Mr. White to Mr. Blaine .

No. 132.]

Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 128, of the 30th ultimo, I have the honor to inclose herewith, for your information, cuttings from the Times of the 30th ultimo and the 3d Instant, containing farther correspondence with reference to the Behring Sea fisheries.

I have, etc.,

Henry White.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 132.—From the London Times, Saturday, November 30, 1889.]

The Behring Sea question.

To the Editor of the Times:

Sir: Mr. Staveley Hill has done a great public service in calling attention anew to the matters in dispute in regard to the seal fisheries in Behring Sea. He gives in his interesting letter information of the greatest value to those who would wish to understand the question. But, in order rightly to understand the question, it is necessary to supplement and even modify Mr. Staveley Hill’s account—briefly indeed—on three main points.

  • First, then, as to the “pretended apathy of Great Britain.” Certainly nothing has yet been done. But since I made my first inquiries on the Pacific coast in 1886, immediately after the troubles commenced, up to my visit to Vancouver Island in the spring of this year, I know that both the Imperial and the Canadian Governments have had the matter constantly in hand. The Behring Sea dispute was one intrusted to Mr. Chamberlain’s commission, although for specific reasons it was not proceeded with at Washington. In the House of Commons, where I have taken occasion to call attention to each Behring Sea seizure as it has occurred, we have from time to time been told of negotiations in progress, and I doubt not but that when the next installment of official correspondence is published we shall find much strong and probably “vigorous” language in the diplomatic record.
  • Secondly, Mr. Staveley Hill’s graphic description of the fisheries on the Pribyloff Islands would lead one to suppose that Canadian sealers captured the young males, “dry cows,” and others of the seal community who can not find room on the rookeries. As a matter of fact, the Canadian sealers take very few, if any, seals close to these islands. Their main catch is made far out at sea, and is almost entirely composed of females. Again, Mr. Staveley Hill advocates a close time, excepting for the months of July, August, and September. But the Canadian sealers commence sealing in December, and seal continuously from then till August. Nor does a close time get over the difficulty of jurisdiction over the high seas, for the seals are chiefly captured 25 to 30 miles from land. But I will not now point out other numerous details which I gathered in my inquiries from the point of view of natural history. I have said enough to show how complex is the subject.
  • The third point I would mention in supplement is that American as well as Canadian sealers engage in, as they term it, this “marine fur industry;” and, as I know by personal inquiry among them, are just as indignant as the Canadians at the highhanded proceedings of the Alaskan authorities.

But, sir, as I have said on more than one occasion, I believe the matters in dispute can best be settled on economic rather than on diplomatic pleas. All sides wish the seals preserved; all wish to see the market prices of skins maintained. Judging by what I know to be the views held by officials in Washington, in Ottawa, and in London, by “marine sealers,” whether Canadian or American, and by the Alaska Commercial Company, it would be easy on one condition to arrive at an international agreement embodying regulations which all would obey and all would accept as useful and right. These regulations would cover more than a close time, but all interested would accept them as a final close of a vexatious dispute.

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The one condition of success is that these regulations he drawn up in the light of a foil and complete knowledge of the natural history of the case, They must embody the one general view of the whole industry, and not the partial views either of the rookery-owners or of the “marine” sealers.

Mr. Staveley Hill has, with great point and ability, alluded to the hollowness of the case for Alaska in international law. I would venture to add that international law had best be called in now, with the view not so much of upsetting the past as of regulating the future.

The whole dispute is to many one of much intrinsic interest, but its extrinsic effect on the relations between Canada and the British Empire and the United States are of far higher import; and I earnestly trust that Lord Salisbury is even now working out some satisfactory solution of this Behring Sea difficulty.

I am, your obedient servant,

George Baden-Powell.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 132.—From the London Times, Tuesday, December 3, 1889.]

The Behring Sea question.

To the Editor of the Times:

Sir: Sir George Baden-Powell, in his valuable comments on Mr. Staveley Hill’s letter upon the Behring Sea question, says truly that the one condition of success in all future regulations is that “they should be drawn up in the light of a full and complete knowledge of the natural history of the case.”

Scarcely a century ago fur seals existed in numbers which appear now almost incredible on many coasts and islands of the Southern Ocean, Juan Fernandez, Chile, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Shetland, Prince Edward Island, the Crozettes, some parts of Australia, Antipodes Island, and many more, mostly within our dominions or within British influence, all possessed “rookeries,” or breeding places of seals, which, if protected, might have been still as populous and valuable as those on the Pribyloif Islands in the Behring Sea. Every one of these, however, has, owing to the ruthless and indiscriminate slaughter carried on by ignorant and lawless sealers, regardless of everything but immediate profit, been totally annihilated, or so reduced in numbers that it is no longer worth while to visit them. The only spot in the world where fur seals are now found in their original, or even increased, numbers is the Pribyloff group, a circumstance entirely owing to the rigid enforcement of the wise regulations of the Alaskan Commercial Company, which are based on a thorough knowledge of the habits of the animals. But for this the fur seal might before now have been added to the long list of animals exterminated from the earth by the hand of man.

Of course, it is not my province to enter into the question of the recent alleged illegal or high-handed proceedings of the Alaskan authorities or the wrongs of the Canadian fishermen, so graphically described by Mr. Staveley Hill. They may be safely left in Lord Salisbury’s hands; but if they have been such as to call the serious attention of both governments concerned to the necessity of coming to a definite understanding for the future protection of the seals, not only in the islands, but throughout the whole region of their migrations, these events will not have been without their use. The fact that the interests of the seals are also in the long run the interests of those who capture and destroy them has, unfortunately, not saved them from destruction elsewhere; but it is to be hoped that this sad history will not be lost sight of in dealing with them in their one remaining stronghold.

I am, your obedient servant,

W. H. Flower.

Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road, S. W., November 30.