U. S. SERVICE SERIES.
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. FISHERIES
With Fifty-one Illustrations, principally from Bureaus of the United States Government
BOSTON LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
Published, November, 1912
COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
All rights reserved
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. FISHERIES
Norwood Press BERWICK AND SMITH CO. Norwood, Mass. U. S. A.
To My Son Roger's Friend
Treasure-ships, bearing richer cargoes than any galleons that crossed the Spanish Main, still sail over the ocean to-day, but we call them fishing smacks; heroism equal to that of any of the pioneer navigators of old still is found beneath oilskins and a sou'wester, but the heroes give their lives to gain food for the world instead of knowledge; and the thrilling quest of piercing the mysteries of life has no greater fascination than when it seeks to probe the unfathomed depths of that great mistress of mysteries—the Ocean. Just as to save life is greater than to destroy it, so is the true savior of the seas the Fisheries craft, not the battleship; so is the hatchery mightier than the fortress, the net or the microscope a more powerful weapon for good than the torpedo or the Nordenfeldt.
The Bureau of Fisheries for the United States Government, Mr. Chas. Frederick Holder and his associates for the anglers of America, and the sturdy and honorable class of commercial fishermen are raising to the utmost of dignity and value one of the oldest and greatest of all industries. Not till the waste of waters is tamed as has been the wilderness of land will their work be done, and the Fisheries Bureau must ever remain in the forefront of such endeavor. To reveal the incalculable riches of this vast domain of rivers, lakes, and seas; to show the devotion of those whose lives are spent amid its elemental perils and to point out a way where courage, skill, and youth may find a road to serve America and all the world beside, is the aim and purpose of
CHAPTER I PAGE MAROONED BY A WHALE 1
CHAPTER II THE FIGHT OF THE OLD BULL SEALS 39
CHAPTER III ATTACKED BY JAPANESE POACHERS 75
CHAPTER IV CATCHING THE SEA SERPENT 112
CHAPTER V CLUTCHED BY A HORROR OF THE DEEP 152
CHAPTER VI DEFEATED BY A SPOTTED MORAY 195
CHAPTER VII HARPOONING A GIANT SEA VAMPIRE 234
CHAPTER VIII FINDING A FORTUNE IN A PEARL 278
CHAPTER IX A TUSSLE WITH THE MONARCH OF THE SEA 314
CHAPTER X RUN DOWN DURING A SQUALL 359
Stripping Cod at Sea on a Winter Morning Frontispiece
Whale Harpoon Gun Loaded } FACING PAGE Finback Whale Being Struck } 14
Finback Whale Sounding } Lancing Finback } 28 Pumping Carcass with Air } Dead Finback Set Adrift }
Spearing Seals at Sea 46
Holluschickie Hauling Up } 64 Old Bull Seals Fighting }
Bull Fur Seal Charging } 78 Snapshotting an Old Beachmaster }
Haul of Herring at Gastineau Channel, Alaska 90
Typical Seal Rookery Half Abandoned 102
Native Salmon Trap } 116 Modern Salmon Trap }
Trout Fry. "Millions of These Hatched Yearly" 128
Hatcheries for Landlocked Salmon 138
Atlantic Salmon Leaping } 146 Pacific Salmon Leaping }
Sea-Serpent Caught by Colin } 154 Sea-Serpent Stranded }
Where the Big Tuna was Caught } 170 The Largest Sunfish }
Octopus Caught at Santa Catalina } 190 Squid Caught at Santa Catalina }
Headquarters of Fisheries Bureau } 202 Largest Seine in World }
The Pool Where the Dog Was Devoured 224
Early Bird Passing the Aquarium 238
The Gorgeous Submarine World } 250 The Gardens of the Sea }
Young Sponge on Cement Disk } 264 Sheepswool Sponge }
Manta or Giant Sea-Devil 276
Winter on the Great Lakes } 284 Winter Work on Inland Streams }
Clamming on the Mississippi } 296 Barge-loads of Mussels }
Landing the Paddle-fish 306
Climbing up the Wheel } 318 Biggest Fresh-water Fish in America }
The Blue Wing at the Fish Trap 328
Hatchery, Woods Hole } 336 Residence, Woods Hole }
"What Shall We Get this Time?" } 346 "Here's a New One, Boys!" }
Catching Swordfish with Rod and Reel 356
Clammer Raking for Quahaugs } 370 Oysterman Tonging }
Testing the Ocean's Crop 378
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. FISHERIES
MAROONED BY A WHALE
"There she blows!"
Colin Dare, who was sitting beside the broken whale-gun and who had been promised that he might go in the boat that would be put out from the ship if a whale were sighted, jumped to his feet at the cry from the 'barrel' at the masthead.
"Where?" he shouted eagerly, rushing to the rail and staring as hard as he could at the heaving gray waters of the Behring Sea.
"There she blo-o-ows!" again cried the lookout, in the long echoing call of the old-time whaler, and stretching out his hand, he pointed to a spot in the ocean about three points off the starboard bow. Colin's glance followed the direction, and almost immediately he saw the faint cloud of vapor which showed that a whale had just spouted.
"Do you suppose that's a whalebone whale, Hank?" asked the boy, turning to a lithe Yankee sea-dog with a scraggy gray beard who had been busily working over the mechanism of the whale-gun.
"No sayin'," was the cautious reply, "we're too fur off to be able to tell yet a while. How fur away do you reckon we be?"
"A mile or two, I suppose," Colin said, "but we ought to catch up with the whale pretty soon, oughtn't we?"
"That depends," the gunner answered, "on whether the whale's willin' or not. He ain't goin' to stay, right there."
"But you usually do catch up?"
"If it's a 'right' whale we generally try to, an' havin' steam to help us out makes a pile o' difference. Now, in the ol' days, I've seen a dozen whales to wind'ard an' we couldn't get to 'em at all. By the time we'd beaten 'round to where they'd been sighted, they were gone."
"Well, I hope this is a 'right' whale," Colin said with emphatic earnestness.
"Why this one 'specially?" the old sailor asked.
"I heard Captain Murchison say that if we came up with a whale while the gun was out of order, rather than lose a chance, he would send a boat out in the old-fashioned way."
"An' you want to see how it's done, eh?"
"I got permission to go in the boat!" the boy answered triumphantly, "and I just can't wait."
"It's the skipper's business, I suppose, but I don't hold with takin' any chances you don't have to," was the gruff comment, "an' if you'll take the advice of an old hand at the game you'll keep away."
"But I want to go so much, Hank," came the reply.
"I'm trying to get Father's permission to join the Bureau of Fisheries," explained the boy, "and when Captain Murchison started on this trip, I begged him to let me come. The captain is an old friend of his."
"I'd rather you went in somebody else's boat than mine, then," was the ungracious response.
"Why, Hank!" exclaimed Colin in surprise, "what a thing to say!"
The old sailor nodded sagely.
"The skipper don't know much more about boat-whalin' than you do," he said, "that was all done away before his time. He's willin' to tackle anythin' that comes along, all right, but a whalin' boat is just about the riskiest thing that floats on water."
"How's that, Hank?" asked the boy. "I always thought they were supposed to be so seaworthy."
"They may be seaworthy," was the grim reply, "but I never yet saw a shipwright who'd guarantee to make a boat that'd be whaleworthy."
"But I'm sure I've read somewhere that whales never attacked boats," persisted Colin.
"Mebbe," rejoined the gunner, "but I don't believe that any man what writes about whalin' bein' easy, has ever tried it in a small boat."
"Well," said the boy, "isn't it true that the only time a whale-boat is smashed up is when the monster threshes around in the death-flurry and happens to hit the boat with his tail?"
"You mean a whale does sometimes go for a boat, in spite of what the books say?"
"I never heard that whales cared much about literatoor," the sailor answered with an attempt at rough humor, "an' anyway, most o' them books you've been readin', lad, are written about whalin' off Greenland an' in the Atlantic."
"What difference does that make?" queried Colin. "Isn't a whale the same sort of animal all the world over?"
"There's all kinds of whales," the gunner said, as though pitying the boy for his lack of knowledge, "some big an' some little, some good an' some bad. Now, a 'right' whale, f'r instance, couldn't harm a baby, but the killers are just pure vicious."
"You mean the orcas?" the boy queried. "Only just the other day Captain Murchison was talking about them. He called them the wolves of the sea, and said they were the most daring hunters among all things that swim."
"Sea-tigers, some calls 'em," the other agreed, "an' they're fiercer than any wolves I've ever heard about, but I never saw any of 'em attackin' a boat. I have seen as many as twenty tearin' savagely at a whale that was lyin' alongside a ship an' was bein' cut up by the crew. The California gray whale—the devil-whale is what he really is—looks a lot worse to me than a killer. He's as ugly-tempered as a spearfish, as vicious as a man-eatin' shark, as tricky as a moray, an' about as relentless as a closin' ice-floe."
"There she blo-o-ows!" came the cry again from the crow's-nest.
Hank, looking over the side, caught sight of the spout and, with a twist of the shoulder, walked aft to the first boat.
"I'm going, too," Colin reminded him.
The old whaler looked at him thoughtfully and disapprovingly.
"Orders is orders," he said at last, "an' if the skipper said you could go, why, I reckon that ends it. An' if you're goin' anyway, you're safer in the big boat than in the 'prams.' Tumble in."
Colin clambered into the double-ended boat with its high prow and stern and settled himself down excitedly.
"I never really believed I'd get the chance to see any whale-spearing," he said. "Whaling with a cannon is only a make-believe. Now, this is something like!"
"Foolishness I calls it," put in one of the younger sailors. "Why don't the skipper put in somewhere an' get the gun put to rights? An' Hank is just as likely to fix that gun so as he'll blow some of us up with it when he does get it goin'."
