Page images

Decline of seal herd.


about 200,000 to 500,000, much depending upon the season as regards storms and the condition of the ice with reference to the accessibility of the breeding resoits of the seals. There has, however, of late years been a gradual decline in the number of seals annually procured, and a larger proportion of the vessels engaged make losing voyages. Since 1860 larger vessels have been employed than was formerly the case, and since 1870 sailing vessels have gradually given place to steamers. There has been admittedly a great decline in recent years in the numbers of seals breeding on the floating ice to the eastward of Newfoundland, and in order to place some restriction on the number killed a date has been fixed prior to which sealing is illegal.

The Jan Mayen, of “Greenland” seal fishery, based on this species, is next in importance to that of the ice fields east of Newfoundland. It is mainly limited to a circular area of Mayen Seal

fishery. about 400 miles in diameter, with Jan Mayen Island as the central point. The annual catch for many years averaged about 200,000 (chiefly young seals, or “white-coats"), taken principally by British, Norwegian, and German sealers As early as the middle of the eighteenth century the Jan Mayen sealing industry had already attained considerable importance, the catch numbering upward of 40,000 annually. It began to decline about 1870, and soon after the matter of instituting an international close time was

Close time adopted. agitated. Such a close time was finally adopted in 1876, to go into effect the following year, fixing the 31 day of April as the beginning of the sealing season. The rapid increase in the sealing fleet from 1860 to 1874, and particularly the increased use of steam vessels, while the catch steadily declined, showed that the then prevalent system of indiscriminate slaughter was surely ruining the seal fishery.

Mr. Southwell, commenting on the continuing decline and on the fact that most of the vessels engaged in sealing in 1881, at both the Newfoundland and “Greenland” (Jan Mayen) grounds, incurred more or less loss, says: “It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the Newfoundland sealers closed the fishery earlier than usual, and that the thoughtful men like Capt. D. Gray should plead for an extension of the Greenland close time. As I said before, it is probable that a large number of the young seals which were produced on the Newfoundland ice this season escaped; this, however, was a mere accident, and rarely happens; but in Greenland it is not likely that any of the brood for several years past (with the exception of the season of 1882) have escaped. Although the close time which came into operation in 1877 has somewhat retarded the extermi. nation of the Greenland seals, it is evident that something else is required; and Captain Gray, in a circular letter which he had issued to those interested, advocates an extension of the close time to April 10, and that hooded seals should not be shot after some day in July, after which they were out of condition and valueless. This, doubtless, would have a very beneficial effect, but I venture to think that more is required.” (Thomas Southwell, zoölogist, 1885, pp. 84, 85.)

The bistory of the Newfoundland and Jan Mayen sealing grounds shows that unless great care be used to check indis

Strict regulation ne. criminate and wasteful overkilling, through the rigid enforcement of a judiciously limitel close time or by other ineans, these once apparently exhaustless sealing grounds will become so depleted of seal lite as to be no longer of commercial importance. Formerly great numbers of harp seals were taken by the

Present close time insutficient.


White Sea.

natives along the west coast of Greenland, the annual catch for many years averaging about 80,000 seals. This species has also been

the basis for centuries of a more or less important Seal fishery in the White Sea, where it has been

carried on by the Russians from time immemorial. Nova Zembla.

Many have also been taken about Nova Zembla and in the Kara Sea.

4. CASPIAN SEAL, Phoca caspica (Grm.).

Habitat: Caspian and Aral seas.

This animal is about the size and general apperrance of the barborseal. It gathers in large herds on the shores of these inland seas, as well as on floating ice, and constitutes the basis of an important seal fishery, formerly the average yearly catch being about 130,000 seals. The seals are mostly killed on land, although some are taken on the ice and also many in nets. They resort to the shores in spring and autumn to rest and bask in the sun, arriving in immense herds. The hunters then approach their resting place in boats, disembark noiselessly, and form a line in order to cut off the retreat of the seals. On a signal from the chief of the party, the hunters rush simultaneously upon the seals, killing them by a blow upon the nose. The bodies of the dead seals are piled up to form a wall, depriving the survivors of every chance of regaining the sea. The whole herd, to the number of many thousand, is then massacred. These sealing grounds are held by the Russian Government, which

derives an annual income from the sale of permits for Permits sold by seal-hunting in the Caspian Sea.

