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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/353

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339
SEA-LIONS AND FUR-SEALS.

and perpetuation of the colony, and make it probable that, unless some unforeseen disaster befalls it, it will never be less productive than it is now.

The seals of the Greenland seas were hunted a few years ago by fleets from Peterhead, Scotland. At present, Dundee is the only port in Great Britain that sends out vessels to the seal and whale fishings. Wherever the animals frequented, they were found, like the eared seals of the Pribylov Islands, in great herds together; but would collect in the largest numbers in stormy weather, when they would seek the places free from ice, and there gambol lustily. The older seals, according to Mr. James Thornton, who derived his knowledge from frequent conversations with the ship-masters, pursue their prey with great rapidity, and when they come across a shoal of herrings, consume innumerable multitudes of them. They become very drowsy when basking in shoals on the edge of the ice with their young, and in this state are surprised by the boats' crews. Most of the victims are secured by clubbing, as at the Pribylov Islands, but the aid of the harpoon is sometimes called in when the old ones show fight. The Greenlanders, in hunting for seals, find a hole in the ice to which the animal has to come up to breathe. As soon as he puts his nose up, a harpoon is sent into it; the surrounding ice is then broken up and the victim is hauled in and dispatched with a club. The harp-seal is far more idle and wary than the common seal. "It allows itself to be approached by a small boat sufficiently near to be struck by a harpoon with a bladder attached by a long string; the moment the animal is pierced he starts off and dives, but the bladder is a tell-tale, and he is followed and repeatedly struck by an unbarbed lance until quite exhausted, when the man dispatches and takes possession of his prize."

The West Indian seal (Monachus tropicalis) was observed by Columbus in 1494, and has since been noticed at scattering times, but the traces of it had recently been nearly lost. Prof. Henry A. Ward, when on a visit to Yucatan and the Triangles in 1886, found several specimens of the animal, and was able to examine it in the adult and fœtal conditions. According to his account in the "American Naturalist," the head is large and prominent, and the whole body chunky, with the bones deeply imbedded in flesh and fat. The eye of the adult is very dull, having over the cornea a film which gives it "much the same appearance as a glass eye or a marble that has been so much handled as to lose its polish." The whole character of the seal is one of tropical inactivity; and this was exemplified by the presence of a growth of minute algæ on the backs and flippers of some of the animals that made them look green. They were never seen to raise their heads above the line of the back, as the harbor seal is accustomed to