"Always croakin', Gloomy," said the old gunner. "Blowin' you up would be no great loss. You'd ought to be glad to see what whalin' was like when your betters was at it."
"I'm glad," said Colin, as he pulled steadily at his long oar, "that we did wrench the gun-frame when that heavy sea came aboard."
"I don't see it," said the gunner; "mebbe you'll think presently that you'd ha' done better to be satisfied with readin' about whalin' in those books of yours."
"Well, it got me the chance to see the fun!" responded Colin.
"That wouldn't have been enough to start this business a-goin' if it hadn't been that the Gull was an old whalin'-ship before they put steam into her. The little bits of whalin'-steamers they build now only carry a little pram or two, nothin' like this boat you're in now. The Gull's one of the old-timers."
"She hails from New Bedford, doesn't she?"
"She took the Indian Ocean whalin' in the sixties an' came round the Horn every season in the seventies," Hank replied; "an' there's not many of her build left. Easy with that oar, Gloomy," he added, speaking to the melancholy sailor, who was splashing a good deal in his stroke, "an' avast talkin', all."
Swiftly, but with oars dipping almost noiselessly, the boat slipped up to where the two whales were floating whose spouts had been seen from the ship. The sea was tinged with pink from the masses of shrimp-food which had attracted the whales, and the great creatures were feeding quietly. The surface was not rough, but there was a long, slow roll which tossed the boat about like a cork. Presently Hank, who was in the stern, held up one hand.
"Hold your starboard oars," he said quietly; "we'll back up to this largest one."
This near approach to the whales was too much for Gloomy's nerves. Instead of merely holding his long sweep steady in the water so that the stroke of the port oars would bring the boat around, he tried to make a long backward drive. As he reached back, the boat mounted sidewise on a swell, leaving Gloomy clawing at the air with his oar; then, the boat as suddenly swooped down with a rush, burying the oar almost to the row-locks; it caught Gloomy under the chin and all but knocked him overboard. The splash and the shout distracted Hank's attention for a second, and when he looked round a swirl of water was all that remained to show where the whales had been.
"I told you what it would be!" said Gloomy, picking himself up and speaking in an injured tone, as though he blamed everybody else for his own carelessness.
His protests, however, were silenced by a steady stream of descriptive epithet from Hank. The old gunner, without even raising his voice, withered any possible reply on the part of the clumsy sailor, whose inexpertness had caused their failure to get the whale.
"They were only humpbacks, however," added Hank, after Gloomy had been reduced to silence. Indeed, so shamefaced was the luckless sailor, that when he saw a spout a minute or two later he only pointed with his finger, without saying a word.
Noticing the gesture, Colin turned and saw with amazement a tall jet of vapor that had spouted from a whale close by. He looked at Hank expectantly, hoping to hear him spur the crew to a new venture, but the old whaler looked grave.
"Finback?" the boy queried.
"Gray whale, I reckon," answered the gunner.
"Devil-whale? Oh, Hank!" the boy cried, his eyes shining with excitement. "I hope it is!"
"That shows how little you know," the other replied.
"Are you going to harpoon him?"
Hank looked at the boy, smiling slightly at his utter fearlessness.
"I wish you were aboard the ship," he said, "an' I would. But I reckon it's wiser to keep out of trouble."
"But I don't want to be on the Gull," Colin protested; "at least not when there's anything going on out here. And," he added craftily, "I didn't think you were really afraid!"
"Wa'al," the old whaler said, his jaw setting firmly, "I don't want anybody to think I'm backin' down, just because I'm in a boat again. But I tell you straight, I don't like it. Gloomy," he continued, "an' the rest of you, stand by your oars. That's a gray whale an' I'm goin' after him."
"How do you know it's a California whale, Hank?" asked the boy, as they waited for the creature to reappear.
"By the spout," was the prompt reply. "It's not as high an' thin as a finback's, it's not large enough for the low, bushy spout of a humpback, an' it goes straight up instead of at a forward angle so it can't be a sperm. Must be a gray whale, can't be anythin' else."
For a few minutes the men rested on their oars, and Colin grew restless.
"Why doesn't he come up again?" he said impatiently. "First thing we know he'll be out of sight!"
The old whaler smiled again at the lad's eagerness.
"While the gray is the fastest swimmer of all the whales," he said, "you needn't be afraid that we'll lose sight of him. Most whales swim very slow, not much faster than a man can walk."
"There he is," called another of the sailors, pointing to a spout three or four hundred yards away.
"All right, boys," Hank said, "he's makin' towards the shore."
The long oars bit into the water again and Colin was glad to feel the boat moving, for it rolled fearfully on the long heaving swell. But with six good oars and plenty of muscle behind them, the little craft was not long in reaching the place where the 'slick' on the water showed that the whale had come up to breathe and then dived again. Acting under the gunner's orders the crew rested on their oars a short distance beyond the place where the whale had sounded. Presently, a couple of hundred yards from the boat, on the starboard side, the whale came up to spout, evidently having turned from the direction in which it had been slowly traveling, and the rowers made for the new objective. This time there was another long wait.
"How long do they stay down, Hank?" asked the boy.
"No reg'lar rule about it," the whaler answered; "sometimes for quite a while, but I reckon ten to fifteen minutes is about the usual. Some of 'em can stay down a long while sulkin' when they've got a harpoon or two in 'em, but I reckon three-quarters of an hour would be about the limit."
Again the boat sped onward, this time without any order from Hank, for all hands had seen the whale not more than fifty yards away, and Hank grasped the shoulder harpoon-gun. But before the boat could reach the whale and turn stern on so as to give the gunner a good chance for a shot, the whale had 'sounded' or dived.
"Next time," said Hank quietly, and told Scotty, one of the sailors, to clear away the first few coils of the rope in the barrel and make sure that it was free from tangles.
Colin noticed that the three places where the whale had spouted formed a slight arc and that Hank was directing the boat along a projection of this curve, so he was quite ready when a command came to stop rowing. Then, at the whaler's orders, the boat was swung round and the men held their oars ready to back-water.
The place could not have been picked out with greater accuracy if the whaler had known the exact spot where the big cetacean was going to appear. Within thirty feet of the boat the water began to swirl and boil.
"He's right there!" said Colin with a thrill of expectation not wholly devoid of fear.
In obedience to a wave of the old whaler's hand, the boat went astern slowly and fifteen seconds later the great back appeared near the surface and the monster 'blew,' his pent-up breath escaping suddenly when he was still a foot below the surface, and driving up a column of mixed water and air, the roar sounding like steam from a pipe of large size.
"Stand by the line, Scotty!" shouted Hank, as he raised the clumsy harpoon-gun to his shoulder.
The sailor who had been standing near the barrel nodded, as he drew his sheath-knife from its sheath, holding it between his teeth, ready to cut the line should a tangle occur, but keeping his hands free to attend to the coils of rope. To Colin the seconds were as years while the old whaler held the gun raised and did not fire. It seemed to the boy as if he were never going to pull the trigger, but the old gunner knew the exact moment, and just as the whale was about to 'sound' the back heaved up slightly, revealing the absence of a dorsal fin, and thus determining that it was a devil-whale in truth; at that instant Hank fired.
With the sudden pang of the harpoon the whale gave an upward leap for a dive and plunged, throwing the flukes of the tail and almost a third of his body out of water, and sounded to the bottom, taking down line at a tremendous speed. The line ran clear, Scotty watching every coil, and though the heavy rope was soaking wet, it began to smoke with the friction as it ran over the bow.
"Fifty fathom!" cried Scotty, as the line flew out.
"Sixty!" he called a moment later, and then, immediately after,
As the pressure of the brake on the line tightened, the boat began to tear through the water, still requiring the paying out of the rope. For an instant it slackened and the winch reeled in a little line. There was a sudden jerk and then the line fell slack. Working like demons, the men made the winch handles fairly fly as the line came in, and within another minute the whale spouted, blowing strongly and sounding again. He sulked at the bottom for over twenty minutes, coming up suddenly quite near the boat. Scotty had lost no time, and not more than thirty-five fathom of line was out when the monster rose.
"He's a big un, Hank!" called Scotty. "Want the other line?"
"Got it!" was the brief reply, and Colin saw that the harpoon-gun had been reloaded.
"Sounding again!" called Scotty as the rope fell slack.
"No!" yelled Hank. "Stand by, all!"
"Back oars! Back, you lubbers! Hard as you know how!"
The oars bent like yew-staves.
"Back starboard! Hard!"
With the blood rushing to his brain, Colin, who was on the starboard side of the boat, threw his whole energy into the back stroke, and the boat spun round like a top into what seemed to be the seething center of a submarine volcano, for, with a roar that made the timbers of the boat vibrate, the gray whale spouted not six feet from where the boy was sitting. Dimly he saw the harpoon hurtle through the spray and the sharp crack of the explosion sounded in his ear.
Catching his breath chokingly, Colin was only conscious of the fact that he was expected to pull and he leapt into the stroke as the six oars shot the boat ahead.
Not soon enough, though! For, as the boat plunged from the crest of a wave the whale swirled, making a suction like a whirlpool into which the craft lurched drunkenly. Then the great creature, turning with a speed that seemed incredible, brought down the flukes of his tail in the direction of the boat, snapping off the stroke oar like a pipe-stem. Avidsen, the oarsman, a burly Norwegian, though his wrist was sharply and painfully wrenched by the blow, made no complaint, but reached out for one of the spare oars the boat always carried.
Colin was not so calm. Despite his courage, the shock of that tremendous tail striking the water within arm's-length of the boat had shaken his nerve, and the sudden drenching with the icy waters of Behring Sea had taken his breath away. But he was game and stuck to his oar. Looking at Hank, he saw that the old fighter of the seas had dropped the harpoon-gun and was holding poised the long lance.
