There are no land mammals peculiar to the island, but the ubiquitous rabbit was introduced a few years ago, and now swarms at the north end, where it feeds largely on the thick fleshy roots of the Pleurophyllum. Very few rabbits were originally landed, and these, I was told, were all of the tame parti-coloured kind. It was curious to observe how their descendants, in the process of reverting to the wild type, had all become one-coloured—black, or white with pink eyes, or yellow—while many had become regular wild rabbits in colour as well as habits.
Morunga elephantina, “Sea Elephant.”—This is the largest of the seals, and receives its name of “elephant” from the curious manner in which it elongates its nose when excited or angry. It is regularly hunted for its blubber, which forms a thick layer underneath the skin. Macquarie Island is the only place near New Zealand where these elephants are found, but they are common on the shores of Kerguelen Land and the neighbouring islands, and occur even as far north as Juan Fernandez.
I judged some of the larger males I saw to be over 20 feet long. The females, however, are very much smaller. They are thick in proportion and are huge unwieldy creatures.
The usual colour is a yellowish-brown, some, however, are redder in colour. The young ones are almost black. For about one week after their birth they retain a beautifully soft furry coat, also black in colour.
The main peculiarity of these creatures is the mobility of the nose. This, when the animal is asleep or undisturbed, presents no peculiarity. Irritate him, however, or see him naturally excited, and you will soon see the curious change which rage produces in his face. He invariably, however young, rears himself, sometimes at both ends, and opens his mouth to its fullest extent, showing all his teeth and uttering a peculiar barking roar. At the same time the nose in the adult males undergoes its peculiar change. It is, partly by air being blown forcibly into its elastic-sided cavity and to a certain extent by muscular contraction, puffed out in great sacs above the animal's head. It elongates as well as swells, and hangs down as a trunk for some inches in front of its mouth. None of the plates of sea-elephants which I have seen, represent this nasal swelling at all as it is. I was fortunate enough to see two large ani als thoroughly angry.
I was not able to observe much of this animal's habits during the few days I spent on the island. I usually saw them lying asleep in groups on the shingle, or in the long tussock near the beach. I sometimes saw them gambolling in the shallow water among the kelp, and occasionally I noticed them fighting in a half-hearted sort of way. The scarred hides and broken tusks of the old males, however, show that they sometimes have savage encounters. In fighting they rear themselves against each other and try to seize their opponent with their large canines. These are the only teeth they could use for such a purpose, as the others barely pierce the gum. They are never to be seen feeding on the island, and during the breeding season live on their own fat. Little or nothing in the way of food is ever found in their stomachs, but these and the intestines are infested with parasitic worms.
The island is never entirely deserted by the sea-elephants, but by far the greatest number are to be found after October, when they come up to calve.
The period of gestation is said to be eleven months.
The cows, I was told by the sealers, suckle their young for three weeks, and then wean them by deserting them for a time. Whether this be the case or not I cannot say, but I certainly often saw very young animals lying on the beach apart from the adults.
The sealers say that a bull is not worth killing for its blubber till it is three years old.
The tongue of these animals when well cooked is excellent eating.
No fur seals are found on Macquarie Island, though they are so common on the Auckland group.
The only other seal is the Stenorhynchus leptonyx, or sea-leopard, the ordinary spotted seal of our coasts.
It is a great contrast to the sluggish sea-elephant, and is the terror of the penguins.