No. 8.
Mr. Bayard to Mr. Phelps.

No. 782.]

Sir: I have received your No. 618, of the 12th of November last, containing an account of your interview with Lord Salisbury of the preceding day, in which his lordship expressed acquiescence in my proposal of an agreement between the United States and Great Britain in regard to the adoption of concurrent regulations for the preservation of fur seals in Behring Sea from extermination by destruction at improper seasons and by improper methods by the citizens of either country.

In response to his lordship’s suggestion that this Government submit a sketch of a system of regulations for the purpose indicated, it may be expedient, before making a definite proposition, to describe some of the conditions of seal life; and for this purpose it is believed that a concise statement as to that part of the life of the seal which is spent in Behring Sea will be sufficient.

All those who have made a study of the seals in Behring Sea are agreed that, on an average, from five to six months, that is to say, from the middle or towards the end of spring till the middle or end of October, are spent by them in those waters in breeding and in rearing their young. During this time they have their rookeries on the islands of St. Paul and St. George, which constitute the Pribyloff group and belong to the United States, and on the Commander Islands, which belong to Russia. But the number of animals resorting to the latter group is small in comparison with that resorting to the former. The rest of the year they are supposed to spend in the open sea south of the Aleutian Islands.

Their migration northward, which has been stated as taking place during the spring and till the middle of June, is made through the numerous passes in the long chain of the Aleutian Islands, above which the courses of their travel converge chiefly to the Pribyloff group. During this migration the female seals are so advanced in pregnancy that they generally give birth to their young, which are commonly called pups, within two weeks after reaching the rookeries. Between the time of the birth of the pups and of the emigration of the seals from the islands in the autumn the females are occupied in suckling their young; and by far the largest part of the seals found at a distance from the islands in Behring Sea during the summer and early autumn are females in search of food, which is made doubly necessary to enable them to suckle their young as well as to support a condition of renewed pregnancy, which begins in a week or a little more after their delivery.

The male seals, or bulls, as they are commonly called, require little food while on the islands, where they remain guarding their harems, watching the rookeries and sustaining existence on the large amount of blubber which they have secreted beneath their skins and which is gradually absorbed during the five or six succeeding months.

Moreover, it is impossible to distinguish the male from the female seals in the water, or pregnant females from those that are not so. When the animals are killed in the water with fire-arms many sink at once and are never recovered, and some authorities state that not more [Page 1829] than one out of three of those so slaughtered is ever secured. This may, however, be an overestimate of the number lost.

It is thus apparent that to permit the destruction of the seals by the use of fire-arms, nets, or other mischievous means in Behring Sea would result in the speedy extermination of the race. There appears to be no difference of opinion on this subject among experts. And the fact is so clearly and forcibly stated in the report of the inspector of fisheries for British Columbia of the 31st of December, 1886, that I will quote therefrom the following pertinent passage:

There were killed this year, so far, from 40,000 to 50,000 fur seals, which have been taken by schooners from San Francisco and Victoria. The greater number were killed in Behring Sea, and were nearly all cows or female seals. This enormous catch, with the increase which will take place when the vessels fitting up every year are ready, will, I am afraid, soon deplete our fur-seal fishery, and it is a great pity that such a valuable industry could not in some way be protected. (Report of Thomas Mowat, Inspector of Fisheries for British Columbia; Sessional papers, Vol, 15, No. 16, p. 268; Ottawa, 1887.)

The only way of obviating the lamentable result above predicted appears to be by the United States, Great Britian, and other interested powers taking concerted action to prevent their citizens or subjects from killing fur seals with fire-arms, or other destructive weapons, north of 50° of north latitude, and between 160° of longitude west and 170° of longitude east from Greenwich, during the period intervening between April 15 and November 1. To prevent the killing within a marine belt of 40 or 50 miles from the islands during that period would be ineffectual as a preservative measure. This would clearly be so during the approach of the seals to the islands. And after their arrival there such a limit of protection would also be insufficient, since the rapid progress of the seals through the water enables them to go great distances from the islands in so short a time that it has been calculated that an ordinary seal could go to the Aleutian Islands and back, in all a distance of 360 or 400 miles, in less than two days.

