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FUR-SEAL HUNTING IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE.
By DR. J. A. ALLEN.
Fur-seals formerly existed in great numbers along portions of the southern coasts of South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, on the outlying islands off these coasts, and also on many of the pelagic islands of the southern oceans. Seal hunting for commercial purposes began here during the closing decades of the last century, and as early as the beginning of the present century the industry had assumed gigantic proportions. The skins at this time, and for many years after, were taken to the Canton market and exchanged for teas, silks, and other well-known products of the Chinese Empire. The price obtained for the skins was small in comparison to their value in later years, usually ranging from 50 cents to $1 or $5 per skin. Yet the sealing business proved immensely profitable, and led to an indis. criminate and exterminating slaughter. One after another of the populous seal rookeries was visited and reduced to the verge of extermination, followed by new voyages of discovery in search of new sealing grounds, which in turn were quickly despoiled. Every seal that could be obtained was killed, regardless of age or sex.
The fur-seals generally selected for their homes barren, volcanic islands, situated in stormy seas, often inaccessible except to the most venturesome, skillful, and hardy seamen. The seals that escaped the hunters usually owed their preservation to the inaccessibility of their haunts.
Sealing first began in the southern hemisphire at the Falkland Is lands about 1784. The immense fur-seal rookeries at
History. the islands of Mas-á-Fuera and Juan Fernandez were first visited in 1793, where millions were taken during the next fifteen years. In the year 1800 the South Georgian rookeries were attacked and speedily exhausted. In 1801 the sealing fleet at this island numbered thirty vessels, while an equal number of vessels were employed during the same year in sealing off the coast of Chile. At about this date sealing began on the Patagonian coast, in the archipelago of Ti. erra del Fuego, at St. Marys Island, off the coast of Chile, and at the Saint Felix group. In 1803 and 1804 voyages were made to the coast of Australia, Borders Island, and the Antipodes. In 1804–1806 seal rookeries were discovered at the Crozet and Prince Edward Islands. In 1820 the immense wealth of Seal lite at the South Shetlands was discovered and the Seals nearly exterminated in a single season. At the Auckland Islands sealing began to be vigorously prosecuted in 1822 and 1823. At these and numerous less noted fur-seal resorts sealing has been intermittently prosecuted from the date of their discovery till the present time, although of late years the catch has been small and in many instances ti vessels lave made losing voyages. A most of 50
the fur-seal resorts above mentioned there are now not enough Seals left to make it worth while to attempt to capture them. At all of them the slaughter has been indiscriminate and to the highest degree improvident; since, if the killing had been wisely regulated, tens of thousands of seals might have been taken annually at each of a dozen to twenty of the larger rookeries without any undue decrease in the seal population. In contrast to this may be cited not only the history of the seal
rookeries in Bering Sea, but those at Lobos Island, Instances of Gov. Auckland Island, and on the west coast of South Africa, ernment protection.
where the killing has been more or less stringently reg. ulated by the several Goverments to whose jurisdiction these seal rookeries pertain.
In the following pages a succinct general history is given of each of the principal rookeries and fur-sealing grounds of the Southern hemisphere.
The first cargo of fur-seal skins obtained at the Falkland Islands, or probably from anywhere south of the equator, appears to have been secured by the American ship States from Boston, about the year 1784. In 1792 several vessels obtained full cargoes of fur-seal skins at these islands, and they were visited by one or more vessels nearly every year as late as 1800, and subsequently at less frequent intervals till the present time. At the Falklands fur-seals were less abundant than at many of the islands off the coast of Chile and elsewhere in the Southern Seas. Yet the vessels which first visited them seem to have found lit. tle difficulty in securing good cargoes of fur-seal skins. Later the rookeries became nearly exterminated. According to the affidavit of Capt. James W. Buddington, a close season, lasting from October to April, was established in 1881, but owing to the granting of licenses for killing during the close season the ordinance was of little benefit to the seals. About 1886 the annual catch varied from fifty to five hundred skins. So far as our knowledge extends there are still a few furseals left at these islands.
The island of Mas-á-Fuero, situated off the coast of Chile, in latitude 34° S. (about 400 miles west of Valparaiso), when first discovered, in 1.563, swarmed with fur-seals. The island appears to have been first visited for fur-seals by the ship Elica, Capt. William R. Stewart, of New York, in 1792. This vessel secured a cargo of 38,000 skins, which were taken to Canton and sold for $16,000. In 1798 Capt. Edward Fanning, of the ship Betsey, from New York, took 100,000 seal skins to the Canton market, nearly all of which were obtained at Mas-áFuero. He estimated that at the time of his leaving Mas-á-Fuero there were still left on the island between 500,000 and 700,000 Seals. (Voy. ages, etc., pp. 117, 118.)
