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aquatic actions, they are at all governed by this greatly-developed faculty, in what way are odorous impressions conveyed to the nose?-an inquiry which has, I think, been by no means satisfactorily explained by those who suppose odorous impressions to be conveyed to the nose posteriorly, from the entrance of the throat.
I really suspect, however visionary it may appear, that seals hunt their prey, or discover its vicinity, by their sense of smelling, when swimming on the surface of the water; for if dogs are very sensible to the scent of a small aquatic fowl on the surface, as we know is the case, why should not the seal of a distant shoal of fishes, sporting, as they constantly do, on the surface, its proper prey, and by means of organs so far more complicated? The same view of the subject of course equally applies to the delicate nasal organs of the otter and the Polar bear. Vision, then, I would say, is the sense which governs the seal in its actions beneath-smelling, when upon the surface, and only when out of the water.
The seals of the Northern seas are almost entirely destitute of outward ears. The opening into the organ is, like that of the nose, accurately closed by means of a perfect valve. The internal organ of hearing in the seal presents another beautiful intervening gradation in structure between that of the entirely aquatic and the entirely terrestrial quadrupeds: like the latter, the ossicula are attached to the membrana tympani; and like the true whales, the inferior circumference of the tympanum consists of bone, of unusual thickness and solidity. As to the faculty, I have reason to believe that seals not only hear acutely, but they are sensibly gratified by musical sounds. When I was most amongst these animals, they much excited our amusement; for, by uttering a whistling sound, we could readily induce them to follow our boats very great distances, when they would continue to raise their heads above the surface nearer and nearer, and to fix their large eyes stedfastly upon us.
The tongue of the seal is notched at its extremity, unlike that of most other quadrupeds: it is perfectly smooth, yet is doubtless provided with a tolerably acute sense of taste. The predilection of this animal for the salmon is manifest, from the cir
cumstance of that fish tempting it further within the reach of human persecution than any other; hence, I have often seen seals rise to the surface to breathe with salmon in their mouths, at that period of the year, when they lie in such numbers around the mouths of Irish and Scotch rivers, to cut off the retreat of that fish into the sea, after depositing its eggs in fresh water.
The seal's throat is so provided with a valve at its entrance, that the creature has no difficulty in swallowing its prey when under water, without admitting the latter into the stomach.
Of all aquatic genera of animals, the seal appears to be the most widely distributed over the surface of the globe. The common kind, although generally an inhabitant of temperate seas, not only excites much interest by its annual and wellconducted migrations from shore to shore, but often swims northwards into very frigid regions, though seldom higher than the 78th degree of latitude, where it associates with the Phocæ Grænlandica, cristata, and barbata.
If we regard the antarctic regions, we find them no less the abode and resort of seals than the arctic, as has been lately signally evinced by the hundreds of thousands which were discovered on that vast tract of desert land south of Cape Horn, which has been called South Shetland, and which commences about the 70th degree of latitude, and from whence they have already almost been extirpated by unceasing persecution. From these seas Lord Anson first brought to Europe the immense Phoca Leonina, the Sea Lion, or Sea Elephant, as it is more frequently called, from its possessing a short trunk, and being a creature of no less than 20 feet in length, and the largest species known. Lord Anson was also, I believe, the first who described the poisonous effects of the liver of the South Sea seals; and I have been informed by a Greenland Captain, that he himself, and one or two others suffered very severely from partaking of the kidney of the common seal. The Phoca leonina, closing the extremity of its short trunk, greatly inflates it when enraged; so likewise, in the North seas, the Phoca cristata, or bladder-nosed seal, has a kind of hood on the head, which it can inflate with air, and with it protect its eyes and nose when attacked: it measures eight feet in length, and is very ferocious. But the largest seal of our own seas, is the Phoca barbata, the species
which I think goes by the name of ground seal among the Greenland fishers, and of whose skin the Greenlanders are said to make their thongs for fishing. A specimen of this seal was shot on the North coast of Scotland, which measured twelve feet in length. There is, I believe, one of these preserved on the top of the staircase at the British Museum.
Among the seals, which are provided with external ears, of the South Seas, and which have been associated under a new name, are the Phoca jubata and the Phoca ursina. The former being provided with a mane, and measuring fifteen feet long; while the latter is of much smaller size, and is destitute of a mane.
I have been much surprised at the numbers of common seals, from three to five feet in length, which frequent the Western coast of Ireland, having often seen there more than twenty reposing together on a rock. Their numbers appear not only to be owing to the unfrequented nature of that interesting part of Great Britain; but certain superstitions of the fishermen induce them on all possible occasions to spare their lives. The common seal also abounds on the North shores of Scotland, and the Hebrides; but, of course, from increasing persecution, rapidly decreases in numbers as we proceed south.