On the Pribyloff Islands themselves, where the killing is at present under the direction of the Alaska Commercial Company, which by the terms of its contract is not permitted to take over 100,000 skins a year, no females, pups, or old bulls are ever killed, and thus the breeding of the animals is not interfered with. The old bulls are the first to reach the islands, where they await the coming of the females. As the young bulls arrive they are driven away by the old bulls to the sandy part of the islands, by themselves. And these are the animals that are driven inland and there killed by clubbing, so that the skins are not perforated, and discrimination is exercised in each case.

That the extermination of the fur seals must soon take place unless they are protected from destruction in Behring Sea is shown by the fate of the animal in other parts of the world, in the absence of concerted action among the nations interested for its preservation. Formerly many thousands of seals were obtained annually from the South Pacific Islands, and from the coasts of Chili and South Africa. They were also common in the Falkland Islands and the adjacent seas. But in those islands, where hundreds of thousands of skins were formerly obtained, there have been taken, according to best statistics, since 1880, less than 1,500 skins. In some places the indiscriminate slaughter, especially by use of fire-arms, has in a few years resulted in completely breaking up extensive rookeries.

At the present time it is estimated that out of an aggregate yearly yield of 185,000 seals from all parts of the globe, over 130,000, or more than two-thirds, are obtained from the rookeries on the American and Russian [Page 1830] islands in Behring Sea. Of the remainder, the larger part are taken in Behring Sea, although such taking, at least on such a scale, in that quarter is a comparatively recent thing. But if the killing of the fur seal there with fire-arms, nets, and other destructive implements were permitted, hunters would abandon other and exhausted places of pursuit for the more productive field of Behring Sea, where extermination of this valuable animal would also rapidly ensue.

It is manifestly for the interests of all nations that so deplorable a thing should not be allowed to occur. As has already been stated, on the Pribyloff Islands this Government strictly limits the number of seals that may be killed under its own lease to an American company; and citizens of the United States have, during the past year, been arrested and ten American vessels seized for killing fur seals in Behring Sea.

England, however, has an especially great interest in this matter, in addition to that which she must feel in preventing the extermination of an animal which contributes so much to the gain and comfort of her people. Nearly all undressed fur-seal skins are sent to London, where they are dressed and dyed for the market, and where many of them are sold. It is stated that at least 10,000 people in that city find profitable employment in this work; far more than the total number of people engaged in hunting the fur seal in every part of the world. At the Pribyloff Islands it is believed that there are not more than 400 persons so engaged; at Commander Islands, not more than 300; in the Northwest coast fishery, not more than 525 Indian hunters and 100 whites; and in the Cape Horn fishery, not more than 400 persons, of whom perhaps 300 are Chilians. Great Britain, therefore, in co-operating with the United States to prevent the destruction of fur seals in Behring Sea would also be perpetuating an extensive and valuable industry in which her own citizens have the most lucrative share.

I inclose for your information copy of a memorandum on the fur-seal fisheries of the world, prepared by Mr. A. Howard Clark, in response to a request made by this Department to the U. S. Fish Commissioner. I inclose also, for your further information, copy of a letter to me, dated December 3d last, from Mr. Henry W. Elliott, who has spent much time in Alaska, engaged in the study of seal life, upon which he is well known as an authority. I desire to call your especial attention to what is said by Mr. Elliott in respect to the new method of catching the seals with nets.

As the subject of this dispatch is one of great importance and of immediate urgency, I will ask that you give it as early attention as possible.

I am, etc.,

T. F. Bayard.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 782.]

Review of the fur-seal fisheries of the world in 1887.

By A. Howard Clark.

In the Encyclopædia Britannica, ninth edition, the fur-seal fisheries are credited with an annual yield of 185,000 skins, of which 100,000 are said to be obtained from the Pribyloff Islands, 30,000 from the Commander Islands, 15,000 from the straits of Juan de Fuca and vicinity, 12,000 from the Lobos Islands, 15,000 from Patagonia and outlying islands, 500 from the Falkland Islands, 10,000 from the Cape of Good Hope and places thereabout, and 2,500 from islands belonging to Japan.

The above statistics were communicated by me to the author of the article “Seal Fisheries” in the Encyclopædia and had been carefully verified by the latest official records and by a personal interview with Messrs. C. M. Lampson & Co., of London, [Page 1831] one of the principal fur houses of the world, and by whom most of the annual production of fur seal-skins are placed upon the market.