1 In compiling this statement much use has been made of the statistics and other information first published by Mr. A. Howarı Clark, in Prof. G. Brown Goode's "The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States.” (See section V, vol. II, 1887, pp. 400-167.) The earlier history is based upon the authorities given passim, but the information relating to the recent history and present condition of the Southern fur- rookeries is based on the attid vits of masters of sealing vessels and others engaged in fur-seal tishing or in the fur-seal trade, taken by the Department of State of the United States.
Capt. A. Delano, writing of the same subject, says: “When the Americans came to Mas-á-Fuero about the year 1797, and began to make a business of killing Seals, there is no doubt but that there were 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 of them on the island. I have made an estimate of more than 3,000,000 that have been carried to Canton from thence in the space of seven years. I have carried more than 100,000 myself, and have been at the place when there were the people of fourteen ships or vessels on the island at one time killing seals.” (Narr. Voy. and Trav., 1817, p. 306.) It is therefore scarcely a matter for surprise that in 1807, according to Captain Morrell (Voyages, etc., p. 130), “The business was scarcely worth following;
in 1824 the island, like its neighbor, Juan Fernandez, was almost entirely abandoned by these animals." In other words the Seals had become so nearly exterminated that there were not enough left to render the pursuit of them profitable. In later years the island has been visited at intervals by fur-seal hunters and small catches obtained. As late as 1891 Capt. Frank M. Gattney states (affidavit) that on visiting the island for fur-seals he saw three or four hundred, and took nineteen, showing that a few are still to be found at Mas-á-Fuero.
The island of Juan Fernandez, situated a few miles to the eastward of Mas-á-Fuero, was formerly the home of immense numbers of furseals. Dampier, who visited this island in 1683, says:
66 Seals swarm as thick about this Island of John Fernando as if they had no other place in the World to live in; for there is not a Bay or Rock that one can get ashore on but is full of them.
These at John Fernando's have fine, thick, short Furr; the like I have not taken notice of any. where but in these Seas. Here are always thousands, I might say possibly millions of them, either sitting on the Bays, or going and coming in the Sea round the Island; which is covered with them (as they lye at the top of the Water playing and sunning themselves) for a mile or two from the shore. When they come out of the Sea they bleat like Sheep for their young; and though they pass through hundreds of others' young ones, before they come to their own, yet they will not suffer any of them to suck. The young ones are like Puppies and lie much ashore; but when beaten by any of us, they, as well as the old ones, will make toward the Sea, and swim very swift and nimble; tho on shore they lie very sluggishly, and will not go out of our way unless we beat them, but snap at us. A blow on the nose soon kills them. Large ships might here load themselves with Seal Skins and Trayne Oyl, for they are extraordinary fat.” (A New Voyage Round the World, etc., 1697, pp. 89, 90.)
Seal-hunting began at Juan Fernandez at the same time as at MasáFuero, the two islands being but a few miles apart and the fur-seals frequenting them belonging to the same herd. Owing to the early settlement of this island (it had a population of 3,000, according to Delano, in the year 1800) the seals probably found the island an uncongenial resort almost before the sealing business fairly began, as Delano, writing in 1800, says there were not then any seals on any part of it. (Voyages and Travels, etc., 1817, p. 313.) Subsequently the island appears to have been visited at intervals by sealers in search of fur-seals, but always with poor success. Although not yet extinct there (see affidavit of Capt. Frank M. Gaffay, who reports seeing a few fur-seals there in December, 1801), the number left is too small to possess any commercial importance.
The Galapagos Islands, situated under the equator, about 600 miles west of Ecuador, are the home of fur-seals, which probably belong to a different species from that formerly so abundant farther south. The Galapagos seals reside at the islands throughout the year; they are said to breed in caves and to bring forth their young at all seasons. The supply here appears never to have been abundant. Delano, writing in 1800, says: “ These islands afford some seals of both the hair and fur kind; and I think a vessel might procure several thousands of the two kinds, upon the whole of this cluster of islands, as all of them afford some." (Voyages and Travels, p. 381.) They were fre
(, quently visited later, and Captain Fanning states (Voyages, p. 410) that in 1816 he obtained there 8,000 fur-seals and 2,000 hair seals. Capt. Benjamin Morrell mentions taking a few fiur-seals at the south end of Albemarle Island in November, 1825 (Narrative of Four Voyages, etc., 1832, p. 221), and doubtless many have been taken at the Galapagos since that date. Capt. Charles W. Reed (affidavit) states that in 1872 he took 3,000 fur-seals at these islands, and about as many more during three subsequent voyages, between this date and 1880. In 1885 Capt. Gaffney (affidavit) obtained 1,000 fur-seals there.
ST. FELIX, ST. AMBROSE, ST. MARYS ISLANDS, ETC.
