The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Seals and Sealing
SEALS AND SEALING. Under this
term are usually grouped two very widely
different types of animals, the so-called fur seals
and the hair seals or true seals. The former
are not properly seals at all, but are allied
rather to the bears, and were appropriately
called “sea-bears” by their discover
fur seal yields a valuable fur; the hair seal has
no fur, but a valuable oil is obtained from its
fat and leather from its hide. The principal
habitat of the hair seal is in the north Atlantic
and Arctic oceans, although small groups of
the commoner species are found widely
scattered over the globe. The fur seals are more
or less widely distributed throughout the southern
seas, but are found at the present time
chiefly in the north Pacific Ocean and Bering
Sea. They are not found in the north Atlantic.
The hair seal belongs to the suborder of the
Pinnipedia and has feet not truly plantigrade,
short with long claws. The posterior limbs only
are used in swimming and are not susceptible
of bending forward at the knee. When on
land the animal cannot walk or run, but merely
wriggles with a belly-wise motion, the neck
being short and the head scarcely capable of
being raised. There is no external ear. The
fur seals belong to the suborder of the
Gressigrada. The feet are plantigrade, the anterior
limbs only being used in swimming, having
rudimentary claws, if any. The head and neck
can be raised as in the bear. The external ear
is moderately developed, and the animal can
run or lope along the ground as do ordinary
mammals and with considerable rapidity. The
internal structure of the two animals shows
equally marked differences. The hair seals,
whatever their origin, must have come from a
different parent stock and their relation to land
carnivora must be more remote. Beyond the
fact that both are carnivorous mammals, feeding
on fish and perfectly adapted to life in the
water, the two animals have little in common.
In both the thick blubber goes with life in the
icy waters of the north. They resort, in one
case to certain island shores, in the other to
the ice floes, to bring forth and rear their young.
But these resemblances, associated with aquatic
habitat, are only analogies and have no value
in scientific classification. In structure, appearance,
degree of intelligence, habits, disposition
and method of locomotion, the two types
are entirely distinct and their evolution as
pelagic animals has been along separate lines.
Hair Seals.—.The hair seals are found off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, in the waters of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in the Greenland seas, and about the island of Jan Mayen, and in the White and Caspian seas. In these places they occur in sufficient numbers to make their hunting profitable. In small isolated groups they are found about the British Isles, among the pelagic islands of the southern seas and about the island shores of the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. The principal species hunted are the saddleback or harp seal (Phoca grœlandica), so named from the peculiar marking thought to resemble an ancient harp; the rough or ringed seal (P. fœtida), having its name also from color markings; the harbor or common seal (P. vitulina), so-called because of its wide distribution and its fondness for bays and sheltered waters; the Caspian seal (P. caspica), confined to the sea of that name; the hooded seal (Cystophora cristata), so named because of its crest or hood; and the gray seal (Halicharus grypus). The two last are unimportant, being taken only when met with in search for other seals. The harbor seal is the commonest form and most widely distributed. But the most important in point of numbers and value of its products is the harp seal, the seal of Newfoundland, of the Greenland seas and the Arctic.
The hair seals show considerable variation in size and coloration. The harp seals are in general whitish or yellowish-white, the nose and head black, the throat and chin spotted with black. The harbor seal is yellowish-gray above, varied with irregular spots of dark brown or black, and yellowish-white beneath with smaller spots. The ringed seal is the smallest form, the gray seal the largest, attaining a length of eight to nine feet. The ordinary species are from five to six feet in length and weigh from 60 to 300 pounds. The female is slightly smaller than the male, in the case of the harp seal about one-fourth less; but there is no such wide disparity between the sexes as exists in the case of the fur seals. The animals are said to be monogamous. With the exception of the harbor seal, which is non-migratory, the hair seals obey a more or less well-defined semi-annual migration, although their movements are nowhere so definite as those of the fur seals of the north Pacific Ocean. In a general way the herds move southward on the approach of winter, returning to the north and eastward in the spring as the ice recedes. They are found, however, with unfailing regularity at certain definite localities in the breeding season, as for example, the ice fields off Newfoundland, and about Jan Mayen Island. In the vicinity of Newfoundland the young are born between the middle of February and the latter part of March. At Jan Mayen the season is somewhat later, approaching April. The single young, whitish in color at birth, changing to darker, grows very rapidly, attaining a weight and size approximating that of its mother in six weeks or two months. It remains on the ice, the mother returning from her feeding excursions to nourish it. In the course of a month it takes to the water, reluctantly at first, finding it necessary to learn to swim. The young seals form the most valuable part of the catch and yield the best quality of oil. The food of the hair seal consists of fish, in certain species supplemented by mollusks and crustaceans.
