Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Seals

Seals

( Originally Published 1936 )

These animals are now regarded as forming only a sub-order of the carnivora, under the name Pinnipedia. They are almost entirely aquatic, chiefly marine, and feed principally on fish. The body is bulky, rather long, and generally clothed with smooth hair; the legs are very short, the feet large and provided with five toes connected by a web, converting them into paddles; the tail also is short and flattened. Seals live in herds, and gather in large numbers in so-called rookeries," generally on rocks on the shores of islands, to rest or to breed. They swim well, but cannot progress very rapidly on land. These animals are most numerous in the colder seas of the Northern Hemisphere, though some species are found in the colder part of the southern seas.

Walrus (Trichecus rosmarus)

The Walrus is the largest of the European members of this group, and is distinguished from all the others by the immense development, in the adult animal, of the upper canine teeth, which form two enormous tusks from one to two feet in length, highly valued as ivory. On each side of the mouth is a tuft of thick bristles. In appearance, the Walrus differs from all the other seals on account of the extraordinary number of wrinkles on the surface of the skin, which cross the body and neck. These are simply folds in the skin, which, owing to the enormous weight of the animal, sink into deep fissures on the body. In colour it is a light golden brown, or grey, and while the young are well covered with hair, the older males become al-most hairless. The eye is said to be of a light bottle-green colour, and the pupil so small as to be practically invisible. See Plate 14., Fig. 63.

The Walrus measures from ten to fifteen feet in length, is a sub-arctic animal, and was formerly much more abundant than at present on the north coasts of Europe. Its food is said to consist largely of shellfish and crustacea, but it will also eat fish.

Common Seal (Phoca vitulina)

The Common, or Harbour Seal, is found in the waters along the Atlantic coast of the United States, as well as along the shores of Europe and Asia. It is not a large animal, seldom exceeding five feet in length, is yellowish-grey above, blotched and spotted with dark brown, and the under surface of the body is white. See Plate 14, Fig. 65. The young, how-ever, are almost pure white, and do not have the spots shown in the parents. The Harbour Seal is a very intelligent animal, and when alarmed, it has a curious habit of standing upright, with its head just above the water, in order to take observations. At such times its appearance is singularly like that of a man, and it is quite probable that the old legends of mermaids and mermen arose from seeing Seals in this position. The eyes are large, very full, and dark in colour, and the animal has an unexplained habit of opening and closing its nostrils. On account of the shortness of its flippers, it has neither the ease nor the grace in swimming that belong to some of the eared seals. On land it travels with considerable difficulty, and is not able to raise itself from the ground by means of its flippers, but progresses by a curious shambling motion of the body, which lies close to the ground; the hind flippers being held straight out behind, are of no use in propelling it forward. The tail is very short, in fact almost invisible. This Seal is easily tamed, and exhibits great affection for and interest in its keeper, following him about to the best of its ability, or coming forward when called.

SEA ELEPHANT—SEA LION

Sea Elephant or Elephant Seal (Morunga proboscidea)

This is one of the largest of the marine mammalia, exceeded in size only by the larger whales, being very bulky and growing to the length of twenty or thirty feet. Its colour is of a lighter and darker grey, and the adult male is furnished with a peculiar proboscis-like snout, somewhat resembling on a small scale that of an elephant. See Plate 14, Fig. 66. This is capable of being inflated and extended. The canine teeth are very large, and are used by the males in their frequent contests. There are probably two species of Sea Elephant, one found off the coast of California and Mexico, the other in more southern waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Steller's Sea Lion (Otaria Stelleri)