Many of the small islands off the coast of Chile, from the strait of Islands off coast of Magellan northwarıl, were formerly inhabited by coloChile.
nies of fur-seals. Even before the annihilation of the seal rookeries at Juan Fernandez and Masá-Fuero, these islands were visited by the sealers, from some of which they reaped rich harvests. Delano, writing in 1801, speaks of St. Felix and St. Ambrose islands as being visited by the sealers, the greater part of the catch being taken from St. Felix, the larger island of the group. (Voyages and Travels, p.354.) In 1816 Capt. Edward Fanning took 14,000 fir-seal skins at St. Marys. (Voyages, etc., p. 111.) He also speaks of having visited these islands in 1801 and of finding there a small fleet of American sealers, five ships and a schooner. (Ibid., p. 306.) While it is impossible to give even approximate statistics of the catch, the aggregate number of seals taken must have been large.
At some of these islands small remnants of the former herds still exist, as shown by the affidavits of Capts. Frank M. Gaffney and George Fogel. The latter states that in 1870 he saw at Chillaway thousands of fur-seals; in 1891, however, there were “no seals there worth men. tioning.” In December, 1891, Captain Gaffney saw only two fur-seals at St. Felix and St. Ambrose islands, where formerly they were so abundant. At Rees Islet (lat. 16° 45' S., long. 750 45' W.) during a stay of two weeks in December, 1891, he obtained one seal. He says, however, that they still breed there, but that the Chilians go there and kill all that they can obtain, as has been the case for many years at other islands off the Chilean coast. Hence there is little opportunity for the recuperation of the seal herds.
TIERRA DEL FUEGO AND THE PATAGONIAN COASTS.
The group of islands south of Patagonia known as Terra del Fuego, with which may be here included the Diego Ramirez group, are celebrated for the number of sea-elephants and fur-seals which they have
yielded to commerce, as are also the coasts and outlying islands of Patagonia. Without going into details as to the former abundance of furseals in this general region, it may suffice to show that at present the species is practically extinct, at least in a commercial sense. Says Captain Budington (affidavit), great numbers were formerly taken on the east coast of Patagonia; at present there are no seals there. There are not enough on the Patagonian coasts to pay for hunting them. He says that in 1881 he took 600 fur-seals on the Western coast, at Pictou Landing In 1889 he again visited this coast and obtained only four skins.
At Tierra del Fuego and adjacent islands he took 5,000 skins during the season of 1879–80; in 1891-'92 he obtained only 900, and these came from another part of the coast. Formerly thousands of skins were taken there, “ but the animals are practically extinct there to-day.”
Mr. George Comer states (affidavit) that he spent the years 1879 to 1882 about Tierra del Fuego and the coasts of Patagonia and Chile, on a three years' sealing cruise. During these three years, he says, catch was 4,000 seals, 2,000 of which were taken the first year, and we practirally cleaned the rookeries out."
The testimony of Capt. Caleb Lindahl (affidavit), a sealer of long experience, is to the same effect. He states that in October, 1891, lie went on a sealing cruise to the South Seas, starting in sealing off the coast of Patagonia and sealing there and in the neighboring seas till the following March. He says: “ The seals are nearly all killed off down there, so that we got only about twenty skins. It is no use for vessels to go there sealing any more.
I was there twelve years ago on a sealing expedition and the rookeries were full of seals. Now they are nearly all gone. They never gave the seals a chance to breed there. They shot them as soon as they came up on the rocks."
The so-called “ Cape Horn” catch, which presumably includes all of the fur-seals taken off the coasts of southern South America and the various outlying islands and archipel. Cape Horn. agos to the southward, from 1876 to 1892, aggregates a total of about 113,000 skins, varying in different years from about 17,500 in 1880 to less than 1,000 in 1886, but averaging for the last ten years about 3,500 annually. (Affidavit of Emil Teichmann, of the London firm of C. M. Lampson & Co.)
The fur-seal rookery on Lobos Island, off the mouth of the Rio de la Plata and belonging to the Republic of Uruguay, is one of the few that have escaped annihilation at the hands of the seal-hunter. Many fur-seals were taken here prior to 1820. Captain Morrell (Voyages, p. 154) found men stationed there to take seals, in 1824 and Captain Weddell (Voyages, p. 142), writing in 1825, refers to Lobos Island as being farmed out by the Government of Montevideo for sealing purposes, under regulations designed to prevent the extermination of the seals. As evidence that the matter has been long managed with discretion may be cited the statistics given in the affidavits of Messrs. Emil Teichmann and Alfred Fraser (of the firm of C. M. Lampson & Co., of London), which show that the catch for the last twenty years has averaged about 13,000 a year, or a total of some 250,000 fur-seal skins. This throws into strong relief the foll of the extermina ig slaughter of fur-seals that has been waged unremittingly for nearly a century throughout the southern seas.