This was hunting whales with a vengeance!
The monster had not sounded but was only gathering fury, and in a few seconds he came to the surface with a rush, charging straight for the boat.
"Stand by to pull," said Hank quietly.
The two forward oars, watching, dipped lightly and moved the boat a yard or two, then waited, their oars in the water and arms extended for the stroke. Colin would have given millions, if he had possessed them, to pull his oar, to do something to get away from the leviathan charging like an avenging fury for the little boat. But Hank stood motionless. Another second and Colin could almost feel the devil-whale plunging through the frail craft, when Scotty suddenly yelled,
As Scotty yelled, Colin vaguely—for everything seemed reeling about him—saw Hank lunge with the long steel lance. The suction half whirled the boat round, but the whale sounded a little, coming up to the surface forty feet away and spouting hollowly. Even to the boy's untrained ear there was a difference, and when he noticed that blood was mixed with the vapor thrown out from the blowhole, his hope revived. The second rush of the whale was easily avoided, and Hank thrust in the lance again. Then, for the first time, the old whaler permitted himself to smile, a long, slow smile.
"That's the way it used to be done in the old days!" he said, with just a shade of triumph in his voice. "Pull away a little, boys, to be clear of the flurry. Have you a buoy ready, Scotty?"
The sailor nodded.
"There won't be much of a flurry, Hank," he said; "you got the lungs with the lance both times."
The old whaler looked at Colin, who was a little white about the lips.
"Scared you, I reckon?" he said. "You don't need to feel bad over that. Any one's got a right to be scared when a whale's chargin' the boat. I've been whalin' for nigh on forty-five years an' that's only the second devil-whale I've ever killed with a hand-lance. He pretty near caught us with his flukes that first time, too!"
"Guess that's the end of him," said Scotty, as the big animal beat the air with his tail, the slap of the huge flukes throwing up a fountain of spray.
"That's the end," agreed Hank.
Almost with the word the great gray whale turned, one fin looming above the water as he did so, and sank heavily to the bottom, the buoy which had been attached to the harpoon-line by Scotty showing where he sank, so that the ship could pick up the carcass later.
"How big do you suppose that whale was?" queried the boy as they started to pull back to the ship.
"'Bout forty-five foot, I reckon," was the reply, "an' we ought to get about twenty barrels of oil out of him."
"That ought to help some," said Colin, "and you see my coming didn't hurt anything. Just think if I had missed all that fun!"
"It turned out all right," the old whaler said, "but I tell you it was a narrow squeak. They'll have been worryin' on board, though, if any one has been able to see that we were hitched up to a gray whale."
"Isn't there any danger with other whales?"
"Wa'al, you've got to know how to get at 'em, of course. But all you've got to do is to keep out o' the way. There's no whale except the California whale that'll charge a boat. I did know one chap that was killed by a humpback, but that was because the whale come up suddenly right under the boat and upset it—they often do that—an' when one of the chaps was in the water the whale happened to give a slap with his tail an' the poor fellow was right under it."
Colin was anxious to start the old whaler on some yarns of the early days, but as the boat was nearing the ship he decided to wait for an opportunity when there would be more time and the raconteur would have full leeway for his stories.
"Forty-five-footer, sir," called Hank, as they came up to the ship. "Gray devil, sir."
The captain lifted his eyebrows in surprise, for he had not thought of a California whale so far north, but he answered in an offhand way:
"More sport than profit in that. Did you have a run for your money, Colin?"
"I certainly did, Captain Murchison," the boy answered.
"All right, tell me about it some time. Hank, you're on board just in the nick of time. I found out what the trouble was with the carriage of the gun and repaired it while you were amusing yourselves out there. Get in lively, now, there's work to do."
The men scrambled on board rapidly, and the boat was up in the davits in less than a minute, while the yards were braced round, and under sail and steam the Gull headed north.
"There's four whales in sight, Hank," said the captain; "humpbacks, I think, and two of them big ones."
"If they'll bunch up like that, sir," the gunner said, "we may make a good trip out of it yet."
"I hope so," the skipper answered, and turning on his heel, he went to the poop. Thither Colin followed him and told him all the story of the whale. The captain, who was an old friend of Colin's father when they both lived in a lumbering town in northern Michigan, was greatly taken aback when he found how dangerous the boat-trip had been, but he did not want to spoil the boy's vivid memories of the excitement.
"I suppose," he said, "that you want to go out as gunner next time."
Colin shook his head.
"I'm generally willing to try anything, Captain Murchison," he replied, "but I'm content to let Hank look after that end."
"Hank's an unusual man," the captain said quietly. "I rather doubt if any other man on the Pacific Coast could have won out with a gray whale. I'd rather have him aboard than a lot of mates I know, and as a gunner, of course, he's a sort of petty officer."
The canvas began to shake as the boat turned on its course after the whales, catching the skipper's eye, and he roared out orders to shorten sail.
"Clew up fore and main to'gans'ls," he shouted; "take in the tops'ls. Colin, you go and furl the fore to'gans'l, and if the men are still busy on the tops'l yards, pass the gaskets round the main to'gans'l as well."
"Aye, aye, sir," the boy answered readily, for he enjoyed being aloft, and he clambered up the shrouds to the fore-topgallant yard and furled the sail, taking a pride in having it lie smooth and round on the top of the yard.
"What's the difference between a 'finback' and a 'humpback,' Hank?" asked the boy, after the canvas had been stowed, the vessel under auxiliary steam having speed enough to keep up with the cetaceans, "are they 'right' whales?"
"Neither of 'em," the gunner replied: "there's two kinds of right whale, the bowhead and the black, and both have fine whalebone, an' that, as you know, is a sort of strainer in the mouth that takes the place of teeth. Humpbacks an' finbacks are taken for oil, an' they look quite different. A humpback is more in bulk an' has only a short fin on the back, it's a clumsy beast an' throws the flukes of the tail out of the water in soundin'. Now, a finback is built more for speed an' has a big fin on the back—that's where it gets its name. The big sulphurbottom is a kind of finback, an' is the largest animal livin'. I've seen one eighty-five feet long!"
"Where does the sperm whale come in?" asked Colin.
"It's got teeth, like the gray whale," was the reply, "but you never find it in cold water. Sperm whalin' is comin' into favor again. But those two over there—the ones we're after, are finbacks. You can tell by the spout, by the fin, by not seein' the flukes of the tail, an' by the way they play around, slappin' each other in fun."
Three hours were spent in the fruitless chase after this little group of whales. Then Hank, who had been standing in the bow beside the gun, watching every move of the cetacean during the afternoon, suddenly signaled with his hand for "full speed astern," by this maneuver stopping the ship squarely, as a whale—a medium-sized finback—came up right under the vessel's bow. The reversed screws took the craft astern so as to show the broad back about twenty-five feet away, and Hank fired.
The crashing roar of the harpoon-gun was followed by a swirl as the whale sounded for a long dive, but a moment later there came a dull, muffled report from the water, the explosive head of the harpoon, known as the 'bomb,' having burst. For a minute or two there was no sound but the swish of the line and the clank of the big winch as it ran out, while the animal sank to the bottom. There was a moment's wait, and then Hank, seeing the line tauten and hang down straight, called back:
"We can haul in, sir; I got him just right."
Compared to the excitement of the chase in the open boat this seemed very tame to Colin, and he said so to the captain, when he went aft, while the steam-winch gradually drew up the finback whose end had come so suddenly.
"My boy," was the reply, "I'm not whaling for my health. Other people have a share in this, besides myself and the crew, and what they're after is whales—not sport. The business isn't what it was; in the old days whale-oil was worth a great deal and whaling was a good business. Then came the discovery of petroleum and the Standard Oil Company soon found out ways of refining the crude product so that it took the place of whale-oil in every way and at a cheaper price."
"But I thought whalebone was what you were after!" said Colin in surprise.
"It was for a time," the captain answered, "after the oil business gave out. But within the last ten years there have been so many substitutes for whalebone that its value has gone down. There's a lot of whalebone stored in New Bedford warehouses that can't be sold except at a loss."
"Well, if the oil is replaced and whalebone has no value, what is to be got out of whaling now, then?" the boy queried.
"Oil again," was the reply; "for fine lubricating work there's nothing as good. It's queer, though, how things have changed around. Fifty years ago, New Bedford was the greatest whaling port in the world, ten years ago there wasn't a ship there, they had all gone to San Francisco. Now 'Frisco is deserted by whalers, and the few in the business have gone back to the old port."
In the meantime, while Colin had been telling the story of the adventure with the gray whale, and the captain had been bemoaning the decay of the whaling industry, the work of bringing the dead whale to the surface had been under way. Letting out more slack on the rope attached to the harpoon a bight of it was passed through a sheave-block at the masthead, thus giving a greater purchase for the lifting of the heavy body. The winch was run by a small donkey-engine, and for about ten minutes the line was hauled in, fathom after fathom being coiled on the deck. Presently, as Colin looked over the rail, the dark body of the whale was seen coming to the surface, and as he was hauled alongside a chain was thrown around his flukes, and the body was made fast to the vessel, tail foremost.
Just as soon as the whale was secured a sailor jumped on the body, carrying with him a long steel tube, pierced with a number of holes for several inches from the bottom. To this he attached a long rubber tube, while the other end was connected with a small air-pump. The ever-handy donkey-engine was used to work the pump, and the body of the whale was slowly filled with air in the same way that a bicycle tire is inflated.
"What's that for?" asked Colin, who had been watching the process with much curiosity.
"So that he will float," the captain answered. "You can't tow a whale that's lying on the bottom!"
"But I thought you were going to cut him up!"