A review of the subject at this time (January, 1888) necessitates but a slight change in the annual production and in the apportionment to the several fisheries. Some of the fisheries have increased while others have decreased. Taking the average annual yield from 1880 to date, I find that the total production is now 192,457 skins, obtained as follows:

Annual yield of fur-seal fisheries.

Fur-seal skins.
Pribyloff Islands, Behring Sea 94,967
Commander Islands and Robben Reef 41,893
Islands belonging to Japan 4,000
British and American sealing fleets on northwest coast of America (including catch at Cape Flattery and Behring Sea) 25,000
Lobos Islands at mouth of Rio de la Plata 12,385
Cape of Good Hope, including islands in Southern Indian Ocean 5,500
Cape Horn region 8,162
Falkland Islands 550
Total 192,457

The statistics for the Pribyloff and Commander Islands are compiled from reports of the Alaska Commercial Company, Mr. Elliott’s reports in volume 8, Tenth Census, and in section 5, U. S. Fish Commission report, and trade reports of annual sales in London (Fur Trade Review, published monthly at No. 11 Bond street, New York). The northwest coast statistics are from the annual reports of the department of fisheries of Canada and from Mr. Swan’s report in section 5, volume 2, of the quarto report of the U. S. Fish Commission. For Japan, Lobos Islands, Cape of Good Hope, and Falkland Islands the statistics are from the “Annual Statements of the Trade of the United Kingdom with foreign countries and British possessions as presented to Parliament.” Statistics for Cape Horn region are from sealing merchants of Stonington and New London, Conn.

The details of the fisheries for a series of years are shown in the following table:

(As to the number of persons employed, it is not possible to give details in all cases, At Pribyloff Islands in 1880 there were 372 Aleuts and 18 whites. At Commander Islands there are about 300 persons; in the northwest coast fishery 523 Indian hunters and 100 whites, and in the Cape Horn fishery about 400 whites, of whom perhaps 300 are Chilians.)

Number of fur-seal skins from principal fisheries, 1871 to 1887.

[Compiled from official sources by A. H. Clark. No returns for spaces blank.]

Year Pribyloff Islands. Commander Islands and Robben Reff. Northwest coast of America. Japan. Falkland Islands. Cape Horn. Lobos Islands. Cape of Good Hope.
1871 63,000 3,614 (*) ()
1872 99,000 29,319 (*) ()
1873 99,630 30,396 (*) ()
1874 99,820 31,272 (*) 1,085 () 7,954 9,393
1875 99,500 36,274 (*) 100 () 2,243 8,629
1876 99,000 26,960 (*) 173 () 6,618 11,225
1877 85,000 21,532 (*) 1,386 () 22,550 11,065
1878 95,000 31,340 (*) 2,366 () 11,931 13,086
1879 99,968 42,752 18,500 (*) 4,038 () 6,900 15,128
1880 99,950 48,504 19,150 (*) 2,427 9,275 10,900 7,731
1881 85,000 42,640 (*) 620 6,610 8,887 8,280
1882 99,800 46,000 17,700 (*) 50 8,600 15,067 11,497
1883 78,000 25,000 11,943 8 (§) 13,950 7,020
1884 99,500 38,000 15,641 684 (§) 10,722 3,924
1885 99,600 42,000 15,000 (§) 11,223 4,407
1886 98,000 45,000 38,907 3,695 68 (§) 15,949 3,378
1887 99,890 48,000 29,211 (§)

* Annual average estimated at 4,000 skins.

Total 1870 to 1880, 92, 750; average, 9, 275.

Catch landed at British Columbia vessels.

§ Returns not received.

Mostly taking in Behring Sea. See Schedule A.

The second point upon which information is requested is “that of the destruction of the fur seal, resulting either in its extermination or the diminution of its yield, in places where it formerly abounded,” etc.

[Page 1832]

At the beginning of the present century there were great rookeries of fur seal at Falkland Islands, at the South Shetlands, at Masafuera, at South Georgia, and at many other places throughout the Antarctic region. These places were visited by sealing vessels, and indiscriminate slaughter of the animals resulted in the extermination of the species or in such diminution in their numbers that the fishery became unprofitable.