The brain of this animal is, I think, doubtless, of greater proportionate magnitude, than in any other quadruped, and not only does it exhibit in its countenance the appearance of sagacity, but its intelligence is in reality far greater than in most land quadrupeds: hence its domestication is rendered much easier than that of other animals, and it is susceptible of more powerful attachment. These circumstances do not excite more interest among the naturalists of the present day, than they did long ago with Aristotle, Ælian, Pliny, and other ancient observers of nature. It is evidently the common seal, to which Aristotle alludes in his description; and his observation, that it is the only quadruped which searches for its food in the sea, would lead us to suppose that he had not an opportunity of acquainting himself with the walrus and sea otter.
The large seal, which was exhibited some time ago at Exeter Change, appeared to me to understand the language of its keeper as perfectly as the most faithful dog. When he entered at one end of its long apartment, it raised its body from the water,
in which it was injudiciously too constantly kept, supporting itself erect against the bars of its inclosure, and wheresoever he moved, keeping its large, dark eyes stedfastly fixed upon him. When desired to make obeisance to visitors, it quickly threw itself on one side, and struck the opposite one several times in quick succession with its fore foot, producing a loud noise. The young seal again, which was kept on board the Alexander, in one of the Northern expeditions, became so much attached to its new mode of life, that after being thrown into the sea, and it had become tired of swimming at liberty, it regularly returned to the side of the boat, to be retaken on board. Such examples might be greatly multiplied, but these are amply sufficient for our purpose; and I cannot help stating, that aware of this disposition to become familiar, this participation in the good qualities of the dog, it is astonishing that mankind have not chosen this intelligent and finely-organised quadruped, for aquatic services scarcely less important than some of those in which the dog is employed, on the surface of the land.
The seal is among the few polygamous quadrupeds; and like the rest, the males, during the period of intercourse, enter into violent conflicts. Two young ones are generally produced at a time in the autumn. They are brought forth in caverns, extending from the sea above high-water mark, and here they remain suckling during several weeks, before they venture into the water. When they become fatigued by swimming, we are assured that the parent supports them on her back.
The voice of the seal consists of a kind of bleating, whence doubtless has the common seal obtained the name of the seacalf, the Phoca vitulina: the voice is, however, liable to great variation, especially during changes in the state of the atmosphere, when they become extremely clamorous. Spending their nights on the surfaces of rocks, or upon the shore, it is during their very sound repose in these situations that they are approached and destroyed with sticks; and when thus alarmed, they tumble their young ones before them into the sea, and are themselves often sacrificed in the very act. But the means by which they are captured in by far the greatest numbers, is by cutting off their retreat to the sea at low water, when, in apparent security, they lie in large herds within
caverns fire-arms, in these cases, are never had recourse to, as a comparatively slight blow by a stick on the head, or nose, is sufficient to destroy life: this arises either from the thin and fragile nature of the bones of the skull of the seal, or the great and immediate nervous communication which exists between its nose and its brain. Among more uncivilised nations, its mode of destruction is far more tedious and less efficient. Thus, for instance, the Esquimaux, after long watching, first strikes a seal with his barbed spear, to which a line is attached, having at its extremity a large floating buoy, composed of the inflated skin of another seal; thus entangled and opposed in all its efforts to retreat far beneath, as often as it rises to breathe, it receives a fresh wound from the unerring spear of its destroyer.
We now proceed to say a few words on the uses to which this animal is applied, when deprived of life, by the more civilised nations of mankind. As to the benefits which the inhabitants of frigid regions derive from it, they are far too numerous and diversified to be particularized, as they supply them with almost all the conveniences of life. We, on the contrary, so persecute this animal, as to destroy hundreds of thousands annually, for the sake of the pure and transparent oil with which it abounds; 2dly, for its tanned skin, which is appropriated to various purposes by different modes of preparation; and, 3rdly, we pursue it for its close and dense attire. In the common seal, the hair of the adult is of one uniform kind, so thickly arranged and imbued with oil, as to effectually resist the action of the water; while, on the contrary, in the antarctic seals the hair is of two kinds: the longest, like that of the northern seals; the other, a delicate, soft fur, growing between the roots of the former, close to the surface of the skin, and not seen externally; and this beautiful fur constitutes an article of very increasing importance in commerce ;-but not only does the clothing of the seal vary materially in colour, fineness, and commercial estimation, in the different species, but not less so in reference to the age of the animal. The young of most kinds are usually of a very light colour, or entirely white, and are altogether destitute of true hair, having this substituted by a long and particularly soft fur.