"And boil down the blubber on board?"
"That's very seldom done now," the captain explained. "In the old days, when whaling-ships went on three and four year voyages they 'fleshed' the blubber at sea and boiled it down or 'tried it out,' as they called it, into oil. They always carried a cooper along, too, and made their own barrels, so that after a long voyage a ship would come back with her hold full of barrels of whale-oil."
"What's the method now, Captain Murchison?" asked Colin.
"Nearly all whaling is done by steamers and not very far from the coast, say within a day's steaming. We catch the whales, blow them out in the way you see the men doing now, and tow them to the nearest 'trying out' factory. These places have conveniences that would be impossible on shipboard, they get a better quality of oil, and they use up all the animal, getting oil out of the meat as well as the blubber. Then the flesh is dried and sold for fertilizer just as the bones are. The fins and tail are shipped to Japan for table delicacies. Even the water in which the blubber has been tried out makes good glue. So, you see, it pays to tow a whale to the factory. And besides, the smell of trying out on one of the old whalers was horrible beyond description."
During this explanation the huge carcass of the whale had been distended to almost twice its natural size, and now it floated high out of the water. The steel tube was pulled out and a buoy with a flag was attached to the whale, which was then set adrift to be picked up and towed to the factory later.
Almost immediately the "tink-tink" of the bell of the signaler to the engine-room told that the ship was headed after another whale. The sea was rising and the wind was beginning to whistle through the rigging. Colin felt well satisfied that the canvas was stowed and that he would not have to go aloft during the night. The evening light, however, was still good enough for a shot, and Hank, at the bow, was swinging the heavy gun from side to side on its stand to assure himself that it was in good condition.
Owing to the approaching darkness, there was no time to wait for an exact shot, and Hank fired at the big finback on the first opportunity. The ship was rolling and pitching, however, and the harpoon, instead of striking the big whale, went clear over her and into the water beyond, crashing into the side of a little calf whale not more than sixteen feet long, the weapon going almost through him.
Apparently unconscious of what had happened to her baby, the mother whale sounded and sounded deep, not coming up for nearly twenty minutes. When she rose, she was at least a quarter of a mile away, and Colin, who was standing by Hank in the bow, wondered why the ship did not go in pursuit.
"Why don't we chase her up?" he asked.
"She'll come lookin' for her calf," the old whaler answered, "an' as long as we stay near that she'll come up to us. Lots of whalers shoot the calves a-purpose, makin' it easier to get the old whales, but I don't hold with that. I've never done it. Shootin' this one was just an accident, but as long as the little chap is dead anyhow, we might as well make use of him."
Just as the old whaler had predicted, in less than five minutes the mother whale spouted, coming in the direction of the vessel. In less than five minutes more she spouted again, just a little distance from the calf. Not understanding what had happened, she swam around as though to persuade the little one to follow her, and as she circled round the calf she came within range of the harpoon-gun. It was far too dark to see clearly, but Hank chanced a shot. The sudden roar startled Colin.
"Did you get her?" he asked anxiously.
"I hit her, all right," the gunner answered with a dissatisfied air, "but not just where I wanted."
The boy thought it wonderful that he should have been able to hit the monster at all, so small a portion of the body was exposed and so heavily was the Gull pitching. The whale, instead of sounding directly, dived at a sharp angle and the line ran out like lightning.
"What's that, Hank?" asked Colin in a startled voice, pointing over to the water just below the little calf, which had been hauled in by hand alongside the ship.
"Killers, by all that's holy!" ejaculated the whaler. "They'll get every blessed whale we've landed to-day. Did you ever see such luck!"
"What are they after?" asked Colin, "the calf whale?"
"Yes, or any other of 'em. See, the mother has smelt 'em and knows they mean harm for the baby."
It was growing dark and Colin leaned over the rail to see. Suddenly up from the deep, with a rush as of a pack of maddened hounds, ten or a dozen ferocious creatures, from fifteen to twenty feet in length, snatched and bit and tore at the body of the baby whale. A big white spot behind each eye looked like a fearful organ of vision, their white and yellowish undersides and black backs flashed and gleamed and the big fins cut the water like swords. The huge curved teeth gleamed in the reddened water as the 'tigers of the sea' lashed round, infuriated with lust for blood.
Then with a violent gesture of reminder, as though he had forgotten that which was of prime importance, Hank took a few quick steps to the rope that held fast the baby whale to the ship and cut it with his sheath-knife.
"What's that for?" said Colin.
"Let's get away from here," Hank replied, and signaled to go ahead.
As he did so, the mother whale caught sight of the remains of the body of the little one sinking through the water and dashed for it. Colin could have shouted with triumph in the hope that vengeance would be served out upon the orcas, but he was not prepared for the next turn in the tragedy. Like a pack of ravening wolves the killers hurled themselves at the mother whale, three of them at one time fastening themselves with a rending grip upon the soft lower lip, others striking viciously with their rows of sharp teeth at her eyes. The issue was not in doubt for a minute. No creature could endure such savage ferocity and such united attack. The immense whale threshed from side to side, always round the vessel, which seemed still to carry to her the scent of the baby whale.
"Has she any chance?" the boy asked, full of pity for the victim of such rapacity.
"Not the ghost of a chance," the whaler answered.
For a minute or two the whale seemed to have thrown off her demon foes and turned away, but scarcely a moment was she left alone, for up in front of her again charged five or six killers, rending and tearing at her head, and the whale, blinded, gashed in a thousand places and maddened by fear and pain, fled in the opposite direction.
Colin heard the captain give a wild cry from the poop and felt the engines stop and reverse beneath him. He cast one glance over the rail and like every man on board was struck motionless and silent. In the phosphorescent gleams of the waves churned up by the incredible muscular power of the killers, the old whale—sixty feet in length at least, and weighing hundreds of tons—was rushing at a maddened spurt of fifteen or even twenty miles an hour straight for the vessel's side, where a blind instinct made her believe her calf still was to be found. There was a death-like pause and then—a shock.
Almost every man aboard was thrown to the deck, and the vessel heeled over to starboard until it seemed she must turn turtle. But she righted herself, heavily and with a sick lurch that spoke of disaster. The ship's carpenter ran to the pumps and sounded the well.
"Four inches, sir!" he called.
A moment later he dropped the rod again.
"Five and a half inches, sir," he cried, "an' comin' in fast."
It hardly needed the carpenter to tell the story, for the ship had a heavy list to starboard. In a minute or two the stokers came up from below and close upon their heels, the engineer.
"The water is close to the fire-boxes, Captain Murchison," he said.
"I know, Mr. Macdonald," the captain answered. "Boat stations!" he cried.
"I'm thinkin'," the engineer said quietly, looking at the windy sky and stormy sea, the last streaks of twilight disappearing in the west, "I'm thinkin' it may be a wee bit cold. Are we far from land, Captain?"
"We're none too close," the skipper said shortly. "Cook," he called, "are the boats provisioned?"
"Yes, sir," was the reply.
"Water-casks in and filled?"
Every boat reported casks in good condition.
"Sound the well, carpenter."
The sounding-rod was dropped and the wet portion measured.
"Nine inches, sir."
"You've got time to get what you want from below, boys," said the captain, as soon as the boats were all swung out on the davits; "she won't go down all of a hurry. Slide into warm clothes, all of you, and get a move on. Stand by to clear."
He waited a minute or two, then noticed one of the sailors busy on deck.
"What are you doing there, Scotty?" he called out.
"Putting a buoy on the line, sir; she's our whale."
"Looks to me more as though the whale had us, than we had the whale," the captain said grimly. "Are you all ready?" he added as the men came up from the fo'c'sle in oilskins and mittens. "No, there's only fifteen of you!"
"I'm here, Captain Murchison," spoke up Colin, emerging from the companion hatch with a heavy pilot coat. "I thought you'd need something for the boats, too."
The captain nodded his thanks.
"Lower away the whale-boat first," the captain said. "Never mind me, I'll come along presently. Look alive there! That's the idea, Hank! All right? Cast off. Lower away the big pram! All right. Get busy on that small pram, there. Here you, Gloomy, if I have to come down there——! All ready? Lower away. If you don't manage any better than that you'll never see land, I can tell you. Cast off."
The Gull was rolling heavily with an uneven drunken stagger that told how fast she was filling, and the starboard rail was close to the water's edge. The captain ran his eye over the boats and counted the men to see that all had embarked safely.
"Don't bring her too close, Hank!" he cried warningly, as he saw the old whaler edge the boat toward him, and stepping on the poop-rail, he jumped into the sea. But the gunner, judging accurately the swell of the waves, brought the boat to the very spot where the captain had struck the water and hoisted him on board. Without a word he made his way to the stern and took the tiller.
The boat pulled away a score of strokes or so and then the men rested on their oars. The sunset colors had faded utterly but a dim after-glow remained, and overhead a young moon shone wanly through black wisps of scudding cloud. The Gull sank slowly by the bow.
"She's one of the last of the old-timers," said the captain sadly. "This was her seventieth whaling season and that's old age for ship as well as man. I wish, though——"
"What is it, Captain Murchison?" asked Colin.
"Ah, it's nothing, boy," was the reply. "Only we're foolish over things we love, and the Gull was all that I had left. It's a dark and lonely death she's having there. I wish——"
"Yes, sir?" the boy whispered.
"I wish she'd had her lights," the captain said, and his hands were trembling on the tiller, "it's hard to die in the dark."
For a moment Colin had a wild idea of leaping into the sea and swimming to the sinking craft, and blamed himself bitterly for not having looked after the port and starboard lights at sundown, as he often did when the watch on deck was too busy to see to them. He would have given anything to have done it, rather than to have to sit beside the captain with his eyes fixed on the desolate unlighted ship! Boy though he was, he nearly broke down.