Of the various sealing grounds or districts, by far the most important is that of Newfoundland, to which the seals flock in February of each year in “countless numbers.” The sealing fleet clears principally from the port of Saint Johns, sailing vessels being allowed to depart as early as 1 March, steam vessels on the 10th, and to begin sealing as soon as the seals can be found. The sealing season extends until the 1 May. In addition to the sealing on the ice the hunting is also carried on by means of nets and guns along the shores of Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. This form of sealing has been practised from the earliest times and constituted the beginning of the industry, which, however, attained no considerable importance prior to the beginning of the 19th century, the yearly catch probably not exceeding 5,000 seals. Vessels seem to have been first used in this sealing in the year 1763. For the year 1805 we have record of a catch of 81,000. We know that in 1807 the sealing fleet numbered 30 vessels. The catch for 1815 was 126,000 and that for 1822, 306,000. In the period from 1830 to 1850 the Newfoundland sealing industry was at its maximum development. The fleet numbered approximately 400 vessels, with crews aggregating 10,000 men and an annual catch ranging from 500,000 to 700,000 seals. From the close of this period the industry declined, and fewer but larger vessels were employed. In 1871 we find the fleet reduced to 168 vessels. The catch for 1856 was 361,000. It rose again in 1876 to the 500,000 mark, but in 1880 it fell to 223,000. For the 21 years (1881-1901) it averaged 226,000 seals. The catch for 1907 was 245,051 seals and for 1913, 272,065. For the period 1906-13 the exports of seal hides and oil for Newfoundland reached a total value of $5,208,579. The Newfoundland sealing is essentially a British industry, the major part of the fleet hailing from the ports of Saint Johns and Conception Bay, the English vessels from Dundee and Peterhead. The principal species taken in this catch is the saddleback or harp seal (Phoca grœnlandica), which constitutes also the bulk of the catch in the Jan Mayen and Greenland sealing.
Next in importance comes the sealing in the vicinity of Jan Mayen Island. This is confined to an area of about 400 miles diameter about the island. The seals arrive in this region somewhat later and some British vessels, after completing the Newfoundland season, go on to Jan Mayen. This sealing is also participated in by German and Norwegian vessels, the former sailing from Hamburg, the latter from Tönberg and Tromsö. The area covered is so limited that this sealing is very destructive. In 1876 it became necessary to establish a closed season for the Jan Mayen sealing, which was accomplished by an agreement among the nations concerned by which sealing in the area between lat. 67° and 75° N. and long. 5° E. and 17° W. should not begin before 3 April. The records for the Jan Mayen sealing extend back to 1720. The catch by a fleet of 19 vessels from Hamburg in 1760 is said to have been 44,000. For 1790 the catch was 45,000; for 1850, 48,000. We learn that in 1868 a fleet of 15 Norwegian vessels, carrying 600 to 700 men, took part in this sealing, the catch for five years preceding this date being approximately 65,000 a year. The British fleet has been smaller, ranging, in the period 1865 to 1871, from 4 to 12 vessels, taking a catch of from 16,000 to 90,000. The best estimates available for the total catch of the Jan Mayen sealing for this period would seem to be about 200,000 seals a year. Since 1880, despite the regulations, this sealing has greatly declined. The statistics for the German and Norwegian vessels are not available, but those for the British fleet are given each year by Thomas Southwell in the ‘Zoologist’ (London). From this source we learn that the catch for 1881 was 27,894; for 1885, 26,448; for 1887, 1,100; for 1889, 15,079, and for 1891, 1,560. Since 1895 the Jan Mayen sealing has been abandoned by the British fleet.
