# Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/August 1893/Sealing in the Antarctic

 SEALING IN THE ANTARCTIC.
By a Member of the Recent British Whaling Expedition.

A LAPSE of nine months has brought back the Antarctic Whaling Expedition. It will be remembered that in September last four ships—the Balæna, the Diana, the Active, and the Polar Star—set out from Dundee to try their fortunes in the south polar seas, since of late the Davis Strait and Greenland fishing has not met with entire success. The expedition was to try to obtain a whale which Sir James Ross described as "greatly resembling and by some said to be identical to the Greenland whale," and was to restrict its researches to that region visited by Ross in his third voyage to the Antarctic in the summer 1842-'43. At the request of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Meteorological Society, it was arranged that the medical officers accompanying the expedition should, under the guidance of the masters and with the assistance of the other officers, make such scientific observations as were compatible with an expedition so purely commercial in character. With this understanding these two societies gave a grant of instruments which Mr. Leigh Smith and others liberally supplemented with other scientific outfit. Naturally, therefore, among scientific circles a certain amount of chance scientific work is being looked for. The expedition has added considerably to our knowledge of the meteorology of the southern end of the globe and has noted geographical and other features. But, on account of the overwhelming commercialism of the expedition, opportunities, which might have been taken advantage of, have been allowed to pass.

Owing greatly to the hurried departure of the expedition, much setting in order of material and seeking out of information regarding these scarcely known parts employed a considerable amount of time on the passage out, and systematic meteorological observations were commenced from the outset; tow netting and other collecting was reserved for latitudes south of 40° south, and for the homeward voyage, for it was deemed unwise to occupy space and make use of preservatives which might be required for material obtained in high southern latitudes. Nevertheless, on the passage out, it was thought advisable on a few occasions to take a cast of the net. For the whole outward passage, with the exception of a few days in the southeast trades, the ships were baffled by head winds, for nearly three weeks we wished our native shores more distant, and for fifteen days the Roaring Forties racked us with southwest gales. We experienced heavy squally weather, with frequent lightning and heavy rain. The maximum temperature of the air was 83° Fahr. on the 23d and 24th of October, in 3° 56′ north, 25° 15′ 15″ west, and 2° 33′ north, 25° 37′ west respectively, and from the 17th to 22d, 25th, and 31st October and the 2d November the thermometer registered 80·8° to 83°.

On the 8th of December the rising sun dispersed a dense fog and revealed the rugged shores of West Falkland, the first land we had seen for three months, and in its likeness recalling the last glimpses we had of Cape Wrath. By noon we had dropped anchor, and during the next few days, while the ship was being stocked with a supply of fresh meat and water, the surgeons of the vessels were able to make one or two short excursions. These excursions, however, had to be extremely brief, for not knowing when the ships would depart it was necessary to remain in sight of them the whole time. A few plants, stones, and insects were hastily gathered together, and several birds shot. Among the latter were the notable steamer duck and the upland goose. A striking feature of the Falkland Islands is the great absence of trees; the camp, as the open country is termed, is clothed with a short scrub called diddle-dee (Empetrum rubrum), growing upon and indeed chiefly forming the enormous peat-beds that this country is so rich in; the largest bush native to the country is the gigantic woolly ragweed, which grows to a height of three or four feet; but there are few flowering plants. The gorse or furze has been introduced and seems to thrive well, but a few trees that have been planted about Stanley present a meager appearance. Mosses and lichens abound everywhere and many of the lichens are very beautiful. Besides the above-mentioned, one must note the ever-famous balsam bogs and tussock grass, and the enormous banks of kelp that fringe the coast, the stems of which vary in length from five to forty feet. Among birds, the penguins and albatross must not be forgotten. Insects are rare. The famous wolf-like fox is almost extinct; Darwin's prophecy is coming true—the wild horses and cattle now no longer roam the plains, their place having been taken by the more remunerative sheep. The fur-seal is still found, but so eagerly have they been hunted that their numbers have been greatly reduced. A solitary lizard and a few insects almost complete the list of animals found in these islands. One must ever remember the world-renowned streams of stones and the characteristic quartz rocks cutting their way through the quilt of peat. But Darwin, Hooker, and others have so ably pictured the natural features of the Falkland Islands that it would be out of place to describe them again after so short a visit. There is a great change, however, since Darwin's time—he found it a settlement of thieves and murderers, now it is a peaceful British colony, for, after a disputed possession of the islands by Britain, Spain, France, and Buenos Ayres, Britain finally took possession of them in 1833 and formed a colony which is now ruled by a governor and is also the see of a colonial bishopric. The colony at first was far from prosperous, but since 1885 the revenue has considerably exceeded the expenditure. During our stay at Port Stanley his Excellency the Governor honored our ships with a visit, as well as several of the residents of the settlement, and we are greatly indebted to his Excellency and Lady Golds worthy for the hospitality they showed us.

Early on Sunday morning we took leave of the Falkland Islands and steered for the ice, and on December 16th, in latitude 59° 18′ south, longitude 51° 01′ west, met the first iceberg—it was of enormous dimensions and tabular; a second was sighted in the evening. The same day we met myriads of cape pigeons, also many blue petrel and molly-hawks. The sea was literally swarming with whales of the finner kind, and their resounding blasts could be seen on all sides. So numerous were the cape pigeons, and so eager were they for any scraps thrown over the ship's side, that any number of them could have been caught with small hand-nets only large enough to contain one at a time, and many of them were thus captured by the crew. That night it became overcast and rainy, and at midnight a fog came on; fogs continued, with shorter intervals of clearer weather, during which intervals we were able to push southward for the next few days, and the weather was squally, the wind being from northeast, north, and northwest, varying in force from a light air to a moderate gale. After six days of this inhospitable weather, the wind on the afternoon of December 22d shifted more to the south, and the fog quickly lifted. On December 17th we met with the first seal—it was one of the larger kind which Ross described, nearly twelve feet long, having a bearlike head, with formidable canine teeth; it was curled up and asleep, and it was drifting by as we lay in the fog. It was promptly shot and brought aboard by a boat lowered away for the purpose. Several pieces of drift ice were seen on the 17th of December, and several bergs, nearly all flat-topped. On the evening of the 22d we first met with a flock of ten or a dozen of the beautiful sheathbill, and on the morning of the 23d sighted and passed the group of Danger Islets, lying off the extreme west of Joinville Land, which was lying behind them. The sea in the evening became of an olive-brown color, and we met with the snowy petrel, two indications which Ross noticed of the main pack being at hand. On the following evening three of the Dundee ships made fast to a very large floe. On Christmas day observations were taken, and it was found that we were a little south of Ross's position on New-Year's eve of the summer of 1843-'43—viz., latitude 64° 13′ south, longitude 55° 52 west, and where he says "great numbers of the largest-sized black whales were lying upon the water in all directions; their enormous breadth quite astonished us. The color of the sea was a dirty brown, probably occasioned by minute ferruginous infusoria, which were found in the greenish-colored mud that was brought up by the deep-sea clams from a depth of two hundred and seven fathoms." The sea was as Ross describes it, and soundings were obtained at 8 p. m. in one hundred and ninety-four fathoms, but no black whale did we see, only whales with fins on their backs, but be it noted that several grampuses or killers were seen from the masthead, and they are noted persecutors of the black whale in the north.

The lowest temperature recorded in the ice was ${\displaystyle +}$21·1° Fahr., or nearly 11° of frost; this was on the 17th of February, but usually it was about ${\displaystyle +}$32° Fahr., more or less.