"Good-by, Gull, good-by," he heard the captain whisper under his breath.
Then, as if the ache in the boy's heart had been a flame to cross the sea, it seemed that a tiny spark kindled upon the sinking ship, and the captain, speechless for the moment, pointed at it.
"Is that a light, boy?" he said hoarsely, "or am I going mad?"
Like a flash, Colin remembered.
"It's the binnacle, sir," he cried; "I lighted it for the man at the wheel myself."
Solemnly the captain took off his hat.
"It's where the light should be," he said at last, "to shine upon her course to the very end."
THE FIGHT OF THE OLD BULL SEALS
The quick, uneasy pitching of the boat and a sudden dash of ice-cold spray roused the captain from the fit of abstraction into which the sinking of his ship had plunged him.
"Step the mast, men," he said; "we've got to make for the nearest land. It's going to be a dirty night, too."
"Did you want us to put a reef in, sir?" asked the old whaler.
"When I want a sail reefed," the captain answered shortly, "I'll tell you."
As the mast fell into place and the sail was hoisted, the whale-boat heeled sharply over and began to cut her way through the water at a good speed, leaving the two prams far in the rear. The captain, who was steering mechanically, paid no heed to them, staring moodily ahead into the darkness. Hank looked around uneasily from time to time, then in a few moments he spoke.
"The mate's signaling, I think, sir," he said.
Colin looked round but could only just see the outline of the larger of the two boats, and knew it was too dark to distinguish any motions on board her. He looked inquiringly at Hank, but the old gunner was watching the captain.
"What does he want?" questioned the captain angrily.
"Orders, sir, I suppose," the whaler answered.
The captain felt the implied rebuke and looked at him sharply, but although he was a strict disciplinarian, he knew Hank's worth as a seaman of experience and kept back the sharp reply which was upon his lips. Then turning in his seat he realized how rapidly they had sped away from the boats they were escorting, and said:
"I'll bring her up."
He put the tiller over and brought the whale-boat up into the wind, and in a few minutes the mate's boat and the smaller pram came alongside.
"Don't you want us to keep together, sir?" cried the mate as soon as he was within hearing.
"Of course," the captain answered. "You can't keep up, eh?"
"Not in a breeze like this, sir," the mate declared.
"All right, then," was the response; "we'll reef." He nodded to the gunner and the reef points were quickly tied, thus enabling the three boats to keep together.
As the night wore on the wind increased until quite a gale was blowing, and the whale-boat began to plunge into the seas, throwing spray every time her nose went into it. The oilskins shone yellow and dripping in the feeble light of a lantern and although it was nearly the end of June a cold wind whipped the icy spume-drift from the breaking whitecaps.
"Doesn't feel much like summer, Hank!" said Colin, shivering from cold and fatigue, also partly from reaction following his exciting adventure with the gray whale.
"Behring Sea hasn't got much summer to boast of," the old whaler replied; "leastwise not often. You may get one or two hot days, but when the sun goes down the Polar current gets in its work an' it's cold."
"Where do you suppose we're going, Hank?" the boy asked, with a firm belief that the old whaler knew everything. "I don't like to bother Captain Murchison."
"Nor I," the gunner answered, looking toward the stern of the boat; "let him fight his troubles out alone. As for where we're goin', I don't know. I can't even see the stars, so I don't know which way we're headin'."
"Do you suppose we'll strike Alaska?" Colin queried. "Or perhaps the north of Japan? Say, it would be great if we fetched up at Kamchatka or somewhere that nobody had ever been before!"
The lad's delight in the thought of landing at some inhospitable northern island off the coast of Asia was so boyish that in spite of the discomfort of their present position, the old whaler almost laughed outright.
"Japan's a long ways south of here," he said. "We'd strike the Aleutian or the Kuril Islands before we got near there. I reckon we ought to try for some place on the Alaska coast, but as I remember, the wind was dead east when we left the Gull an' I don't think it's changed much."
Colin gave a long yawn and then shivered.
"I wouldn't mind being in my berth on the Gull!" he said longingly; "I'm nearly dead with sleep."
"Why don't you drop off?" Hank advised. "There's nothin' you can do to help. Here, change places with me an' you won't get so much spray."
"But you'll get it then!" the boy protested.
"If I had a dollar for every time I've got wet in a boat," the old whaler answered, "I wouldn't have to go to sea any more."
He got up and made Colin change places.
"Are you warmer now?" he asked a minute or two later.
"Lots," the boy murmured drowsily, and in a few seconds he was fast asleep. The old whaler gently drew the boy towards him, so that he would be sheltered from the wind and spray, and held him safe against the rolling and pitching of the little boat. The long hours passed slowly, and Colin stirred and muttered in his dreams, but still he slept on through all the wild tumult of the night, his head pillowed against Hank and the old whaler's arm around him.
He wakened suddenly, with a whistling, roaring sound ringing in his ears. Dawn had broken, though the sun was not yet up, and Colin shivered with the wakening and the cold, his teeth chattering like castanets. A damp, penetrating fog enwrapped them. Four of the sailors were rowing slowly, and the sail had been lowered and furled while he was asleep. Every few minutes a shout could be heard in the distance, which was answered by one of the sailors in the whale-boat.
"Where's the mate's boat, Hank?" asked the boy, realizing he had heard only one shout.
"She got out of hailin' distance, a little while before breakfast," the other answered, "but that doesn't matter so much, because she can't very well get lost now."
"But why is the sail down?"
The old whaler held up his hand.
"Do you hear that noise?" he asked.
"Of course I hear it," the boy answered; "that's what woke me up. But what is it?" he continued, as the roar swelled upon the wind.
"What does it sound like?" the gunner asked him.
The boy listened carefully for a minute or two and then shook his head.
"Hard to say," he answered. "It sounds like a cross between Niagara and a circus."
Scotty, who had overheard this, looked round.
"That's not bad," he said; "that's just about what it does sound like."
"But what is the cause of it, Hank?" the boy queried again. "I never heard such a row!"
"Fur seals!" was the brief reply.
"Seals?" said Colin, jumping up eagerly. "Oh, where?"
"Sit down, boy," interrupted the captain sternly; "you'll see enough of seals before you get home."
"All right, Captain Murchison," Colin answered; "I'm in no hurry to be home."
In spite of his recent loss the captain could not help a grim smile stealing over his face at the boy's readiness for adventure, no matter where it might lead. But he had been a rover in his boyhood himself, and so he said no more.
"Why, there must be millions of seals to make as much noise as that!" Colin objected.
"There aren't; at least, not now," was Hank's reply. "There were tens of millions of fur seals in these waters when I made my first trip out here in 1860, but they've been killed off right an' left, same as the buffalo. The government has to protect 'em now, an' there's no pelagic sealin' allowed at all."
"What's pelagic sealing?" asked Colin.
"Killing seals at sea," the whaler answered. "That's wrong, because you can't always tell a young male from a female seal in the water, an' the females ought never to be killed. But you'll learn all about it. Beg pardon, sir," Hank continued, speaking to the captain, "but by the noise of the seals those must be either the Pribilof or the Commander Islands?"
"Pribilof, by my reckoning," the captain answered. "Do you hear anything of the third boat?"
"No, sir," answered the old whaler, after shouting a loud "Ahoy!" to which but one answer was returned, "but we'll see her, likely, when the fog lifts."
"Doesn't lift much here," the captain said. "But with this offshore wind, they ought to hear the seals three or four miles away."
In the meantime the whale-boat was forging through the water slowly and the noise of the seals grew louder every minute. The sun was rising, but the fog was so dense that it was barely possible to tell which was the east.
"Funny kind of fog," said Colin; "seems to me it's about as wet as the water!"
"Reg'lar seal fog," Hank replied. "If it wasn't always foggy the seals wouldn't haul out here, an' anyway, there's always a lot of fog around a rookery. Must be the breath of so many thousands o' seals, I reckon."
"Pretty things, seals," said the boy.
"Where did you ever see any?" his friend queried.
"Oh, lots of places," Colin answered, "circuses and aquariums and places like that. I even saw a troupe of them on the stage once, playing ball. They put up a good game, too."
"Those weren't the real fur seals," Hank replied; "what you saw were the common hair seals, an' they're not the same at all. You can't keep fur seals alive in a tank!"
"There are two fur seals in the aquarium of the Fisheries Building at Washington," interposed the captain, "but those are the only two."
"There!" cried the boy, pointing at the water; "there's one now!"
"You'll see them by hundreds in a few minutes, boy," the captain said. "I think I make out land."
As he spoke, an eddy of wind blew aside part of the fog, revealing through the rift a low-lying island. Within a minute the fog had closed down again, but the glimpse had been enough to give the captain his bearings. The noise from the seal-rookery had grown deafening, so that the men had to shout to one another in the boat and presently—and quite unexpectedly—the boat was in the midst of dozens upon dozens of seals, throwing themselves out of the water, standing on their hind flippers, turning somersaults, and performing all manner of antics.
"Why don't we land?" asked Colin, as he noticed that the boat was running parallel with the shore instead of heading directly for it.
"Land on a seal-rookery?" said Hank. "Haven't you had trouble enough with whales so far?"
"Would seals attack a boat?" asked Colin in surprise.
"No, you couldn't make 'em," was the instant reply, "but I never heard of a boat landin' at a rookery. The row would begin when you got ashore."
Gradually the boat drew closer to the land, as close, indeed, as was possible along the rocky shore, and then the land receded, forming a shallow bay flanked by two low hills on one side and one sharper hill on the other. The captain rolled up his chart and headed straight for the shore.
"St. Paul, I reckon," said Hank, as the outlines of the land showed clearly, "but I don't jus' seem to remember it."