On the west coast of Greenland a considerable catch of seals is made by the natives. The flesh of the animals is sought for food and the skins for clothing, and they form the chief resources of the inhabitants of the legion. The product of this sealing formerly, according to Dr. Rink, in his account of Greenland, averaged about 89,000 seals each year. In recent years it is said to have fallen off to about one-half, probably from the same cause that has affected the Jan Mayen sealing.
At Nova Zembla and in the White and Caspian seas are important sealing grounds worked by the Russians. Professor Schultz in his account of the seal and other fisheries of these waters speaks of the White Sea sealing as covering an area of 230 miles and engaging 2,000 hunters. The methods of sealing and the species sought are the same as in the North Atlantic. The catch has been estimated at from 65,000 to 75,000 a year. The Caspian Sea sealing is more important, the annual catch for five years prior to 1882, as given by Professor Schultz, was 130,000. Statistics regarding the results of sealing in the White and Caspian seas in recent years are not available.
The methods employed in taking the seals
vary with the different conditions under which
the animals are found. Along shores of
Newfoundland nets and sealing frames are used.
A common form of net is one making with
the shore an oblong enclosure, the ends capable
of being lowered as the animals approach and
raised after they are within. They are then
frightened until they have hopelessly entangled
themselves in the meshes of the suspended
net. Two men manage such a net, which may
be as much as 150 fathoms in length and in a
single such net 1,800 seals are said to have
been taken in one season. The natives of
Greenland use the net also, but employ chiefly
the harpoon or spear with wooden shaft and
detachable head, the latter secured to the boat
by means of a cord by which the captured
animal is drawn up to the hunter and dispatched
with the club or knife. Stationary nets are also
used in connection with the rocks where seals
are accustomed to haul out to rest and also
about their breathing holes in the ice.
Deadfalls, sealing hooks and other devices are used
as circumstances warrant. But the really
important method of capture is that used upon the
ice fields where the seals are found congregated
in immense herds. When a vessel has
sighted seals its hunters are put ashore on the
ice. They round up the animals, cutting them
off from the open water and then club them
over the head. When the seals are all killed
the hunters remove the skins, with the adhering
layer of blubber, and drag them back to be
stored in the ship. This process is repeated
layer of blubber, and drag them back to be
found, or a cargo is obtained. At port the
fat is separated from the skin and the latter
preserved by salting. The fat is rendered into
oil. In former times this was accomplished by
throwing it into huge vats to melt by its own
weight under the action of the sun and weather.
In recent years this method has been replaced
by the more rapid one of rendering by steam.
The oil thus obtained is used as a lubricant
and luminant and in the manufactures. The
hides are made into leather and used for a
variety of purposes, among them the covering
of trunks and knapsacks.
The vessels used in the sealing industry were originally small sailing schooners. Steam vessels began to be used about 1866, and have gradually superseded the sailing vessels. Of the fleet of 107 vessels of 1873, one-fifth are said to have been steamers. At the present time steam vessels are employed almost exclusively in the Newfoundland and Jan Mayen sealing. The ships must be staunchly built with iron-shod prow for breaking through the ice and with strength to withstand the pressure when caught in the shifting ice. The business is a hazardous one, vessels not infrequently being wrecked by storms or ground to pieces between the icebergs. Vessels sometimes fail to come up with seals and so return empty. But the catches are in the main good and at times exceptionally so. Catches of 30,000 to 40,000 seals are not infrequent for single vessels, and each animal is worth from one to three dollars, a rich booty for a season of from six weeks to two months. In the case of steam vessels the men of the crew share one-third of the catch among them, two-thirds going to the owners of the vessel. The catch is divided equally between crew and owners in the case of sailing vessels.