The details of the Antarctic fishery are given in section 5, volume 2, of the quarto report of the U. S. Fish Commission, pages 400–467; in report by H. W. Elliott on “Seal Islands of Alaska,” 6, 117–124 (reprinted in volume 8, Tenth Census Reports); in “Monograph of North American Pinnipeds,” by J. A. Allen (Misc. Pub. XII, U. S. Geological Survey); in “Fanning. Voyages Round the World” (New York, 1833); in “Narrative of Voyages and Travels in Northern and Southern Hemispheres,” by Amasa Delano (Boston, 1817); and in numerous other works, to which reference will be found in the above volumes.

A few men are still living who participated in the Antarctic seal fisheries years ago. Their stories of the iormer abundance of fur seals I have obtained in personal interviews. As to the manner of destruction there is but one thing to say. An indiscriminate slaughter of old and young, male and female, in a few years results in the breaking up of the largest rookeries, and, as in the case of Masafuera and the Falkland Islands, the injury seems to be a permanent one. As an instance, the South Shetlands were first visited in 1819, when fur seals were very abundant; two vessels in a short time securing full fares. In 1820, thirty vessels hastened to the Islands, and in a few weeks obtained upwards of 250,000 skins, while thousands of seals were killed and lost. In 1821 and 1822 Weddeli* says “320,000 skins were taken.* * * The system of extermination was practiced,* * * for whenever a seal reached the beach, of whatever denomination, he was immediately killed and his skin taken, and by this means, at the end of the second year, the animals became nearly extinct; the young having lost their mothers when only three or four days old, of course died, which at the lowest calculation exceeded 100,000.” In subsequent years, until 1845, these islands were occasionally visited by vessels in search of seal skins, but never after 1822 were many animals found there. About 1845 the Antarctic fur sealing was abandoned. In 1871 the industry was renewed, and a few vessels secured some valuable furs from the South Shetlands, but in a few years voyages there became unprofitable. (See section 5, volume 2, U. S. Fish Commissioner’s Report, pp. 402–458.)

The same story may be told of Masafuera, from which island about 3,500,000 fur-seal skins were taken between the years 1793 and 1807 (see section 5, as above, p. 407). Captain Morrell states that in 1807 “the business was scarcely worth following at Masafuera, and in 1824 the island, like its neighbor Juan Fernandez, was almost entirely abandoned by these animals.” (Morrell’s Voyage: New York, 1832, p. 130.) Scarcely any seals have since been found at Masafuera. Delano states that in 1797 there were two or three million fur seals on that island. Elliott, in his report, already cited, gives accounts of earlier voyages to Masafuera, etc. I have consulted log-books and journals of several voyages, all agreeing in the former abundance and the extermination of the fur seal on Masafuera as well as on other Antarctic or southern islands.

At the Falkland Islands both fur seals and sea lions abounded, but there, too, they were destroyed.

The sealing business at South Georgia was most prosperous in 1800, during which season sixteen American and English vessels took 112,000 fur-seal skins. Though not as important a rookery as some of the other islands, considerable numbers of fur seals have been taken from South Georgia. Since 1870 some good cargoes of elephant-seal oil have been taken there.

Fur seals were abundant at the Tristan d’Acunha Islands at the beginning of the century, and because of the almost inaccessible caves and rocks to which they resort, a few have survived, or least as late as 1873 a few were annually taken there.

On the west coast of Africa, from Cape of Good Hope to 16° south latitude, there was until 1870 a considerable number of fur seals of an inferior quality, but they are now practically exhausted, the few skins marketed as coming from there being taken on various hauling grounds on islets farther south and east. (See Sec. 5, vol. 2, U. S. Fish Com. Report, p. 415.)

The Prince Edward group, Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Land, and other smaller islands in the Southern Indian and Southern Pacific Oceans were important seal fisheries, both for the fur and elephant seal. At none of them is any number of seals found to-day. The English exploring ship Challenger visited Kerguelen Land in 1873–’76, and reports:

“Two of the whaling schooners met with at the island killed over seventy fur seals in one day and upwards of twenty at another, at some small islands off Howe Islands [Page 1833] to the north. It is a pity that some discretion is not exercised in killing the animals, as is done at St. Paul Island, in Behring Sea, in the case of the northern fur seal. By killing the young males and selecting certain animals only for killing the number of seals even may be increased; the sealers in Kerguelen Island kill all they can find.” (See “Report of the Scientific Results of the Exploring Voyage of H. M. S. Challenger, 1873–’76. Narrative of the Cruise, vol 1, in two parts. 4°. Published by order of Her Majesty’s Government, 1885.”)

