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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/433

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THE GREAT MARINE VERTEBRATES

of commerce, should be definitely taken up, and solved. The original numbers of these forms in the natural state were always limited by the helplessness of the young when first hatched. With a shell at first very soft, great numbers are eaten by the shore birds of prey before even reaching the comparative safety of the water after floundering out of the sand where the eggs were laid. And once in the water the young are still for a time the prey of sharks, so that of the hundred or more that emerge from a single hatching a very few survive these early dangers to reach adult size. This helplessness may, however, be readily tided over by only the slightest protection, as the young grow very rapidly, and the shell soon thickens. If all shores where the green and hawksbill turtles lay their eggs were guarded by law enforced, and the young safely piloted to the water and perhaps fed for a few times only, it is evident, remembering the unvarying habit of the females to return to the same shores to lay their eggs, that the great pasturing and foraging grounds of our southern waters could be made to teem with these turtles. Audubon gives a vivid account of the Florida "turtlers" and the abundance of the turtles in his day; though these original numbers can doubtless be increased twentyfold.

Yet it has come to pass that the United States Bureau of Fisheries has not during several years of effort been able to secure any eggs of the green turtle whatever on our shores. Nor will it be otherwise with the less palatable loggerhead in a very few years, if as at present, even the employees of the Coast Service, part of whose duties it should certainly be to protect these animals, continue as now to be the chief agents of their destruction. Even on the Dry Tortugas within shadow of the Marine Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution the lighthouse keeper whiles away the night searching up and down the long white sandy beach for turtles; and save in a fog, every time a female turtle flounders helplessly on to the beach to lay her eggs our friend of the lighthouse signals with a warning horn to the "beach combers" and "conchs" who rush up and despatch the egg-bearing female. These "conchs," are indeed an evolving type of very hungry beachers who, now that game is scarce, "close" on everything from a wrecked schooner to a stranded turtle or whale.


Protection of All the Great Marine Vertebrates is Feasible

Certainly the "beacher," the "conch" and the "sea wolf" are as interesting as the animals they destroy, and within certain very specific limits may deserve perpetuation! Meantime, for the sake of the preservation of both, as well as the superior rights of those dwelling inland—the greater number interested in the question of the eminent domain of the sea—it is needed to quickly demonstrate the fact that the world will not tolerate needless slaughter of its anciently evolved