Page:Last of the tasmanians.djvu/332

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291
HABITS OF THE SEAL.

themselves, where they sat, surrounded by their numerous wives and progeny, on his (Bass) drawing near them, hobbled up with a menacing roar, and fairly commenced the attack, while the wives seemed to rest their security upon the superior courage and address of their lords; for, instead of retreating into the water in the utmost consternation, they only raised themselves upon their fore fins, as if ready for a march, keeping their eyes upon the males, and watching the movements of the enemy."

M. Peron, the naturalist to the French expedition of 1802, was much interested in the seal of Bass's Straits. He speaks of sea elephants there thirty feet in length, and more than half that extent in girth. They were of a greyish blue colour. He sympathised with them, in his remark, "The English have invaded these long-protected retreats. They have their organized massacres throughout." The sealers, with their lances fifteen feet in length, seized the time when the animal raised its left fore fin, and plunged the weapon to the heart "As soon," says the Frenchman, "as they see themselves attacked, they seek to fly. If their retreat is cut off, they are violently agitated; their looks carry the expression of despair; they shed tears. I have myself seen one of these young females shed them abundantly, whilst one of our sailors, a cruel, wicked man, amused himself, every time she opened her mouth, with striking her teeth with the thick end of one of the boat-hooks: this poor animal inspired pity: all its mouth was bloody, and tears ran from its eyes."

From the observing M. Peron and others, the following particulars of this interesting marine creature are obtained. The dam is led by instinct, toward the end of her term of nine months, to the distant shore; that is, in November and December. After giving birth, she is said to have little or no food during the period of lactation, which lasts seven or eight weeks. Should one seek to desert her young one for a plunge into the sea, she is immediately driven backward by the males, with cries, with thrusts, and even with the teeth. The young grow rapidly, increasing in eight days from seventy to one hundred pounds. The first teeth appear in a fortnight. After weaning, the females spend a month in freedom, engaged in active sport to renew exhausted nature. At the end of that month they return to land for the purpose of reproduction. Then comes the