In these volumes will be found similar references to other seal islands visited by the Challenger. In referring to Marion Island the report says:

“The ruthless manner in which fur and elephant seals were destroyed by the sealing parties in the early part of this century has had the effect of almost exterminating the colony that used these desolate islands for breeding purposes.” (Vol. I, p. 294.)

To recapitulate, concerning seal rookeries south of the equator, I may say that there is no single place where any number are now known to resort, except on the Lobos Islands, off Peru, and at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, and on the neighboring hauling grounds at the cliffs of Cabo Corrientes. Here they are and have long been protected by the Argentine Republic or Uruguay, and the rookery appears to remain about the same size, with little apparent increase or decrease in the number of animals, as may be seen by statistics of the catch in the table above given.

The small rookeries or hauling grounds at Diego Ramirez Islands, Cape Horn, and the rocky islets in that vicinity, from 1870 to 1883 or 1884, yielded some return to the hardy sealers of Stonington and New London, Conn., from which ports a half dozen vessels have been annually sent. Even this last resort of American sealers is practically exhausted, and only by much search is a profitable voyage made there. Dr. Coppinger, who was at Cape Horn in 1878–’82 (Cruise of the Alert, by R. W. Coppinger: London, 1883), tells of the difficulties of sealing at Cape Horn, and of the profits made when even a few skins are secured. In 1880 Captain Temple “came through the western channels of Patagonia, having entered the straits at Tres Montes,” and on the Cavadonga group of barren rocks he says he found some thousands of seals.

Had the great southern rookeries been protected by Government it is altogether probable, according to all authorities, that they would to-day yield many thousands of skins, in some cases equal to the valuable returns of the Pribyloff group.

In proceeding up the Southern Pacific from Masafuera we pass St. Felix, the Lobos Islands off Peru, and the Galapagos Islands, on which, as well as on other islands in that ocean, the fur seal once was found, but whence it has been exterminated. North of the equator we meet first the Guadaloupe Islands, where in 1878 there were a few fur seals, presumably migrations from the Pribyloff group. Moving northward along the Californian and northwest coast the fur seal is found in winter and early spring on its way to the great breeding grounds on the Pribyloff Islands. It is during this migration that the Pacific sealing schooners of British Columbia and San Francisco capture them, and it is probable that if the fleet increases in size with a corresponding increase in the number of seals taken, there will ere long be an appreciable decrease in the number of seals on the Pribyloff Islands. This can not but be the result, for many seals are killed and not secured, and there is the same indiscriminate slaughter as regards young and old, male and female, that was practiced at the southern rookeries. The statistics showing the present growing condition of the northwest coast fishery and the efforts of the fishermen to follow the seals even into Behring Sea are already a matter of record and need not be repeated here except to refer to the annual reports of the department of fisheries of Canada. In the report for 1886 will be found (on page 249) the names of the British Columbian fleet, aggregating 20 vessels manned by 79 sailors and 380 hunters, and their catch is fiven at 38,917 skins as compared with 13 vessels taking 17,700 skins in 1882. The merican vessels in this fleet in 1880 and their catch is given by Mr. Swan in section 5, volume 2, of the quarto report of U. S. Fish Commission.

It is not necessary that I refer to the condition of the rookeries on the Pribyloff Islands. There can be no question concerning the advisability of regulating the number of animals to be killed and the selection of such animals as will not interfere with the breeding of the species. The history of the islands at the beginning of the century, when there was an indiscriminate slaughter of fur seals, and the protection of the animals in 1808 and thereafter by the Russian and American Governments is fully told by Veniaminov and by Elliott, and need not be repeated here. (Veniaminov’s Zapieskie, etc.; St. Petersburg, 1842; volume 2, pp. 568, quoted by H. W. Elliott in Seal Islands of Alaska, pp. 140–145, volume 8, Tenth Census Report.)

