« AnteriorContinuar »
SEALS AND THEIR HABITS.
the hunter is not prepared, and before he is ready for their reception, they have vanished out of sight, like the spectre forms seen in some troubled dream.
These seals rise to the surface of the water unexpectedly, without making the slightest ripple, or so quietly that they seem to appear by magic ; and when frightened they sink out of sight in the same imperceptible fashion, without warning of any kind. Slowly and gradually they sink, in the most tiresome and tantalising manner, while you are trying to fix the sights of your rifle in the very unsteady boat. The thought that they must be hit fair in the head is an additional reason for being nervous ; in our opinion it is the most difficult description of shooting a sportsman
The steersman detects four fine beasts upon a block of floating ice, in the distance. The crew give way with a will, and as the boat comes just within the desired range, and we are about to single out the largest among them, they suddenly disappear, diving over the edge of the floe with a graceful ease, to see which almost repays one's disappointment and chagrin.
Later on in the day the anxiety to shoot, often caused the crew to be utterly careless in their management of the fire-arms and ammunition entrusted to
them. On one occasion we were fortunately in time to prevent actual mischief being done. A fellow armed with a rifle caught sight of a seal between us and another boat, at some little distance from us. He was about to fire at the seal, and in the direction of the boat, when the bullet might have passed between two of the crew on board; we were just in time to throw up his arm at the very moment he was about to pull the trigger. The man declared his object was to avoid injuring his friends, as the bullet would have passed between them !! It was impossible to argue with so keen a sportsman. Forcible measures were the only means of securing proper caution in order to avoid some fatal accident.
We have witnessed on many previous occasions the same reckless disregard to common prudence on the part of our sailors; but strange to say we have no recollection of any disaster happening to themselves or the bystanders.
Looking round we find ourselves in close proximity to the other boats, and hasten to inquire what sort of sport they have had. For old hands the result was poor: one crew had bagged three, the other seven seals.
Leaving the boat and landing on the ice at a point close by, we cautiously advance, creeping over the
COLLECTING SEAL OIL.
snow towards some hummocks, for beyond them a small batch of seals are seen basking in the sun. We take steady aim, and a large seal falls to our gun. A second shot seems to add speed to the flight of another beast close by, and as he in mad haste tries to reach the water, he receives three bullets in his tough hide, all to no effect. The seal, unless struck in some vital place—the head, or behind the flipper at a point directly over the heart, seems indifferent to the shock of a bullet ; his great shapeless form covered with thick layers of fat offers no other definite or decided mark for the sportsman, if the head or heart are missed.
Preparations are quickly made for “flencing” our seal, but the body is lying on a detached piece of ice which must be reached by using a smaller block as a raft to float us over. now more cautious on the ice than on the previous occasion, and a haakpick is a valuable aid in testing the qualities of the floor beneath us. The seal is turned on its back, and a long cut is inade from the head to its tail, a cut round each flipper, and a few more to detach the blubber from the “krang," then the operation of flensing is soon completed. This operation, owing to the temperature of the air in these high latitudes, is a most sickening sight to contemplate, as the quivering flesh seems still to be
endued with life for some minutes after death; and in the early months when the sailors find the weather bitterly cold, the men put their hands into the still warm bodies of the newly killed seals, where the animal heat is retained for a considerable period after death. A rope is now attached to the hide, which is thickly coated with blubber, and the heavy mass (worth from £35 to £40 per ton) is about to be dragged towards the boat, when, to our confusion, we find ourselves drifting slowly but surely away. Our boat rests moored to the piece we had fastened it to at a considerable distance off, and quite indistinguishable in the heavy fog. What is to be done ? The sailors, according to their invariable custom, begin to recall precedents which all, unfortunately, have a fatal termination. One horrible story after another is told. “You remember them 'ere chaps as was left in this here way and was all froze to death?” “ As for that ship Enterprise, I assure you, sir,” says Magnus, “we could speak to the men on the ice, but could not get at them ! blowing a gale and freezing hard at the time! thermometer 40 degrees below zero! We did all we could : the oars and foremasts were tied together to try and reach them by means of a raft, when they disappeared in the fog, lost to sight though not to memory, and they all perished !"
moment grow worse, so without further delay we divest ourself of our heavy boots, examine the edge of the ice for a good take off, and with a run and a jump, which seemed almost impossible, we just catch the edge of another island of ice, and though we wet our feet in the attempt, are thankful for our
Wet feet up here is a matter of serious consequence, however. Our difficulty is now overcome, and after some hard tugging we haul our boat alongside, stow away our prize, and make for the next batch of floating seals. We gain experience as we go; we find that a single seal resting upon the ice is far easier to approach than a small herd, for the party, no matter how small, seems to appoint one of their number as a watcher, whose nervous trepidation in his position of responsibility always communicates itself to his companions, and the possibility of approaching near enough for our purpose is reduced to the smallest odds.
We did not leave off the pursuit until the boat began to settle rather low down in the water, owing to a heavy cargo of blubber attached to the skins of the seals we had killed.
Eight hours of seal-hunting is fatiguing work for the keenest sportsman, and although we return to our ship in broad daylight, we turn in for a few hours'