"Yes, that's St. Paul," the captain agreed. "It has changed since your time, Hank. There has been a lot of building since the government took hold."
"Why, it looks quite civilized!" exclaimed Colin in surprise, as he saw the well-built, comfortable frame houses and a stone church-spire which stood out boldly from the hill above the wharf.
"When I first saw St. Paul," said the old whaler, "it looked just about the way it was when the Russians left it—huts and shacks o' the worst kind an' the natives were kep' just about half starved."
"It's different nowadays," said the captain as they drew near the wharf, putting under his arm the tin box that held the ship's papers. "The Aleuts are regular government employees now and they have schools and good homes and fair wages. Everything is done to make them comfortable. I was here last year and could hardly believe it was the same settlement I saw fifteen years ago."
It was still early morning when the boat was made fast to the wharf, and Colin was glad to stretch his legs after having slept in a cramped position all night. The damp fog lay heavily over everything, but the villagers had been aroused and the group of sailors was soon surrounded by a crowd, curious to know what had happened. Hank, who could speak a 'pigeon' language of mixed Russian and Aleut, was the center of a group composed of some of the older men, while Colin graphically described to all those who knew English (the larger proportion) the fight with the gray whale, and told of the sinking of the Gull by the big finback, maddened by the attack of the killers. He had just finished a stirring recital of the adventures when the other two boats from the Gull loomed up out of the fog and made fast to the wharf.
Hearing that the only breakfast the shipwrecked men had been able to get was some cold and water-soaked provender from the boat, two or three of the residents hurried to their homes on hospitable errands bent, and in a few minutes most of the men were thawing out and allaying the pangs of hunger with steaming mugs of hot coffee and a solid meal. So, when the captain came looking for Colin that he might take him to the Fisheries agent's house, he found the lad—who was thoroughly democratic in his ways—breakfasting happily with the sailors and recounting for the second time the thrills and perils of the preceding day.
Rejoining the captain an hour or so later at the house to which he had been directed, Colin was effusively greeted by the assistant to the agent, a young fellow full of enthusiasm over the work the Bureau of Fisheries was doing with regard to fur seals. A natural delicacy had kept him from troubling Captain Murchison, but as soon as he discovered that Colin was interested in the question and anxious to find out all he could about seals, he hailed the opportunity with delight.
"I've just been aching for a chance to blow off steam," he said. "It's an old story to the people here. Obviously! I don't think they half realize how worth while it all is. I'm glad to have you here," he continued, "not only so that we can help you after all your dangers, but so that I can show you what we do."
"I'm still more glad to be here," Colin replied, after thanking him. "I've been trying to persuade Father to let me join the Bureau, but this is such an out-of-the-way place that I never expected to be able to see it for myself."
"It is a little out of the way," the official replied. "But in some ways, I think it's the most important place in the entire world so far as fisheries are concerned. It's the one strategic point for a great industry. Of course!"
"Why is it so important, Mr. Nagge?" Colin queried. "Just because of the seals, or are there other fisheries here?"
"Just seals," was the reply, in the jerky speech characteristic of the man. "Greatest breeding-place in the world. You'll see. Nothing like it anywhere else. And, what's more, it's almost the last. This is the only fort left to prevent the destruction not of a tribe—but of an entire species in the world of life. Certainly!"
"Calling it a fort seems strange," Colin remarked.
"Well, isn't it? It's the heroic post, the forlorn hope, the last stand of the battle-line," the Fisheries enthusiast replied. "All the nations of the world were deliberately allowing all the fur seals to be killed off. Uncle Sam stopped it. It's not too late yet. The Japanese seal-pirates must be exterminated absolutely! Could you run a ranch if every time a steer or cow got more than three miles away from the corral anybody could come along and shoot it? Of course not. Obviously!"
"But this isn't a ranch!"
"Why not? Same principle," the assistant agent answered. "Ranchers breed cattle in hundreds or thousands. We breed seals in hundreds of thousands; yes, in millions. And a fur seal is worth more than a steer. Oh, yes!"
"Do seals breed as largely still?" Colin asked in surprise.
"Would if they had the chance," was the indignant answer. "Undoubtedly millions and millions have been killed in the last fifty years. Takes time to build up, too! Only one baby seal is born at a time. A run-down herd can't increase so very fast. But we're getting there. Certainly!"
"Our gunner was telling me," Colin said, "that killing seals at sea was the cause of all the trouble."
"Yes. Lately. Before that, rookery after rookery had been visited and every seal butchered. Old and young alike. No mercy. Worst kind of cruelty."
"But hasn't the sea trouble been stopped?" queried the boy. "I thought it had, but you said something just now about seal-pirates."
"Stopped officially," his informant said. "Can't kill a seal in the ocean, not under any consideration. That is, by law. Not in American waters. Nor in Russian waters. Nor in Japanese waters. Nor in the open sea. International agreement determines that. Of course. But lots of people break laws. Obviously! Big profit in it. There's a lot of killing going on still. Stop it? When we can!"
"But how about killing them on land?" Colin asked. "You do that, I know, because I've read that the Bureau of Fisheries even looks after the selling of the skins. While it may be all right, it looks to me as though you were killing them off, anyhow. What's the good of saving them in the water if you wipe them out when they get ashore."
"You don't understand!" his friend said. "Got anything to do right now?"
"Not so far as I know," Colin answered.
"You've had breakfast?"
"Yes, thanks," the boy answered, "and I tell you it tasted good after a night in the boat."
"Come over to the rookery," the assistant agent said. "I'm going. I count the seals every day. That is, as nearly as I can. Tell you all about it. If you like, we'll go on to the killing grounds afterwards. Yes? Put on your hat."
Colin realized that his host seldom had a listener, and as he was really anxious to learn all that he could about the fur seals, these creatures that kept up the deafening roar that sounded like Niagara, he followed interestedly.
"Looks a little as if it might clear," he suggested, as they left the house. "We could stand some sunshine after this fog."
The other shook his head.
"Don't want sunshine," he said. "Fog's much better."
"What for?" asked Colin in surprise. "Why should any one want fog rather than sunshine?"
"Fur seals do," was the emphatic response. "No seals on any other groups of islands in the North Pacific. Just here and Commander Islands. Why?"
"Because they are foggier than others?" hazarded Colin at a guess.
"Exactly. Fur seals live in the water nearly all year. Water is colder than air. Seals are warm-blooded animals, too—not like fish. They've got to keep out the cold."
"Is that why they have such fine fur?"
"Obviously. And," the Fisheries official continued, "under that close warm fur they have blubber. Lots of it."
"Blubber like whales?"
"Just the same. Fur and blubber keeps 'em warm in the cold water. Too much covering for the air. Like wearing North Pole clothing at the Equator. If the sun comes out they just about faint. On bright days the young seals make for the water. Those that have to stay on the rookery lie flat on their back and fan themselves. Certainly! Use their flippers just the way a woman uses a regular fan. See 'em any time."
Colin looked incredulously at his companion.
"I'm not making it up," the other said. "They fan themselves with their hind flippers, too. Just as easy."
"I think they must be the noisiest things alive," said Colin, putting his fingers in his ears as they rounded the point and the full force of the rookery tumult reached them.
"The row never stops," the assistant agent admitted. "Just as much at night as daytime. Seals are used to swimming under water where light is dimmer. Darkness makes little difference. Seemingly! Don't notice it after a while."
"The queer part of it is," the boy said, listening intently, "that there seem to be all sorts of different noises. It's just as I said coming into the bay, it sounds like a menagerie. I'm sure I can hear sheep!"
"Can't tell the cry of a cow fur seal from the bleating of an old sheep," was the reply. "The pup seal 'baa-s' just like a lamb, too. Funny, sometimes. On one of the smaller islands one year we had a flock of sheep. Caused us all sorts of trouble. The sheep would come running into the seal nurseries looking for their lambs when they heard a pup seal crying. The lambs would mistake the cry of the cow seal for the bleating of their mothers."
"Why do you call the mother seal a cow seal?" asked the boy.
"Usual name," was the reply.
"Then why is a baby seal a pup?" asked Colin bewildered. "I should think it ought to be called a calf!"
The Fisheries official laughed.
"Seal language is the most mixed-up lingo I know," he said. "Mother seal is called a 'cow,' yet the baby is called a 'pup.' The cow seals are kept in a 'harem,' which usually means a group of wives. The whole gathering is called a 'rookery,' though there are no rooks or other birds around. The big 'bull' seals are sometimes called 'Sea-Catches' or 'Beachmasters.' The two-year-olds and three-year-olds are called 'Bachelors.' The 'pups,' too, have their 'nurseries' to play in."
But Colin still looked puzzled.
"Our gunner was talking about 'holluschickie'?" he said. "Are those a different kind of seal?"
"No," was the reply, "that's the old Russian-native name for bachelors. There are a lot of native words for seals, but we only use that one and 'kotickie' for the pups."
"If the cow seals bleat," said Colin, "and the pups 'baa' like a lamb, what is the cry of the beachmaster?"
"He makes the most noise," the agent said. "Never stops. Can you hear a long hoarse roar? Sounds like a lion!"
"Of course I can hear it," the boy answered; "I thought that must be a sea-lion."
"A sea-lion's cry is deeper and not so loud," his friend replied. "No. That roar is the bull seal's challenge. You're near enough to hear a sort of gurgling growl?"
"Yes," said Colin, "I can catch it quite clearly."
"That's a bull talking to himself. Then there's a whistle when a fight is going on. When they're fighting, too, they have a spitting cough. Sounds like a locomotive starting on a heavy grade. Precisely!"
"Do they fight much?" the boy asked.
"Ever so often!" his informant replied. "Can't you hear the puffing? That shows there's a fight going on. I've seldom seen a rookery without a mix-up in progress. That is, during the early part of the season after the cows have started to haul up. There's not nearly as much of it now, though, as there used to be."