It is not easy to bring together in any complete way the statistics of the hair-seal industry. For the period 1881 to 1901, Mr. Southwell, in his annual notes in the ‘Zoologist’ on the ‘Seal and Whale Fishery,’ gives rather complete data for the British fleet taking part in the Newfoundland and Jan Mayen sealing. His figures do not, however, include the shore hunting and the seals taken by sailing vessels. The following table is compiled from his annual notes:
Catch of Steam Sealing Vessels of the British Fleet.
|YEAR||Greenland sealing||Newfoundland sealing|
Of the value of the total product of the industry various estimates are available. The catch of 1857 of 500,000 seals is valued at $2,125,000. This sum was divided among 375 vessels and 13,600 men. The catch of 1871 of 486,262 seals is said to have yielded 6,943 tons of oil valued at $972,000, the skins themselves being valued at $486,262, making a total of $1,458,262. These figures related to the Newfoundland catch. For the years 1895-1901, Professor Southwell gives the following estimates for the catches of these years as shown in the preceding table:
The following exports of seal products for Newfoundland are recorded in ‘The Statesman's Yearbook’:
|YEAR||Seal skins||Seal oil||Total|
The number of seals taken in 1916 is given as 241,302, and for 1917 only 196,228.
When the hair-seal industry was in its prime its total catch from the various grounds numbered about 1,000,000 seals annually, at a value of approximately $3,000,000. The catch has fallen off in recent years, perhaps to one-half, but the industry is still a valuable one and worthy of such measures as may be necessary to preserve and perpetuate the race of animals upon which it depends. The fate of this industry in the North Atlantic Ocean would seem to be equally important with that of the fur-seal industry in the North Pacific Ocean. The danger which seems to threaten in one case is much the same as in the other — indiscriminate and wasteful killing.
Fur Seals.— The fur seals or sea bears constitute two groups or genera, Arctocephalus (A. townsendi, Guadalupe Island; A. philippi, Galapagos Islands; A. australis, southern coasts of South America and neighboring islands; A. forsteri, coasts of New Zealand and southwestern Australia; A. delalandi, islands off South Africa; A. gazella, Kerguelen and Prince Edward Island), once numerous and widely distributed among the pelagic islands of the southern hemisphere but now practically extinct through indiscriminate slaughter in the greater part of its habitat, remnants of importance only existing on Lobos Island, in the mouth of the River Plata in Uruguay, and on the islands of Cape Horn, receiving in both places government protection; and Otoës (Callorhinus), O. ursinus, Commander Islands; O. alascanus, Pribilof Islands, in Bering Sea, and O. curilensis, Kurile Islands and Robben Island, in the Sea of Okhotsk, limited to the waters of the North Pacific Ocean now the sole variety of any considerable commercial importance.
