Art. XXX.—On the Fur Seal of New Zealand.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 31st October, 1871.]
At Dr. Hector's request I have examined two specimens of the Fur Seal which are now in the Otago Museum, in order to add to the paper just read any remarks which they may suggest. Mr. Purdie has obliged me with the measurements, which are as follows:—
|Nose to ear||10||7|
|" to angle of mouth||6||4|
|Nose to centre of eye||5.75||4.6|
|Length of ear||1.75||1.8|
|Width of nose||1||1|
|Length of exterior surface from shoulder joint||23||16|
|Length of interior surface||15||10.25|
|Length from hip joints||15.75||11|
|Length of tail||4||2|
Though these measurements do not show an exact correspondence, they are sufficiently like those of the seals described by Dr. Hector in their proportions for each specimen, to leave no doubt that they all belong to one species. The only large proportional difference is in the measurements from nose to ear, which are greater in our male specimen than in Dr. Hector's, although the latter is more than one fourth larger in general measurement. In other respects the differences are also slight. No proper comparison of the skulls can be made without destroying the stuffed specimens, but the general contour of the head in these corresponds with the proportions of the skulls which Dr. Hector measured. The general description given by him will also, in the main, serve for our specimens. The chief differences are:—-1st. The general
lighter colour of our small female seal (which is particularly noticeable about the head). 2nd. The more slender proportions of the head in the same specimen. And 3rd. The bristles of both specimens, which are not black like those of Dr. Hector's seals. In our male specimen the bristles are yellowish white, and in the female the majority of them are so, some of the longer ones varying by being black for about two inches from the base. It should be stated that the condition of the teeth in our male specimen, and its general appearance when it reached him, led Mr. Purdie to the conclusion that it was a comparatively aged seal. The lengths of the canines from their apparent bases upwards are, in the male 1.1 inch, and in the female only .6 inch.
It is singular that there should be any doubt about the scientific name of an animal which has been known so long, and appears to be so common on the New Zealand coast. The reason of this, no doubt, lies in the fact that so few specimens of these bulky mammals reach Europe that various species are confused with one another by naturalists, who have necessarily to trust to the descriptions given by casual and unscientific observers. On carefully comparing such authorities as we have access to here, I have come to the conclusion that what we are in the habit of calling the Fur Seal of New Zealand is most certainly that described by Forster as the Sea Bear or Ursine Seal. Forster accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage, and it was in Dusky Bay that he first saw these seals. He tells us that they were afterwards met with, of much larger size, at New Year's Island, in Staten Land. The males seen there “being eight or nine feet long, and thick in proportion.” Subsequently he speaks of the same animal as found in New Georgia, and it appears to have been taken for granted that this was the Sea Bear seen by Dampier at Juan Fernandez, and by others at the Gallapagos. He appears to have believed this seal to be identical with the Sea Bear of the Northern Pacific and Behring Straits, Eumelopias Stelleri, which had been described by Steller. There can be no doubt now that the animals are distinct. Dr. Hector's examination of the skull is decisive on that point. It is also open to question whether naturalists have been right in supposing the Sea Bear, which Forster found on the New Zealand Coast and in Staten Land, to be the same as that seen by other voyagers elsewhere.
Peron, a most careful and indefatigable naturalist, who accompanied the French exploring expedition to the southern seas in the first years of this century, says, “we are convinced that under the name Sea Bear there really exist more than twenty seals which differ from each other in all their minute characteristic points.”* Subsequent researches lead to the conviction that this
[Footnote] * “Ann. des Mus. d'Hist. Nat,” t. XV., p. 293.
was an exaggerated estimate, but it is probable that there are still several forms confused under this general name. Owen calls Arctocephalus Australis “the Ursine Seal.”* This seal Dr. Gray assigns to King George's Sound, and describes as “yellow grey above, fulvous beneath, whiskers white.” This may be but a variety of our seal. As I have said, the whiskers of the specimens we have here are, for the most part, nearly white, and the female is much lighter in colour than appears to be common with these seals in this part of the world.
Formerly the name Otaria ursina was given in common to our seal and the Northern Fur Seal. From the lists, as they now stand, the former appears to have dropped out. Dr. Hector's examination of the skulls of the specimens captured at Milford Sound has shown that it belongs to the genus Arctocephalus. The Northern Seal, with which it had been confused, has different characters, and is now called Callorhinus ursinus. Since the two are distinct generically, there seems to be no reason why they should not both retain the old and familiar specific name ursinus. They have one important feature in common in their fur, and since they are, on the other hand, thoroughly distinct, both in important structural characteristics and in habitat, there can be no fear that the adoption of the name Arctocephalus ursinus for our New Zealand seal will lead to any confusion.
Since the above was written I have had the opportunity of consulting Mr. J. A. Allen's paper on the Eared Seals. † Although it is chiefly with the Otariadœ of the northern hemisphere that Mr. Allen is concerned, this paper contains incidentally a good deal of information about southern forms, and the very confused and uncertain character of the descriptions which naturalists have hitherto received of them. From this source I learn that Dr. Gray has, in one of his monographs on the subject, distinguished our New Zealand Sea Bear as a separate species, calling it after Forster, but being evidently without any information with regard to it of later date than that given by this naturalist. He himself considers that there is but one Fur Seal in these seas, and that the New Zealand species is the same as that which has been found on the coast of Australia, Arctocephalus cinereus. He restricts the seals of the southern hemisphere, which have true fur, to three species, one (A. Falklandicus) belonging to the South American region, another to the seas in the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope (A. antarcticus), and the third to the Australasian region. He suggests that these may all be mere varieties of one species, but having no acquaintance with any of them, except through descriptions, has nothing of importance to offer in support of this opinion. A. cinereus is described by Gray as “yellowish with the under fur red.” If
[Footnote] * Comp. “Anatomy of Vertebrates,” Vol. II., p. 496.
[Footnote] † “Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College,” Vol. II., No. 1.
the Australian and the New Zealand Sea Bears prove to be the same, Mr. Allen's hypothesis that there is but one true fur seal in the southern hemisphere, as in the northern, may also prove correct. In the meantime we may take leave to doubt both propositions. Until a comparison is instituted by some one who has seen both, or at least good specimens of both, the question will probably not be settled.