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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/352

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338
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

other quarters. The Russians established a fur company on these islands immediately after they were discovered, which slaughtered the animals recklessly for thirty years, without any regard to the danger of exterminating them. They began to diminish visibly about 1817, and in 1836 appeared in only one tenth of their former numbers. Regulations were then adopted to limit the slaughter, which have been accepted and enforced by the United States since the islands came into our possession. Only the young males or "bachelors" are allowed to be killed, during June, July, September, and October, and not more than one hundred thousand of them in each year. The "rookeries" must not be molested. The young seals are started from their haunts near the rookeries and driven over the country to the place of slaughter, which is fixed at such a distance as to obviate the danger of the older animals being alarmed by the disturbance or troubled by the odors of the slaughter. The driving is a very tedious process, and is hard upon the seals, for they become heated very easily, when the fur is spoiled, or get exhausted and die on the road. Four per cent of the flock are sometimes lost in this way. The seals are allowed to rest and cool after reaching the killing-ground, and are then dispatched in droves of about one hundred at a time. Only the fittest are slaughtered, all the others being allowed to go back to the sea. One blow on the head with a club of hard wood is generally sufficient to kill. A knife is then thrust into the vitals, and the carcass is laid aside till about a thousand have been collected, when the process of skinning begins. The skins are sent home salted, to be cured and converted into what is called "seal-skin." "It is difficult," says Mr. Clark, "to conceive how that beautiful article of dress can ever be manufactured out of the very unattractive object the skin presents at this juncture. It is hard and unyielding as a board, and the stiff, coarse hairs cover the fur so completely that its very existence might be unsuspected." The important point is to separate these hairs from the fur. They used to be pulled out one by one, till it was found that the roots of the hair were more deeply seated than those of the fur, when a cheaper and more expeditious process was adopted. The skins are now pared down on the wrong side till the roots of the hairs are cut off, when they are easily brushed away, and the fur, of varying shades of light-brown, is left in little curls. The curls become untwisted in the dyeing, and the fur assumes its well-known smooth appearance.

The seal colonies of the Pribylov Islands were leased by the Government of the United States in 1870 for twenty years to the "Alaska Commercial Company," for an annual rent of fifty thousand dollars, and a tax on each skin taken. The details of the slaughter are carefully regulated, so as to promote the well-being