The typical male fur seal or “bull” attains maturity at about the age of seven years, weighs from 400 to 500 pounds, is about six feet in length and has a girth of four and one-half feet. His color is blackish or dark brown, with yellowish-white water hairs, especially long on the back of the neck, forming the so-called “wig” or mane. The fore-limbs or flippers, with broad membrane connecting and extending beyond the toes, are used in swimming. The animal stands erect and runs or lopes along the ground when on land. The adult female or “cow” is smaller, averaging about 80 pounds in weight, with length and girth in proportion. Her fur is of varying shades of brown. She bears her first young or “pup” at the age of three years. The breeding grounds are bowlder-strewn beaches or rocky-hill slopes near the shore, and on these the gregarious instinct of the animals leads them to congregate in closely set masses called “rookeries.” The fur seals are polygamous, each adult bull getting about him as many cows as he can control; these family groups forming the unit of rookery life are called “harems,” and range in size from 1 to 100, depending upon advantage of location, the average size being about 30. The bulls reach the inlands early in May and select their places, awaiting the arrival of the cows which begins early in June. The incoming is gradual, the number on the rookeries growing steadily to a climax at about the middle of July, when the greatest number (not, however, more than one-half at any one time) are present, the number diminishing to one-fourth at and after the close of the breeding season about the 1st of August. The single pup, weighing 10 to 12 pounds and black in color, soon changing to gray, is born within 6 to 48 hours after the arrival of the mother. Within a week she is served by the bull and goes away to sea to feed, returning at gradually lengthening intervals to nourish her young, which remains on shore. The young males of one, two, three and four years, called “bachelors,” herd by themselves on beaches adjacent to but distinct from the breeding grounds, the fact upon which depends the principle of land killing by which only the superfluous males are taken. The bulls having fasted since their arrival in May go away early in August to feed. The pups learn to swim at the age of six weeks and in November, on the approach of winter, swim away with their mothers to the south. The winter migration of the Pribilof Islands herd extends to the latitude of Southern California, which is reached by a more or less direct route through the ocean, late in December. The return journey is made more slowly and follows the outline of the coast. The Commander Island seals make a similar journey to the southern extremity of Japan and return on their course. The seals of Robben Island have their migration route in the island sea of Japan. The fur seals find their food, chiefly squid (Gonatus amænus) and a small smelt-like fish (Therobromus callorhini), in deep water, and their feeding grounds in Bering Sea and on the spring migration lie in a general way along the 100-fathom curve.
We owe our first knowledge of the fur seals of the north Pacific to Georg Wilhelm Steller, the naturalist of Vitus Bering's second voyage, in 1841. On the return trip Bering's ship was wrecked on one of the two islands now known in his honor as the Commander Islands. The survivors of the wreck wintered on Bering Island where the great commander died. Steller succeeded to the command of the expedition and during the winter made a study of the fur seals or sea bears, among other animals which he found on the island, the great rookeries of Bering Island furnishing him with a wealth of material.
The Commander Islands lie in Bering Sea in lat. 55° N. and long. 166° E., 97 miles to the eastward of the peninsula of Kamchatka and 180 miles to the westward of the island of Attu, the westernmost land of the Aleutian Archipelago. They are barren, mountainous stretches of land of no interest or importance aside from the fur-bearing animals found upon them. In addition to the fur seals, the blue or Arctic fox was once numerous, as was also the sea-otter, the latter now very scarce because of excessive hunting. The sea-lion and the sea-cow or manatee were also found in numbers about these islands. The latter is now extinct. Bering Island is the larger of the two. It is about 35 miles in length by an average width of about 15 miles. Its companion, Copper Island, is very much smaller. Small villages exist on each island in which the native sealers and the officials of the government and commercial company live. The islands belong to Russia, having remained in her possession since their discovery in 1741.
The Pribilof Islands are the home of the most important of the northern fur seal herds. They lie in the eastern portion of Bering Sea, about 200 miles from Cape Newenham on the mainland of Alaska and a like distance from the island of Unalaska, in lat. 56° N. and long. 170° W. There are five islands in the group, of which two only, Saint Paul and Saint George, are important, the former having an extreme length of 13 miles and a width of about 7. Saint George Island is about one-half as large. Like the Commander Islands they were unknown to aboriginal man. They were discovered in 1786 by Gerassim Pribilof, a Russian navigator in the employ of the trading companies then engaged in exploiting the resources of the Commander Islands and already seeking new fields. Each island has a native village with its company store, Greek-Russian church and American school. The village of Saint Paul numbers about 200 people, that of Saint George half as many, natives from the Aleutian Islands brought over in the early days by the Russians to work the fur seal industry. The natives are paid for their labor at so much per skin, the present price being 50 cents. The sum thus earned is treated as a community fund and is divided among the heads of families on the basis of age and skill. When the annual quota numbered 100,000 skins the natives were rich. Since 1890 the catch has declined steadily, not exceeding an average of 15,000 annually for the period ending 1911. In 1912 the commercial catch was cut off for five years. Congress has by annual appropriation supplemented the earnings of the sealers and is now maintaining them as wards of the government. The affairs of the islands were until 1904 administered by the Treasury Department through agents residing on the islands. In 1904 the islands were transferred to the Department of Commerce and managed as a separate division. Since 1909 they have been under the special charge of the Bureau of Fisheries. The Pribilof Islands were joined with the Commander Islands, and remained under the control of Russia until 1867, when they passed, with the Territory of Alaska, into the possession of the United States.