The Commander Islands (Behring and Copper Islands), in Behring Sea, and Robben Reef, near Saghalien, in the Okhotsk Sea, are leased by the Alaska Commercial Company, and are protected by the Russian Government in much the same manner that the Pribyloff Islands are protected by the United States Government. A description of the seal industry on those islands is given by Professor Nordenskiold in Voyage of the Vega, a translation of a portion of his report being given by Mr. Elliott on pages 109–115, in Seal Islands of Alaska. At Robben Reef it is impossible to establish a [Page 1834] station, the rock being often wave-washed, but the Alaska Company send men there in the season to gather from 1,500 to 4,000 skins each year. The agent of the Russian Government confers with the Alaska Company’s agent each year to determine the number of skins that shall be taken in the Commander Islands.

The seals taken by the Japanese are those migrating from the Commander group and are not secured in large numbers, the average being about 4,000, though some years as many as 11,000 are taken.

Schedule A.—Memorandum of seal-skin seizures, vessels, etc., in Behring Sea, in 1887.

Name and rig. Nation. Tonnage. Captain. Owner. Seized. Date. Seals.
W. P. Sayward British 59 Geo. R. Terry J. D.Warren Steamer Rush July 10 477
Anne Beck do 36 Louis Olsen do do July 3 336
Grace do 76 Wm. Petit do do July 18 769
Dolphin do 70 J. D. Warren do do July 13 618
Alfred Adams do 68 W. W. Dyer J. Guteman do Aug. 12 1,379
Ada do 65 J. Gandin J. Boskowitz Steamer Bear Aug. 25 1,870
Lottie Fairfield* L. A. Hough Steamer Rush
Challenger American 36 H. B. Jones A. Douglass do Aug. 5 443
Lily L do 63 J. W. Todd G. W. Ladd do July 1 151
Annie do 25 H. Brown Jas. Laflin do July 25 195
Kate and Annie do 16 Chas. Lutjen Chas. Lutjen do Aug. 11 304
Ellen do 12 T. H. Wentworth G. W. Lybyjust do Aug. 12 577
Alpha do 26 James Talten { Jas. Talten } do Aug. 12 195
J. V. Garvin
{ J. S. Lee }
San José do 51 J. S. Lee J. D. Griffin do Aug. 23 891
Angel Dolly do 18 A. Tulles J. D. Griffin G. R. Tingle, Treas. agent. Aug. 5 178
Allie T. Alger do 70 C. E. Raynor Steamer Bear. Aug. 25 1,594
Sylvia Handy do 68 J. L. Cathcut L. N. Handy & Son. do Sept. 2 1,597
Total 11,969

* Vessel not captured.

Arrival of sealing schooners from Behring Sea in 1887, as far as reported to October 5, 1887

Arrived at– Name of schooner No. of. Skins.
Port Townsend Lottie 700
Victoria Mary Taylor 1,000
Do Pathfinder 2,300
Do Penelope 1,500
Do Black Diamond 595
Do Mountain Chief 700
Do Lottie Fairfield 2,997
Do Adel 1,350
Do Favorite 1,887
Do Teresa 1,246
Do Triumph 480
Do City of San Diego 1,187
Do Vanderbilt 1,300

Recapitulation, as reported up to October 5, 1887: Skins seized, 11,969; skins landed, 17,242; total, 29,211.

[Page 1835]
[Inclosure 2 in No. 782.]

Mr. Elliott to Mr. Bayard.

Sir: During the course of my extended studies of the fur seal on its breeding and hauling grounds in Behring Sea, I was led naturally into a very careful examination of the subject of its protection and perpetuation. This investigation caused me to give much attention then to the effect which pelagic sealing would have upon the well-being and the conservation of these anomalous and valuable interests of our Government as we view them upon the Pribyloff group.

When preparing, in 1881, a final arrangement of my field-notes and memoranda for publication in my Monograph of the Seal Islands of Alaska (Tenth Census United States of America), the late Professor Baird suggested that I omit the discussion of this theme of pelagic sealing, because it might serve to invite an attack which otherwise would never be made upon these preserves of our Government.

