Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/91

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THE BERING-SEA CONTROVERSY.

British commissioners on account of the character of instructions received by their American colleagues, at least not until the latter declined on account of such instructions to consider any question at all related to the work of the commission. The incident is referred to only as one of many evidences of a tendency to avoid the simple line of scientific inquiry upon which it had been hoped the commission might work; and, further, that it may be recorded that throughout the entire life of the commission the representatives of the United States were absolutely free and unhampered in the exercise of their personal judgment, not only as to the scope of their powers but as well as to the attitude which they assumed on any question coming before them.

A preliminary basis of agreement had been prepared and was submitted by the Americans at the first conference. Its first proposition was a simple declaration of the decadence of seal life in Bering Sea. It had hardly been suspected that there could be serious difference of opinion on this point, but there was an unwillingness to go on record as believing that the herd was greatly declining in numbers, except in the most guarded manner. It was even affirmed by the British commissioners that there was evidence to show that the number found on the islands in the season of 1891 was greater than in 1890.

The second proposition submitted was a declaration that this decrease in the number of seals frequenting the Pribilof Islands must be attributed largely, if not wholly, to pelagic sealing. This involved the gist of the whole controversy, and in support of it the American commissioners offered the now well-known facts regarding the natural history of the seal, the inevitable results of sealing at sea, the impossibility of perfect control of land killing, the silent but unimpeachable testimony of skins marketed by pelagic sealers, and other evidence, the strength of which time has served only to increase. There were certain facts of profound significance as affecting this question which it seemed impossible to controvert. An animal whose period of gestation is about one year, and which gives birth to but a single individual, belongs to a species not likely to multiply with great rapidity, even when left to contend only with its natural enemies. Add to this the admitted facts that the two sexes are equal in number at birth, and that polygamy is universal, only one male being found on the breeding rookeries for every fifteen or twenty females, and it follows with a certainty rarely met with in discussions of this kind that the preservation of the herd depends upon the preservation of the female, and that a very large proportion of males may be taken annually without affecting in any way the number born. Had a good set of "mortality tables" for seals ex-