After many experiments, some of them disastrous, the Russians worked out a system of management of the fur seal industry which with slight modifications is still in vogue on the islands. The important feature of this system is the absolute protection of the female herd. The land sealing is confined to the young males of two and three years of age, 29 out of every 30 of which are superfluous for breeding purpose, owing to the polygamous habit of the animals. These young males, as they rest on their hauling grounds, are surrounded at night by the sealers, rounded up and driven slowly inland in great droves of from one to 3,000. On the killing grounds the large droves are gradually broken up into small groups or pods of from 20 to 50. From these men armed with stout clubs knock down those of killable size, leaving those too large or too small to escape and return to the water. The skins are removed by other workers. A crew of 20 to 30 men will thus kill and skin 1,500 to 2,000 seals in half a day. The different hauling grounds are driven in succession during the killing season, which lasts from 1 June until about 1 August, after which time the skins begin to get stagey, owing to the shedding of the water hair. The skins are gathered up and salted in kenches. After remaining in the salt for 10 days or two weeks they are taken out and wrapped in bundles, two in each, and are ready for shipment. They are eventually shipped to London, where practically all the seal-skins of the world are prepared for use. The two important processes in the treatment of the raw skin are the removal of the coarse water hairs, which have to be carefuly plucked out, and the dyeing of the fine under fur. Both require the greatest skill, and when the skin has been thus dressed and dyed its value has been doubled. When the United States came into possession of the Pribilof Islands in 1868, following the example of Russia, she leased the fur seal industry to the Alaska Commercial Company, which controlled the industry for a period of 20 years. The company paid a rental of $55,000 a year for the islands and a royalty of $3 on each skin taken. During the period of its lease the company took an average annual quota of 100,000 skins. The government also derived revenue from import duties on dressed sealskins brought over from London for consumption in this country. In all, the government received during this first period of 20 years, in rental, royalty and import duties, nearly $13,000,000, or about twice the total cost of the entire Territory of Alaska. It is needless to say that the industry proved a source of wealth to the company controlling it. The same company leased the Commander Islands from Russia and took there a quota of about 50,000 skins a year. In 1890 the fur seal industry of the United States passed into the hands of the North American Commercial Company for a term of 20 years. The terms of the new lease were more advantageous to the government, the royalty on each skin being approximately $10. The fur seal herd had, however, suffered a serious decline in its breeding stock and this became evident in the first year of the new lease when only 21,000 skins were taken. A catch of 30,000 skins was taken in 1896, but the average for the 20 years did not exceed 15,000 skins. The cause of this decline was found in the development of a rival sealing industry, the hunting of the seals in the open sea while on their migrations and feeding excursions.