5. LAKE BAIKAL SEAL, Phoca siberica (Gmel.). Habitat: Lakes Baikal and Oron.

This is a small seal, somewhat related to the ringed-seal. It inhabits Lake Baikal and the neighboring Lake, Oron, and is said to be common in these waters. A few are shot by the native hunters in summer, when they resort for a few weeks to the rocky shores of the lakes. In March and April some are also taken in nets placed over their breathing holes in the ice. It is not, however, a species of much commercial importance.

6. RIBBON SEAL, Phoca fasciata (Zimm.).

Habitat: North Pacific and Bering Sea, from the Kurile Islands and coast of Alaska (north of the Aleutian Islands) northward.

This species is about the size of, and somewhat resembles, the harpscal. It is not numerous and has never had any commercial importance.


7. BEARDED SEAL, Erignathus barbatus (Fabr.).

Habitat: Arctic coasts, south in the North Atlantic to Norway and (probably) Labrador, and the western coast of Siberia (Plover Bay).

This is one of the larger species of seals, and while of great value to the Eskimos of Greenland and Cumberland Sound, it is not numerous enough to be of commercial importance.

III.-Genus HALICHERUS Nilsson.

8. GRAY SEAL, Halichorus grypus (Fabr.).

Habitat: North Atlantic, from southern Greenland to Nova Scotia, and from the coast of Finmark to the British Islands.

This is one of the largest of the northern seals, growing to a length of 8 to 10 feet, but it is now nowhere numerous, though formerly rather common on the coast of Iceland and in the Gulf of Bothnia. Formerly many were killed here and at the small islands off the coast of Scot land, but it long since ceased to be of commercial importance.


IV.-Genus MONACHUS Fleming.

9. MONK SEAL, Monachus monachus (Hermann).

Habitat: Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Black seas; Madeira and Canary islands.

This is a large seal (length about 10 feet), found sparingly at the localities above indicated, and has apparently never been sufficiently numerous to be of any commercial value, at least not within the pres. ent century.

10. WEST INDIAN SEAL, Monachus tropicalis (Gray).

Bahama Islands.

Habitat: Formerly Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea; at present nearly extinct.

Two centuries ago this large seal was abundant at various islands in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, its habitat formerly extending from the islands off the west and northwest coasts of Yucatan south to the Bay of Ilonduras and eastward to Jamaica, Cuba, the Florida Keys, and the Bahama Islands. It has, however, been practically exterminated for probably 150 years, and up to about 1882 was almost unknown to naturalists. Since that date enough specimens have been procured, mainly at The Triangles (off the coast of Yucatan), in December, 1886, to supply several of the leading museums with examples of this exceedingly rare animal.

In respect to their former abundance, Sir Hans Sloane, in his great work on the Natural History of Jamaica, published in 1707, says (Vol. 1, Introduction, p. 88): "The Bahama Islands are filled with Seals; sometimes Fishers will catch 100 in a night. They try or melt them, and bring off their oil for lamps to the Islands."

At the Alacran Islands, situated about 75 miles north of the coast of Yucatan, they existed two hundred years ago in great numbers. Dampier, visiting these islands in 1675, says: “ Here are many seals; they come up to sun themselves only on two or three islands.

There we anchored and lay three or four days, and visited most of them and found plenty of such Creatures (Seals) as I have already described.” He further states that there is here “such plenty of Fowls and Seals (especially of the latter) that the Spaniards do often come hither to make Oyl of their Fat, upon which account it has been visited by English-men from

Alacran Islands.

Jamaica, particularly by Captain Long, who, having the command of a small Bark, came hither purposely to make Sea-Oyl, and anchored on the North side of one of the sandy Islands, the most convenient Place for his design.” Captain Long was nearly shipwrecked “by a tierce Northwind, which blew his Bark ashore;" but he afterwards repaired his vessel, filled his casks with oil, “and lading his Oyl

went merrily away for Trist.” (Dampier, Voyage Round the World, II, pt. 2, 3d ed., 1705, pp. 23, 24, These few extracts seem to comprise about all that relates to the early

history of the West Indian seal-enough to show that Destruction of Westit was abundant at localities widely separated, and that Indian Seal.

it was practically destroyed at a very early date through indiscriminate slaughter for its oil. At the present day a few individnals exist among the islets of Salt Key Bank, north of Cuba at some of the islands off the coast of Yucatan, and probably at a few other of the uninhabited islands between Cuba and Yucatan, and possibly at the rocks and keys off the south coast of Jamaica, where it certainly existed in small numbers forty to sixty years ago.