This attack, however, has recently been made, and the thought occurs to me now that a brief epitome of my study of the effect which this plan of sealing will have upon the integrity and value of our fur-bearing interests in Behring Sea—that such a brief yet accurate statement will be of service to you. I therefore venture to present the following transcript:

It is now well understood and unquestioned—

That the fur seal of Alaska is obliged to haul out annually upon the Pribyloff Islands for the purpose of breeding and shedding its pelage.
That from the time of its departure from these islands in the autumn of every year up to the time of its return to them in the following spring it lands nowhere else.
That it arrives eu masse upon these islands in June and July and departs from them in October and November.
That when leaving the islands in the fall it heads directly for and rapidly passes out from Behring Sea into the waters of the North Pacific Ocean. Its paths of travel are bee-lines from the Pribyloff group to and through the numerous passes of the Aleutian Archipelago; the passes of Oonininak, Akootan, Ooualga, Oomnak, and the Four Mountains are most favored by it.
That it returns from the broad wastes of the North Pacific Ocean by these same paths of departure.

Therefore, if you will glance at the map of Alaska you will observe that the convergence and divergence of these watery paths of the fur seal in Behring Sea to and from the Seal Islands resembles the spread of the spokes of a half wheel—the Aleutian chain forms the felloe, while the hub into which these spokes enter is the small Pribyloff group.

Thus you can see that as these watery paths of the fur seal converge in Behring Sea they, in so doing, rapidly and solidly mass together thousands and tens of thousands of widely-scattered animals (as they travel) at points 50 and even 100 miles distant from the rookeries of the Seal Islands.

Here is the location and the opportunity of the pelagic sealer. Here is his chance to lie at anchor over the shallow bed of Behring Sea, 50 and 100 miles distant from the Pribyloff group, where he has the best holding ground known to sailors, and where he can ride at any weather safely swinging to his cable and in no danger from a lee shore if it should slip. The immediate vicinity, however, of the Aleutian passes is dangerous in the extreme to him. There he encounters terrible tide-rips, swift currents, and furious gales formed through the entrances, with the very worst of rough, rocky, holding ground.

But up here, anywhere from 3 to 100 miles south of the Seal Islands, in Behring Sea, in that watery road of the returning fur-seal millions, he has a safe and fine location from which to shoot, to spear, and to net these fur-bearing amphibians, and where he can work the most complete ruin in a very short time.

His power for destruction is still further augmented by the fact that those seals which are most liable to meet his eye and aim are female fur seals, which, heavy with young, are here slowly nearing the land reluctant to haul out of the cool water until the day and hour arrives that limits the period of their gestation.

The pelagic sealer employs three agencies with which to secure his quarry, viz: He sends out Indians with canoes and spears from his vessel; he uses rifle and ball, shotguns, and buckshot; and last, but most deadly and destructive of all, he spreads the “gill-net” in favorable weather.

With gill-nets, under run by a fleet of sealers in Behring Sea, across these converging paths of the fur seal, anywhere from 3 to 100 miles southerly from the Seal Islands, I am extremely moderate in saying that such a fleet could and would ntterly ruin the fur-seal rookeries of the Pribyloff Islands in less time than three or [Page 1836] four short seasons. If these men were unchecked every foot of that watery area of fur-seal travel in Behring Sea above indicated could and would be traversed by these deadly nets, and a seal would scarcely have one chance in ten to safely pass such a cordon in attempting to go and return from its breeding haunts.

Open these waters of Behring Sea to unchecked pelagic sealing, then a fleet of hundreds of vessels—steamers, ships, schooners, and whatnot—would immediately venture into them bent upon the most vigorous and indiscriminate slaughter of these animals. A few seasons then of the greediest rapine, then nothing left of those wonderful and valuable interests of the public which are now so handsomely embodied on the Seal Islands. Guarded and conserved as they are to-day they will last for an indefinite time to come, objects of the highest commercial value and good to the world, and subjects for the most fascinating biological study.

It is also well to note the fact that not an eligible acre of land is barred out from settlement or any other fit use by our people, and not a league of water is closed to any legitimate trade or commerce in all Alaska by this action of our Government in thus protecting the fur-bearing rookeries of the Pribyloff group.

Such are the facts in this connection. They are indisputable. No intelligent, unselfish man will advocate for a moment the policy of destruction in this instance—he never will if fully aware of the facts bearing on the question.

There are only two parties in this controversy. The party of destruction demands the full right to unchecked pelagic sealing in Behring Sea, while the party of preservation demands the suppression of that sealing. Comment is unnecessary.

Very truly, etc.,

Henry W. Elliott.
  1. Weddell’s Voyages, p. 130, quoted in sec. 5, vol. 2, quarto report of U. S. F. C., p. 407.