Pelagic sealing, as this hunting is now called, is the outgrowth of a custom practised by the Indians of the Northwest Coast from the earliest times. Going out from the shore in the vicinity of Cape Flattery and Vancouver Island in their canoes they captured with the spear such stragglers from the migrating herd as came within their reach. The number of animals taken in this way was small, probably not exceeding 5,000 a year, until 1879. The skins found their way to the markets through the traders and, as sealskins increased in value, this irregular source of supply became an object of attention. In 1879 vessels began to be used to convey the Indians and their canoes out to the main body of the herd, to remain with them, affording shelter at night and in time of storms, and enabling the hunters to move with the progress of the herd. From a single vessel in 1879 the pelagic industry expanded enormously until in 1891 the sealing fleet numbered 122 vessels, each with from 5 to 20 sealing crews, and in 1894 it made a total catch of 143,000 seals. From this point the pelagic catch declined steadily with the diminishing herd. In 1902 it numbered about 15,000 seals or about the average land catch at that time. The methods of pelagic sealing may be described as follows: When the sealing vessel comes into sight of seals its boats are lowered and the hunters put off to windward in diverging directions. The spearsman stands in the bow and the steersman manages the boat. The seals are usually found sleeping on the surface of the water. The boat approaches noiselessly and the spear is thrown by means of a long detachable shaft. The spear head is attached to the boat by a line, and when the captured animal is tired out it is drawn up to the boat and killed with a short club. If the shotgun is used the animal is similarly approached and, after being shot, the body is quickly recovered with a gaff to prevent its sinking. The operations of the sealing fleet were gradually extended from the vicinity of the Straits of Fuca until they covered the entire migration route of the Pribilof herd, from the Santa Barbara Channel to the passes of the Aleutian chain. Finally it entered Bering Sea and attacked the herd on its summer feeding ground. In a similar way the pelagic fleet covered the migration route of the Commander herd.
Pelagic sealing was necessarily indiscriminate, as the sex of the animal could not be distinguished in the water and the hunter tried to kill every animal found. The killing of the males on land naturally left the herd as found at sea composed chiefly of females. The killing of the female seal on the spring migration involved the death of her unborn offspring. When killed in Bering Sea in August and September her dependent young was left to starve on the rookeries. Investigations of the pelagic catch in 1895 and 1896 showed the percentage of females in the pelagic catch for these years to be 63 and 84 per cent respectively. In the latter season 20,000 starved pups were counted upon the rookeries of Saint Paul and Saint George, their mothers having been killed at sea.
Aware of the disastrous effects of pelagic sealing, and acting under shadow of a claim made by Russia in 1820 to absolute jurisdiction over Bering Sea in the interests of her fur seal herd, a claim since found untenable, the United States in 1886 began seizing sealing vessels operating in Bering Sea, among them Canadian vessels. This brought on a diplomatic discussion with Great Britain which dragged along until 1892, when the two nations agreed upon a treaty submitting to a court of arbitration the question of jurisdiction in Bering Sea, and of what regulations, if any, were necessary for the protection and preservation of the fur seal herd when beyond the ordinary territorial limit of three miles. This tribunal of arbitration met in Paris in the spring of 1893 and rendered its decision in August of the same year. The decision on the legal questions involved was adverse to the contention of the United States and, as provided in this event, a set of regulations was formulated for the protection of the herd, to be enforced jointly by the two nations. These regulations provided, after the analogy of game laws, for a closed season in May, June and July, when all sealing should be suspended, and for a closed zone of 60-miles radius about the islands, within which no sealing whatever should be allowed. The closed season covered the breeding period, the protected zone was supposed to provide a safe feeding ground for the mother seal while her young was dependent upon her. The regulations, however, failed of their object, because the mother seal does not feed within the protected area, but far outside of it. She was, therefore, taken by the pelagic sealer as before, and her young was left to starve. The largest catch in the history of pelagic sealing, that of 1894, was made in the first season of the operation of the very regulations designed to so limit and restrict pelagic sealing as to protect and preserve the herd.
