,000 barrels were taken at the South Shetland Islands, and again about 2,000 barrels at the same islands in 1831. About 2,000 barrels are accredited to the South Georgian Islands in 1829. In 1838 5,000 barrels were obtained at Kerguelan Land; in 1838 and 1839 about 5,000 barrels were taken at the Crozet Islands. During the decade 1840-50 nearly half the take of sea-elephant oil (about 16,000 barrels), came from Kerguelan Land, the total take, so far as statistics are available, being about 37,000 barrels. About this time the sea-elephant hunters began to visit Heard Island, and of the 84,000 barrels taken during the decade of 1850–60, four-fifths were obtained at Kerguelan Land and Heard Island (the latter first discovered in 1853). During the following decade (1860–70) about 36,000 barrels were reported as taken, nearly all of which came from the two last-named islands. The same is true of the decade from 1870 to 1880, but the amount of oil declined for this period to about 30,000 barrels, the decline being especially marked toward the close of the decade. It has been stated that during fifty years, beginning with the year 1837, not less than 175,000 barrels of sea-elephant oil were obtained from Kerguelan Land and Heard Island. As in later years, young of all ages as well as adults were taken, regardless, also, of season and condition, the number of sea-elephants annually destroyed at these seal islands must have been in the neighborhood of 40,000 individuals, or a total of probably over 2,000,000.
At these islands certain extensive beaches are described as being inaccessible from the water on account of the boisterous seas which constantly prevail, while precipitous cliffs render it impossible to transport the oil from these beaches to the vessels. Here great numbers of seaelephants annually haul up in security to breed, thus preserving the species from extermination, which doubtless otherwise would long since have overtaken them. More or less sea-elephant oil has been taken annually since 1880,
but the amount is small in comparison with the earlier Increasing searcity years, owing to the increasing scarcity of the sea-eleof
phants. The oil is chiefly used for softening wool, and for other purposes in the manufacture of cloth, for which it is especially adapted.
The above relates only to the operations of Americans, and even for these the published statistics are far from complete (given principally by A. Howard Clark in Goode's “ Fishery Industries of the United States”). When we add to this the enormous number of sea-elephants that have fallen a prey to sealers of other nationalities, it is not a matter for surprise that these animals have long since been practically extinct, commercially speaking, except at the tew points where the physical surroundings afford them protection from their inhuman enemies.
of the thirty-one species above enumerated two are walruses, twelve are eared-seals (fur-seals and sea-lions), and seventeen are earless or true-seals. Of this number only the walruses, the fur-seals, the Sea Elephants, and four or five of the common seals have ever been hunted for their commercial products, the others being too few in numbers or of too little value commercially to render pursuit of them profitUnrestricted
able. In all cases where the killing has been unreing always leads to stricted and indiscriminate the species have sooner or extermination.
later been brought to the verge of extermination, the period required for their extirpation varying with the accessibility of their haunts.
The small remnants still left of the former great herds of walruses owe their preservation largely to their high Arctic habitat, these ani. mals quite early disappearing from the more accessible parts of their former ranges. The great rookeries of fur-seals formerly found on many of the re
mote islands of the southern hemisphere and also about Extermination
the coasts and miljacent islands of the southern porSouthern Fur Seals.
tions of the southern continents, were, one after another, practically wiped out of existence during the first half of the present century, the supply of seal für during recent years having come almost
wholly from protected seal rookeries, and chiefly from those of Bering Sea.
The sea-elephants, formerly almost as widely distributed in the southern seas as the fur-seals, and also abundant on
Sea - Elephants al. the west coast of Mexico and California, have shared the fate of the unprotected fur-seal rookeries. The hundreds and thousands of former days are now represented by only a few scattered individuals, except at a few beaches inaccessible to the sealers.
The West Indian hair-seal was nearly exterminated long before its existence became known to naturalists.
Decline of Hair, The harp and hooded-seals of the North Atlantic Harp, and Hooded: and Arctic Sea—the basis of the Newfoundland and Seals. Jan Mayen seal fishery—formerly existed in such immense numbers that the supply seemed inexhaustible. During recent years, however, the catch has so greatly decreased as to seriously threaten the permanency of the sealing industry. The deterioration led
International finally to the adoption of international provisions for vision for a close seaan annual close-time, which is likely to be made much son. more rigorous as time goes on. Fortunately for the persecuted seals, bad weather often interferes with the plans of the sealers, so that for several successive years they are unable to gain access to the great breeding resorts of the seals, which have thus opportunity for recuperation.
Doubtless, if the seals of the icy seas of the north had been as easy to reach as were the fur-seal rookeries of the southern seas, they would long since have shared the same fate.