"Could I see a fight?" the boy asked eagerly.
"Hardly help seeing one," was the reply. "Watch now. We're just at the rookery. Immediately!"
Turning sharply to the left, the older man led the way between two piles of stones heaped up so as to form a sort of wall, and shut off at the sea end.
"What's this for?" asked Colin.
"Path through the rookery. Want to count the seals every once in a while," the agent said. "Must have some sort of gangway. Obviously! Couldn't get near enough, otherwise."
"Why not?" queried Colin. "Would the beachmasters attack you?"
"They won't start it," was the reply. "Sea-catch keeps quiet unless he thinks you're going to attack his harem. About two weeks ago, I only just escaped. Narrow squeeze. Wanted to get a photograph of one of the biggest sea-catches I had ever seen. Took a heavy camera. The sea-catch didn't seem excited. Not particularly. So, I came up quite close to him."
"How close, Mr. Nagge?"
"Ten or twelve feet. Just about. I got under the cloth. Focused him all right. Then slipped in my plate. Just going to press the bulb when he charged. Straight for me. No warning. I squeezed the bulb, anyhow; grabbed the camera and ran. Promptly!"
"Did he chase you far?"
"A few yards. I knew there was no real danger. Best of it was that the plate caught the bull right in the act of charging! I've got a print up at the house. Show you when we get home!"
"I'd like to see it, ever so much," the boy answered.
As they came to a gap in the wall, the agent halted.
"There!" he said. "That's a rookery."
In spite of all that he had heard before of the numbers of seals, and although the deafening noise was in a sense a preparation, Colin was dazed at his first sight of a big seal rookery. For a moment he could not take it in. He seemed to be overlooking a wonderful beach of rounded boulders, smooth and glistening like polished steel; here and there pieces of gaunt gray rock projected above and at intervals of about every fifteen to forty feet towered a huge figure like a walrus with a mane of grizzled over-hair on the shoulders and long bristly yellowish-white whiskers. For a moment the boy stood bewildered, then suddenly it flashed upon him that this wonderful carpet of seeming boulders, this gleaming, moving pageantry of gray, was composed of living seals.
"Why, there are millions of them!" he cried.
Right from the water's edge back halfway to the cliffs, and as far as the eye could see into the white sea-mist, every inch of the ground was covered. Looking at those closest to him, Colin noticed that they lay in any and every possible attitude, head up or down, on their backs or sides, or curled up in a ball; wedged in between sharp rocks or on a level stretch—position seemed to make no difference. Nor were any of them still for a minute, for even those which were asleep twitched violently and wakened every few minutes. And over the thousands of silver-gray cow seals, the sea-catches, the lords of the harem, three or four times the size of their mates, stood watch and ward unceasingly.
"Why do you herd them so close together?" asked Colin. "I should have thought there was lots of room on the beaches of the island."
"They herd themselves," the agent said. "Don't go anywhere unless it is crowded. The more a place is jammed, the more anxious they are to get there. Newcomers won't go to empty harems. Unhappy with only one or two other cows. Try and find room in a crowded bunch where one sea-catch is looking after thirty females."
"But," said Colin, looking at the group which was nearest to him, "there are a lot of little baby seals in there! They'll get trodden on!"
"They are trodden on. Often," said the agent. "Can't be helped. Only a few pups right in the harems and they are all small. Obviously! Go away when they are a week old. Wander from the harem to find playfellows. Make up 'pods' or nurseries. Sometimes four or five hundred in one nursery. Stay until the end of the season. There's a pod of pups," he continued, pointing up the beach; "about sixty of them, I should judge. Happy-looking? Clearly!"
"They look like big black kittens," said Colin, as he watched them tumbling about on the pebbly beach, "and just as full of fun. Can they swim as soon as they are born, Mr. Nagge?"
"Seals have to learn to swim. Same as boys," he answered. "They teach themselves, apparently! Young seal, thrown into deep water, will drown. Queer. Become wonderful swimmers, too."
"About how long does it take them to learn?" Colin asked.
"Don't begin until they are three weeks old," was the reply. "Practise several hours a day. Swim well in about a month."
"Why don't the father or the mother seals teach them?" queried the boy.
"A sea-catch doesn't see anything outside the harem. As long as a pup is within twelve feet of him, he will fight on the instant if the baby is in danger. Once it is in the nursery the bull seal forgets the little one's existence. He couldn't leave, anyway. Some other sea-catch would seize the harem."
"You mean that the old seal can't get away at all?"
"Not at all," was the reply.
"Then what does he get to eat?" asked Colin in surprise, "do the cow seals bring him food?"
"Not a bite. No. He doesn't eat at all. Not all summer."
"Never gets a bite of anything? I should think he'd starve to death," cried the lad.
"Fasts for nearly four months. From the time a sea-catch hauls up in May and preempts the spot he has chosen for his harem he doesn't leave that spot eight to sixteen feet square until late in August. Stays right there. He's active enough in some ways. No matter how much he flounders around, he keeps right on his own harem ground. He could hardly get away from it if he tried."
"He couldn't leave his own harem without getting into the next one. Obviously!" the agent promptly replied. "And he'd have to fight that beachmaster. Evidently! And so on every few feet he went. Besides, the very moment his back was turned a neighboring bull would steal some of his cows. Certainly! Or, an idle bull would try and beat him out."
"Which are the idle bulls?" asked Colin.
"Those fellows at the back who came late or were beaten in the fight for places. They would charge down and take the harem, if he left it."
"Well, then, how does he sleep?"
"Doesn't sleep much," was the reply; "just little catnaps. Five or ten minutes at a time, perhaps. Light sleepers, too. If a cow tries to leave or an intruder comes near he wakes right up. Immediately! He's on the alert, night and day." The agent laughed. "Eternal vigilance is the bull seal's motto, all right!"
"But how can they stand it without food and without sleep?" Colin asked. "That's over three months of fasting. And it isn't like an animal that's asleep all winter. It seems to be their busiest time, fighting and watching and all that sort of thing!"
"They live on their blubber," the agent explained. "In the spring they haul up heavy and fat. Can hardly move around they're so fleshy. It's the end of June now. You see! Many bulls are loaded with fat still. By the end of next month, though, they'll be getting thin. Some of 'em are like skeletons when they leave the rookeries in August. They'll fight to the end, though."
"But if they leave each other's harems alone," Colin objected, "I don't see any cause for a fight."
"The cows don't all come at the same time. Perhaps for six weeks there are cows coming all the time. Those beachmasters who have harems nearest the water want their family first and there's fighting all along the water's edge, then. Other cows have to make their way inshore; any of the sea-catches may grab them. Wait a minute and watch. You'll see the scramble going on somewhere. There are two bulls fighting there," he added, pointing to a combat in progress some distance off, "and there's another—and another."
"Is that one of the new cows just coming in from the water?" asked Colin, pointing to the shore, where a female seal, quietly and without attracting attention, had landed near one of the large harems.
"Yes," the agent said. "Just watch her a while. You'll see how the fighting begins."
Moving quietly and slowly and making just as little disturbance as possible, the incoming seal made her way through and over the recumbent seals, keeping as far as she could from the beachmasters. Those huge monarchs of the waterside eyed her closely, but the harems were full to the last inch of ground and they let her pass, the cow seal remaining quiet as long as the beachmaster was watching, then creeping on a yard or two.
"She'll get caught by the next one," said Colin. "See, there's just about room enough in his harem for one more."
But the cow managed to make her way past, the old bull being engrossed in watching a neighboring sea-catch whom he suspected of designs upon his home. She had only succeeded in reaching a point about six harems inland, however, when a bull with a small group of only about twelve cows, suddenly reached out with his strong neck, grabbed her by the back with his sharp teeth and threw her on the rocks with the rest of his company. As the sea-catch weighed over four hundred pounds and the cow not more than eighty—the poor creature was flung down most cruelly.
"The brute!" cried Colin.
But for some reason the cow was dissatisfied with her new master and tried to escape. The old sea-catch made a lunge forward and caught her by the back of the neck, biting viciously as he did so, in such wise that the teeth tore away the skin and flesh, making two raw and ugly wounds.
Colin's indignation was without bounds.
"I'd like to smash that old beast!" he said, and if the agent had not been there to stop him the boy would have jumped over the low wall and gone to the assistance of the cow seal.
"That's going on all the time," the agent said. "You can't settle the affairs of ten thousand families. Not offhand that way. You'd be kept busy if you tried to fight the battles of every female that hauls up on St. Paul rookery."
"But see," cried Colin, "he's going after her again!"
This time the sea-catch was evidently angry, for he shook the cow as a dog does a rat and tossed her back into the very center of the harem, standing over her and growling angrily. The agent looked on tranquilly.
"There's going to be trouble," he said. "See that idle bull coming?"
He pointed to the back of the rookery, and Colin saw a sea-catch of good size, though not as large as the bull whose savage attack on the cow had excited Colin's resentment, come plunging down through the rookery with the clumsy lope of the excited seal. The cow squirmed from under the threatening fangs of her captor, but just as he was about to punish her still more severely, he caught sight of the intruder, and, with a vicious snap, he whirled round to the defense. The newcomer, though powerful, showed the dark-brown rather than the grizzled over-hair of the older bull, but while he had youth on his side, he was not the veteran of hundreds of battles.
Both stood upright for a moment, watching each other keenly, but with their heads averted, then the younger bull, with a forward movement so rapid that it could hardly be followed, struck downward with his long teeth to the point where the front flipper joins the body. It was a clever stroke, but the old bull knew all the tricks of warfare and turned the flipper in so that the teeth of his opponent only gashed the skin, and at the same time the old bull jerked his head up and sidewise, and sank his teeth deep into the side of the neck of the younger bull.