In 1896, because of the continued decline of the fur seal herd, it was agreed between the United States and Great Britain to reopen the question with a view to a possible revision of the regulations, and each nation sent a scientific commission into Bering Sea to inquire into all facts relating to seal life. The commission for the United States was under the direction of President David Starr Jordan of Stanford University, California, that for Great Britain, under the direction of Prof. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson of University College, Dundee, Scotland. At the close of the investigations which covered the seasons of 1896 and 1897, the two commissions met at Washington in a joint conference known as the Conference of Fur Seal Experts, and after a full discussion of the results of their labors reached an agreement on all essential facts, establishing the fact of decline, its probable rate and its cause. The cause was fixed as the killing of females at sea involved in pelagic sealing and the agreement foreshadowed — commissions having no power to consider ways and means — the abolition of pelagic sealing as the only means of saving the herd. On the basis of this agreement the fur seal question passed into the hands of the Joint High Commission called at Quebec in 1898 to consider this among a number of other questions in dispute between the United States and Canada. Unable to reach an agreement on the boundary dispute this Joint Commission accomplished nothing in the fur seal matter. In 1903 a Japanese sealing fleet joined the Canadian and as the Japanese sealers were not bound by the regulations of the Paris Award they were able to establish themselves on the three-mile territorial limit about the islands and to operate throughout the summer. Under these conditions the damage to the herd was greatly increased and its extermination threatened. In 1911 negotiations for the abolition of pelagic sealing were taken up anew, Russia and Japan participating in them. The conference was held at Washington and the treaty, suspending pelagic sealing for 15 years, was signed by the United States, Great Britain, Russia and Japan on 7 July. It was duly ratified and went into effect in the season of 1912. This treaty provided that the United States and Russia, as owners of the principal seal herds, should share their land catches with Canada and Japan, 15 per cent each to each, in return for the abandonment of pelagic sealing. Unfortunately in enacting the law necessary to give this treaty effect Congress added a clause suspending land sealing on the Pribilof Islands completely for five years and limiting its extent for nine further years, practically the full life of the treaty. This law was enacted 24 Aug. 1912, and in the four seasons which have passed it has caused a loss of approximately $2,000,000 to the three nations concerned under the treaty. If its provisions are fully carried out the loss will reach a total of not less than $4,500,000 and the excess of male life created upon the rookeries will be injurious in high degree to the herd.
With the close of the lease of the North American Commercial Company in 1909 the government entered upon the direct control and management of its fur seal herd. The catch of 13,000 skins for 1910 was taken by the government agents and sold in London for $437,000, yielding to the treasury nearly four times as much as would have been received under the leasing system. The similar catch of 1911, amounting to 12,000 skins, brought $423,000. The catch and attendant income should not have fallen below the figure of 1911 for with that season pelagic sealing ceased and the herd began to increase.
It is probable that in the days of its greatest prosperity (1870-85) the fur seal herd of the Pribilof Islands numbered 2,500,000 animals of all classes. In 1912, at the time of its release from the drain of pelagic sealing, the herd numbered approximately 250,000 animals. The Russian herd of the Commander Islands, originally about one-half the size of the American herd, had suffered practically the same proportionate decline. These herds under protection at sea will increase year by year at approximately 15 per cent until they again reach their maximum limits, determined in all probability by the question of food supply which they must find in the open sea. In 1919 the Alaska herd was estimated at 600,000.
In addition to the fur seal herds of the north Pacific Ocean two herds of the southern hemisphere yield a limited supply of skins. One of these is the herd of Lobos Island off the mouth of the river La Plata, in Uruguay, yielding 12,000 to 15,000 skins annually, and the other, on islands off Cape Horn, yielding 5,000 to 10,000 annually.
The herd of the Pribilof Islands alone has yielded, since its discovery in 1786, approximately 6,000,000 sealskins. In its present state it is capable of yielding an annual catch of 15,000 skins and this will rise steadily to a maximum of 100,000 to 150,000. Sealskins in the past 20 years have ranged in value from $20 to $50 each. The herd is a governmental resource of great importance and value.
Bibliography.— Allen, ‘North American Pinnipeds’ (1880); Rink, ‘Danish Greenland’ (1877); Carroll, ‘Seal and Herring Fisheries of Newfoundland’ (1873); Schultz, ‘Fisheries and Seal-hunting in White Sea, Arctic and Caspian Sea,’ translated in Report of United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Part III (1873-74); Southwell, ‘Notes on Seal and Whale Fishery,’ Zoologist (London 1883-1902); Elliott, ‘Fur Seal Islands of Alaska’ (1882); ‘Proceedings of Tribunal of Arbitration,’ 15 vols., (1895); Jordan and others, ‘The Fur Seals and Fur Seal Islands of the North Pacific’ (1898); ‘Statesman's Year Book,’ (1906-19).