The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 699/The "Sea-Elephant" (''Macrorhinus elephantinus''), Distant

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The "Sea-Elephant" (Macrorhinus elephantinus)  (1899) 
by William Lucas Distant

Zoologist, 1899.Plate III.

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No. 699.— September, 1899.


(Plate III.)

Some few months ago Mr. Robert Service, of Dumfries, kindly forwarded to us a photograph of a specimen of this animal which had been killed on the Falkland Islands. This photograph, however, was too faint for reproduction, and, at our request, he asked his correspondent, Mr. Wm. Grierson, of Stanley, F. I., to send us, if possible, a better impression. This has now been received, and is reproduced in the accompanying Plate. With the photograph, Mr. Service received the following letter from the capturer of this interesting beast:—

"Stanley, F.I., June 21st, 1899.

"Dear Sir,—Mr. Grierson gave me your letter of April 20th, enquiring about the 'Sea-Elephant.' I beg for your information to say that the animal is now very scarce, this being, I believe, the only grown one killed on these islands for the past twenty-five years. One was seen on the north coast about a year ago, but I have not heard of it since I killed the one, of which you saw the photograph, about this time last year, while I was killing a few Sea-Lions on a small island about fourteen miles to the southward of Stanley. I killed two Seals about 7 ft. long, and not until I saw the grown Elephant could I find out what they were. I then saw that they had been young Elephants. "It was on February 6th last that the large one in question was found hauled up to high-water mark on the south shore of Stanley Harbour, and about one hundred yards to the east of the Settlements. He made no attempt to leave the beach until he had been disturbed several times by my tapping him on the trunk. At first he only opened his mouth to the full extent; latterly he raised himself on his fore flippers and swung his after-part round, thus turning his head towards the water; after this, by placing his fore flippers a little forward and drawing his body forward, somewhat like a snail, he was making for the water. A rope was then passed over his head, and fastened to a rock to prevent his getting away. On being lanced behind the fore flipper the blood ran freely, but the animal pressed his flipper several times on the wound and stopped the bleeding, until the flipper was forced from his side; at a low estimate there was three hundred gallons of blood. The length from the tip of the trunk to the end of the hinder flippers was 17 ft. 18 in.; the skin, when spread, measured 18 ft. by 12 ft. He was in low condition as regards blubber, there only being forty gallons. The hide resembles that of the Land-Elephant in colour, and is covered with deep scars from the head to one-half of his length. The skin and skeleton are still here. I think to give the Smithsonian Institute the first refusal, as Mr. Grierson is sending photographs. I will send one of the skeletons, minus the head, which has not been taken.—(Signed) Jas. Smith."

This appears to refer to some lantern-slides of a specimen which were exhibited, on behalf of Mr. Rupert Vallentin, at a meeting of the Linnean Society on June 1st last. According to the official report of that meeting,—"The distribution of this huge Seal on various antarctic and subtropical islands having been traced, Mr. Vallentin's notes on a specimen killed in Stanley Harbour were read. It measured 18 ft. 11 in. from the end of the trunk to a straight line between the two hinder extremities; the trunk, produced by the inflation of a loose tubular sac of skin above the nostrils, is present only in the male, and measures, when fully extended, 12 in. from the gape. No fresh facts were made known concerning the nature of the food of this animal: described by some writers as herbivorous, like the Manatee; by others, as feeding on Mollusca and Crustacea, like the Walrus. In this case the stomach was empty, with the exception of a large number of Nematode worms, specimens of which were exhibited."

In the late Prof. Moseley's "Notes by a Naturalist on the 'Challenger'" will be found considerable information regarding this animal. It has almost entirely deserted the island of Tristan da Cunha. Four specimens were found on landing at Kerguelen's Land, where the species is probably common. On Heard Island there were strewn thousands of skeletons of the "Sea-Elephant."

"The bones lay in curved lines, looking like tide lines, on either side of the plain above the beaches, marking the rookeries of old times and tracks of slaughter of the sealers." Specimens which were preserved on board the 'Challenger' were found to have "only a greenish slime in their stomachs"; and Moseley states that "neither the Otariadæ nor the 'Sea-Elephants' feed during the breeding season, but live upon their fat, becoming gradually thinner and thinner." They seem very plentiful on Heard Island, where on one beach thousands can be seen in the breeding season. The Californian "Sea-Elephant" (Macrorhinus angustirostris) is well described in Allen's 'North American Pinnipeds,' and is there stated to "differ very little in size, colour, or other external features" from the southern species. Capt. Scammon has described the animal and its habits most fully; and is by Allen freely quoted.

Under the name of Macrorhinus leoninus,[1] Trimen reports it as having been met with on the Cape Coast (cf. Noble's 'Official Handbook of the Cape and South Africa,' pp. 60-1). The Rev. A.E. Eaton, during his visit to Kerguelen Island, frequently saw young Sea-Elephants in Swains Bay. "Some examples are uniformly reddish brown, others are pale, blotched and spotted with darker grey. They usually lie just above the beach, separately, in hollows among the Acæna and Azorella where they are sheltered from the wind." (Proc. Roy. Soc. xxiii. 1875, p. 502.) According to the information obtained by Robert Hamilton, "They take particular delight in covering themselves with great quantities of sand, moistened by the sea-water, which they throw over them with their paws till they are entirely enveloped in it. It is under these circumstances especially, that with Forster, we might mistake them for so many enormous rocks." ('Amphibious Carnivora,' &c, p. 219.)— (Ed.).

  1. The late Sir W.H. Flower advocated the use of this name. He wrote:—"There is much confusion as to the synonymy of the species. It is the Phoca leonina of the 'Systema Naturæ,' ed. xii., founded upon the 'sea lion and lioness' of Juan Fernandez, described and figured in Anson's Voyage, 1748; the P. elephantina of Molina, 1782, and the P. proboscidea of Perron, 1815, and of many late authors. Leonina therefore is the earliest specific appellation" ('Philosoph. Trans.' clxviii. 1879, p. 96).

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1922, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.