"He's got him, what a shame!" cried Colin, whose sympathies were all with the younger fighter.
The old sea-catch, paying no attention to the roaring and whistling of his wounded rival, kept his teeth fast-clenched in a bulldog-like grip and braced himself against the repeated lunges the other made to get free. There could be but one result to this and, with an agonized wrench, the younger bull pulled himself free—tearing out several inches of skin and leaving a gaping wound from which the blood streamed down.
But he was not defeated yet!
Facing his more powerful enemy, roaring unceasingly and with the shrill piping whistle of battle, the younger bull fairly swelled with exertion and rage until he seemed almost the size of his big foe, his head darted from side to side quick as a flash, and the revengeful, passionate eyes—so different from the limpid, gentle glance of the cow seals—flashed furiously as the blood poured down and reddened the rocks around him.
Again it was the younger bull who took the aggressive and, after a couple of feints, he reared and struck high for the face, just grazing the cheek of the older bull and pulling out several of the stiff bristles on which his teeth happened to close, springing back in time to escape the double sickle-stroke of the sea-catch. The old bull roared loudly and sprang forward, getting a firm hold of the younger by the skin behind the muscles of the shoulders. But he was a second too late, for as he closed his grip, the smaller fighter shifted and struck down, a hard clean blow, reaching the coveted point and half-tearing the flipper from the body.
Undeterred by the injury, though the pain must have been intense, the old bull threw his weight upon the younger, bending him far over as though to break the spine. Seals cannot move backward, and the smaller fighter was almost overbalanced. Then, seizing his chance, the old beachmaster let go his hold upon the other's back and got in a crashing blow at the same point where he had torn open the neck before, this time sinking his teeth so far in that the muscle of the shoulder showed plainly, and an instant later, although there seemed scarcely time to strike a second blow, he swept down the body with his long, sharp teeth, catching the younger at the flipper-joint, and inflicting a wound almost exactly similar to that which he had received.
Quick as a flash, the younger combatant gave up the fight. But as he turned, instead of merely crawling away defeated, he made a sudden convulsive sprawl which the older bull was not expecting, and dug his teeth into the cow who had given rise to all the trouble, and lifted her bodily. The old beachmaster, his mane bristling with rage, made after him, but the younger bull, although he was forced to move on the stump of his wounded flipper, held fast to his prize, even when the victor inflicted a fourth fearful wound.
But before the old sea-catch could turn the plucky youngster, he saw two other bulls sidling towards his harem, intending to steal his cows while he was off guard, and he lumbered back to repel the new intruders. In the meantime, the young bull was attacked on his way to his own station by three other bulls near whose harems he had to pass, but he made no resistance and, though bleeding from a dozen wounds, he struggled on, leaving a gory trail in his wake, but gripping with grim determination the cow he had almost given his life to secure. When at last he reached his own station, he was a mass of blood from head to foot, his flesh was hanging from him in strips and one of his fore-flippers was dangling uselessly.
"He put up a plucky fight, anyway," said Colin, "even if he did get licked."
But it was for the poor cow seal that Colin felt the most sympathy. She lay upon the rocks where her second captor had thrown her, absolutely unconscious and seemingly almost dead, wounded in several places and covered with blood and sand, a wretched contrast to the pretty, gentle animal which the boy had seen emerge from the water not fifteen minutes before.
"It's a shame," Colin said, speaking a little chokingly. "I didn't know any animals could be so brutal."
The agent glanced at him quickly.
"The beachmasters are brutes," he said, "but mostly among themselves. Notice. The bull isn't even licking his wounds. He's pretty well used up, too. They're always too proud to show that they feel their hurts. Evidently! Even when they have been almost torn to pieces."
"Then you think he won't die?"
"Not a bit of it," the agent said cheerfully. "He'll be ready for another fight to-morrow."
"But how about the poor cow? She looks about dead now," said Colin.
"Not as bad as it looks! She's all right," his friend replied. "Those wounds don't go down into vital parts. They usually just reach the blubber. There isn't a sea-catch on the rookery that hasn't had from ten to twenty fights already this year. Most of 'em have been at it for several seasons. Yet you can hardly notice a scar on them. As for the mother seal, she will probably have a baby seal to-morrow. In a week the wounds will all have healed over. Cat may have nine lives, but a seal has ninety!"
ATTACKED BY JAPANESE POACHERS
"That's life on a rookery," the agent said. "Fight! Capture! More fight! But the holluschickie are different. Let's go to the hauling-grounds."
"Is that where the killing goes on?" the boy asked.
"Not quite," was the reply. "The road to the killing-grounds begins there, though. Naturally! We don't take any seals from a rookery."
"No use! They are all either old bulls, females, or pups," was the answer. "The fur of the old sea-catches is coarse. Couldn't sell it. Never kill a cow seal under any circumstances. That's what all the trouble in killing seals at sea is about. You can't tell a holluschickie from a cow seal in the water. Cruel, too. When a cow seal is on her way to the rookery, she will have a baby seal in a few days."
"The holluschickie, then," said Colin, "don't come on the rookery at all?"
"Never! Absolutely! The bachelors, which are young male seals five years old and under, leave the rookery alone. The old sea-catches look after that. Certainly! It is mutilation or death for a holluschickie to put so much as a flipper on a rookery. They seldom try. Therefore, the hauling-grounds are at a distance. Obviously! Sometimes, though, it is impossible for the holluschickie to get to the sea without having to cross the rough, rocky ground which is suitable for a rookery."
"How can they work it, then?"
"The sea-catches leave a road eight feet wide, no more, no less. This path through the rookery gives just room for two holluschickie to pass. The beachmasters whose harems are on either side of this road watch them. They keep their lookout from a station right beside the road. If one of the holluschickie touches a cow on either side of this clear road-space, he will be attacked savagely."
"But I should think he could get away easily enough," Colin objected, "because the sea-catch can't leave his harem."
"Can't! Old bulls are all the way along," the agent answered. "Every one will attack a holluschickie who has once been attacked. No chance to escape. But the bachelors know that. They pass up and down such a causeway by thousands, night and day. They 'don't turn to de right, don't turn to de lef', but keep in de middle ob de road,'" quoted the agent, laughing.
"And you say that all the furs, then, are taken from among the holluschickie?" queried the boy.
"Every one of them."
"But how do you hunt the bachelor seals?"
The agent stared at him in surprise, and then burst into a short peal of laughter.
"Hunt? How do you hunt pet puppies?" he queried, in reply. "The holluschickie are the tamest, gentlest creatures in the world. Here are the hauling-grounds now. Let's go down. You'll see how tame they are."
"But it's like a dancing-floor or a parade-ground for soldiers!" cried Colin as, reaching the top of the hill, he looked across a stretch of upland plain at least half a mile across. There was not a blade of grass, not a twig of shrubbery of any kind, all had been beaten down and the bare ground was as smooth as though it had been leveled off and rolled. Upon this bare plain, thousands of the holluschickie were playing, the most characteristic game seeming to be a voluntary march or dance, when the bachelors would roughly gather into lines or groups and lope along at exactly the same speed together for about fifty feet, stopping simultaneously for a few moments, and then going on again, as though obeying the commands of a drill-sergeant.
"They don't seem to play with each other much," commented Colin as the two walked among the holluschickie, who showed neither fear nor excitement, merely shuffling aside a foot or two to let them pass.
"They do in the water," the agent said. "Play 'King of the Castle' on a flat-topped rock for hours together. One seal pushes the other off the coveted post, only to be dislodged himself a minute after. And I have never once seen any sign of ill-humor. They never bite. They never injure one another. They never even growl angrily. It's hard to believe that their tempers can change so quickly when they reach the rookery."
"They seem to be of all ages and sizes," said Colin.
"Yearlings of both sexes and males from two years old to five," the agent answered.
"Do they fast all summer, too, like the sea-catches?"
"No," was the reply. "No need for it. They go to sea every few days. If the sun is out they stay in the sea. They make long journeys, too, just as the mother seals have to do, because a seal needs at least thirty pounds of fish a day to keep in good condition. All the nearby fishing-grounds have been exhausted."
"I suppose the different colors show the different ages?" the boy suggested.
"Exactly," the agent answered. "That's important, too. By law we are only allowed to sell skins weighing between five and eight and a half pounds. That means only those of males two and three years old. The skin of a yearling weighs just about four pounds and that of a four-year-old male eleven or twelve."
"How about the two-year-old cow seals? You said that only the yearlings among the females were here."
"The cow seals never come twice to the hauling grounds," was the reply. "They go for the first time to the rookeries in their second year."
"I should think it would be easy enough then to 'cut out' a herd," the boy said. "I could pretty nearly do it myself."
"Obviously! Without any trouble!" was the reply. "But you've got to go slow."
"Why?" the boy queried.
"If a seal is hurried he gets heated. You remember I told you how little they can stand. If a seal is killed after being heated, fur comes off in patches and the skin is of no value. Let's go on. I have to tally those that are knocked down."
"I thought you were going to drive some!" said Colin in a disappointed tone, as they turned away from the hauling-grounds along a well-beaten road.
"The drive started three hours ago and more," was the reply. "Quarter of a mile an hour is fast enough to make seals travel. You can drive as fast as a mile an hour, but lots will be left on the road to die from the exertion. Yet the same seals will swim hundreds of miles in a day."
"But what can you do, then, on a warm day? Do you drive during the night?"
"No seals here on a warm day," was the immediate answer. "You saw all those thousands of holluschickie on the hauling-grounds? If the sun were to come out now, in half an hour there wouldn't be a seal on the entire flat. All disappear into the sea. Absolutely!"