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The Seal Fishery


CAPT. DAVID GRAY, of the steamship Eclipse, has done good service to the cause of humanity in writing, and Mr. Buckland in publishing, the letter on the seal fishery which appears in Land and Water for May 9. The fearful cruelties perpetrated year after year, and the enormous waste of life entailed by the reckless manner in which the seal fishery is prosecuted, are well known, but no steps have hitherto been taken to regulate a trade which, if carried on within proper bounds, would continue to yield great profits, but if still pursued with such utter disregard to consequences must soon end in the extermination of the whole race. As an instance of the wastefulness of the mode of proceeding, Capt. Gray says that five ships attacking a pack of seals, in four days killed about 10,000 old seals; “add 20 percent for seals mortally wounded and lost, gives an aggregate of 12,000 old ones; add 12,000 young which died of starvation, gives 24,000; but this is not all. The men spread on the ice, so that the old ones that were left alive could not get on to suckle their young. The consequence was that the whole of the young brood was destroyed, and had these seals been left alone for eight or ten days, I am quite within the mark when I say that, instead of only taking 300 tons of oil out of them, 1,500 could as easily have been got, and that without touching an old one.” In one day by the men of the five ships upwards of 4,000 old seals were taken, “the young ones in thousands yelling for their mothers, following the skins as the men dragged them to the ships, and sucking the crangs, i.e. skins, in desperation.” The maternal love for its offspring was made use of to save the men trouble, as a seal killed when giving suck was more easily secured, and often seals desperately wounded were seen administering nourishment to their young ones. The plight of the young ones which had lost their mothers was pitiful in the extreme; they were seen huddling together for heat, “and trying to suck one another,” till they at length succumbed. Capt. Gray exclaims, “surely there is influence enough left in Great Britain to prevent a continuation of such barbarity. I overheard some of my men saying to one another, “It is a shame this sort of work;” and so it is. It is a shame that any civilised Government should allow its subjects to perpetrate such cruelty when it could so easily be prevented. The remedy is simply, let the ships be kept from sailing before March 25; ships now sail from Feb. 25 to March 1. This would give a fortnight to make the passage, and find the seals in; by that time the young would be beginning to be worth taking, and a fearful waste of life put a stop to that now annually occurs.” The accounts of the cruelties practiced in sealing are sickening in the extreme, the only thing considered being how to deprive as great a number of their skin and blubber in as short a time as possible. Mr. Brown (Proc. Zool. Soc, 1868) remarks: “Seals are very tenacious of life, and difficult to kill, unless by a bullet through the brain or heart. They are so quickly flensed (the operation of removing the blubber and skin) that after having been deprived of their skin they have been seen to strike out in the water; so that the sympathies of the rough hunters have been so excited that they will pierce the heart several times with their knives before throwing away the carcass.” These movements Mr. Brown attributes to reflex action, but considering the haste of the operation, and the seal's known tenacity of life, it is quite as likely that it was merely a stunned and not a dead animal thus deprived of its skin and blubber. It is terrible to dwell thus upon the horrors of this cruel trade, which make even the hardened participators sicken and relent, but it is necessary that it should be done, in order, if possible, to reach the hearts of Englishmen, and enlist their sympathies. If these beautiful and harmless creatures must be sacrificed for our requirements, it is a duty incumbent upon us to see that their destruction is carried out mercifully, and with the infliction of as little suffering and waste of life as possible.

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SOUTHWELL, T. The Seal Fishery. Nature 10, 85–86 (1874).

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