Page:Journal of a Voyage to Greenland, in the Year 1821.djvu/89

This page has been validated.
61
VOYAGE TO GREENLAND.

the fingers, which are somewhat longer. Seals are covered with coarse short hair, varying much in different individuals of the species; among those I first saw, was one perfectly white, whilst others were beautifully marked with spots of black, red, and liver colour, of greater or less magnitude. This animal is gregarious, and feeds on fish: its length is about five feet. Seals are found in the greatest abundance on the ice, in the vicinity of the island of Jan Mayne, early in the spring; when, in fine weather, they prefer lying on the ice to being in the water. They are extremely watchful; for, as already observed when a number are collected together, some are always on the alert, to give the alarm in case of danger. It is presumed that they adopt this precaution, to guard them against their grand enemy, the polar bear, on whose approach, the greatest dread is apparent, by the confusion in which they hurry to escape into the water. The seal-fishing in Greenland was formerly a considerable branch of commerce to foreign nations; but the British regard it as of little importance, because, at the season of the year when these animals congregate, the exposed situations where they abound, are liable to sudden and violent storms: the following melancholy narrative of an event, that occurred in the year 1774, is recorded by a pilot, who was an eye-witness of the fact.

"Fifty-four ships, chiefly Hamburghers, were that year fitted out from foreign ports, for the seal-fishing alone: most of these, with several English