V.-Genus OGMORHINUS Peters.

11. LEOPARD SEAL, Ogmorhinus leptonyx (Blainv.).

Habitat: Southern Seas; New Zealand and islands to the eastward and southward; Kergueland Land, Heard Island, etc.

This large Seal has a wide range in the southern seas, but its distribution and habits are still not well known. It is one of the several seals found in the southern hemisphere which the sealers confound under the general name of sea-leopard. This and the three following species fall a prey to the sea-elephant hunters, but as none of them are apparently very numerous they have never figured conspicuously in the annals of sealing

VI.-Genus LOBODON Gray.

12. CRAB EATING SEAL, Lobodon carcinophaga (H. & J.).

Habitat: Southern and Antarctic oceans.

A little known species occasionally taken by the sea-elephant bun. ters.


13. WEDDELL'S SEAL, Leptonychotes weddelli (Gray).

Habitat: Southern seas; coasts of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, and islands to the southward.

A rare and little known species.


14. Ross's SEAL, Ommatophoca Srossi (Gray).

Habitat: “ Antarctic Seas," a little known species.


IX.-Genus CYSTOPHORA Nilson.

15. HOODED SEAL, Cystophora cristata (Erxl).

Habitat: North Atlantic and Arctic seas. It ranges eastward from Greenland to Spitzbergen, and along the Arctic coast of Europe, but is rarely found south of southern Norway in Europe or south of Newfoundland on the American side of the Atlantic, though sometimes straggling south in winter to Nova Scotia and Maine, and even to New York.

This species is known commonly in sealers' parlance as the hoodseal, bonnet-seal, bladder-nose, and bladder-seal, from the inflatable sac covering the nose in the adult male. It is a large animal, and for this reason is much hunted for its oil. It is migratory and pelagic, preferring the drift ice of the high seas to the vicinity of the land. It brings forth its young late in March, for this purpose resorting to the floating ice. In habits and geographical distribution it thus resembles the harp-seal. Though found on neighboring ice floes, the two species are said to rarely associate.

In the annual sealing voyages to the sealing grounds of the North Atlantic and Jan Mayen waters many hood-seals are taken along with the harps, but, owing to their much smaller numbers, they usually form no very important part of the catch.


16. CALIFORNIA SEA-ELEPHANT, Macrorhinus angustirostris (Gill).

Marias islands.

Habitat: Formerly coast and islands of California, from Cape Lazaro, Lower California (latitude 21° 46'), to Point Reyes (latitude 38'), a little to the north of San Francisco; now nearly extinct.

It seems not improbable that the California sea-elephant formerly ranged southward to the Chametly and Tres Marias Islands, off the western coast of Mexico, in latitude 210

Chametly and Tres to 23o. At least seals were reported by Dampier as occurring there in 1686, but unfortunately his account is insufficient to render evident the exact species seen. There is, however, good evi. dence that sea-elephants were tolerably abundant during the first half of the present century at nearly all of the islands of the Pavitic coast, from about latitude 25° to 38°, and that their subsequent practical extermination is due to the merciless slaughter of the professional seal hunter.

Captain Scammon, writing about 1852 (see J. Ross Browne's “Resources of the Pacific Slope,” App., p. 129), says: “ Seals and Sea elephants once basked upon the shores

Report of Captain of this isolated spot (Cerros Island in vast numbers, and in years passed its surrounding shores teemed with sealers, seaelephant and sea-otter hunters; the remains of their rude stone houses are still to be seen in many convenient places, which were once the habitations of these hardly men.” He says, in another connection (Marine Mammalia, p. 1:7): “ Our observations on the Sea-Elephants of California go to how that they have been found in much larger numbers from February to June thau during other months of the year;


« PreviousContinue »