In the Seals we have been considering, the external ears are small or lacking altogether, but in the genus Otaria the ears are very distinct, though short. The Steller, largest of known Sea Lions, is an enormous creature, measuring as much as ten or fifteen feet in length, but its range does not extend as far south as that of the California Sea Lion, though occasional specimens are seen on the seal rocks near San Francisco. Its principal home is on some of the more isolated islands off the coast of Alaska, such as the Pribylov group, which is always occupied by the fur Seals. Male Sea Lions are of huge bulk, particularly in the region of the neck and shoulders, the females being much smaller. Although such a large animal, it is credited with being extremely timid, notwithstanding that the males fight each other with great ferocity and courage. The voice is a loud roar, or bark, and seems but to emphasise the dull and lonely character of the coasts on which it lives. The skins of this species are greatly in demand by the Eskimos of the northwest coast of America for use in making their boats. Several skins, after being stretched over a framework and dried, are required in the construction of a large canoe. The fore flippers of the Steller Sea Lion are enormously developed, and enable it to sit in the curious upright position that serves to distinguish it from all the other Seals. When resting, or basking in the sun on shore, the head is thrown so far backward that the top rests along the line of the back. See Plate 14, Fig. 64. This attitude, which would seem to be most uncomfortable, is often maintained for a considerable length of time.

California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus)

By far the best known species of Seal in captivity is the California Sea Lion, belonging to the group of eared Seals; and one or more of these are found in almost all zoological gardens. They are easily tamed, exhibit much intelligence, and' are always of great interest to visitors. They walk with consider-able ease on land, and are enabled to do many tricks impossible to other members of the group, such as balancing a large pole on the tip of the nose, tossing it up and catching it again, " playing " upon musical instruments, holding lighted torches in their mouths and dexterously throwing them into the air and catching them again by the unlighted end.

In swimming, owing to the immense size of its flippers, the Sea Lion drives itself forward in the water at terrific speed, and turns and twists with amazing facility, sometimes swimming on its stomach and sometimes on its back, but always with the perfection of motion. The fur, when dry, is of a light golden-brown,but when wet is extremely dark, almost black, and very brilliant and glistening, offering in swimming the least possible resistance to the element in which it lives. The teeth are long and sharply pointed, and form excellent weapons of offence and defence. As in other members of the group, the male is much larger than the female, and has very much thicker neck and shoulders. From the Cliff House, near San Francisco, a number of this species may be seen disporting themselves around the rocks near that resort.

Common Fur Seal (Callorhinus atascanus)

This Seal is an animal about which until recently comparatively little was known beyond the fact that its skin is used to make articles of dress. The principal home of this Seal at present is the Pribylov Islands, off the coast of Alaska, where its numbers, although considerable, are greatly diminished owing to the systematic killing to which it has been subjected. These islands are now protected by the United States Government, and only a certain number of Seals are legitimately killed every year. The Fur Seal is a large and bulky animal, though not so large as the Steller sea lion, and the head is quite different in shape, the nose being extraordinarily short and pointed. On top of the head and over the neck and shoulders is a sort of crest or mane of stiff hair. In colour it differs from the sea lions in being a beautiful silvery-grey, and the sealskin of commerce is simply the fur, from which the hair has been plucked, dyed a deep, rich brown. The hair is coarse and stiff in texture, and the natives of the countries where the animal is found do not remove it, but use the pelt in its natural state.

Besides the general persecution and destruction of the herds on the islands that formerly took place, large numbers of so-called pelagic, or deep-sea, sealers, scour the coast of North America and the shores of Siberia in search of seals found swimming in the open ocean. The Fur Seal has a strange habit, after the breeding season is over, of swimming south for many hundreds of miles, for just what reason scientists are unable to determine, and not returning until the following year. It is during this time that the greatest destruction occurs, pelagic sealers killing indiscriminately males, females, and young; and unless this practice is suppressed, the supply of Fur Seals will be practically exhausted in a few years.

In habits this animal shows many interesting characters. Terrific fights take place between the bulls, each trying to keep as many mates as it is able to secure. On first emerging from the' water, the males are in splendid condition and rolling in fat, but grow thinner and thinner until at the end of the summer they are reduced to mere skeletons. During all the, time they remain on the islands, they are engaged in constant battles with one another, and as they never reenter the water for food, their vitality must be extraordinary. Fur Seal pups are pretty little creatures, but for some reason it has been found impossible to rear them in captivity, so that they are almost never seen in collections.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com