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know of the natural history of the Arctic Sea-cow, and, I venture to say, all that we shall ever
know from visual observation. There are a number of facts, however, bearing upon the mode of
capture, geographical distribution, and the history of the extinction of this animal which have
been the theme of writers after Steller. Dr. Brandt, a celebrated naturalist of St. Petersburg, and
the Danish explorer Nordenskiold, have taken pains to bring together all that is known on these
topics up to the present time. Most of the books and manuscripts from which they have gathered
their information being inaccessible to me, I must content myself with summing up the results of
their investigations.

THE EXTINCTION OF EHYTINA. The extinction of the Ehytina followed close upon its
discovery. If we may accept the results of Nordenskiold's investigations upon this point, the
animal was last seen in 1854, or a little more than a century after its discovery. Long before this,
at all events, it had become so diminished in numbers as not to furnish any considerable food

It appears that the existence of the Sea-cow on Bering Island had no sooner been made
known in Eussia than the vessels engaged in the fur trade in Bering's Sea began to make a
practice of wintering on the island, in order to take in a supply of the flesh of the animal for
food. That this custom became general in a few years, appears from Scherer's narrative of the first
Eussian hunting expeditions to the Aleutian Islands. "Ivan Krasselnikoff's vessel," he writes,
"started first in 1754, and arrived on the 8th October at Bering Island, where all the vessels
fitted out for hunting the sea-otter on the remote islands are wont to pass the winter, in order to
provide themselves with a sufficient stock of the flesh of the Sea-cow." 2

The next year, 1755, the engineer Jakovlev, who visited Bering Island and the adjacent
Copper Island, in search of copper, recorded in his journal the mode of capturing Ehytina, which
differs in no way from the method employed by Steller and his companions. Jakovlev, however,
was so impressed with the rapidity with which the Sea-cow was disappearing from the islands
that he petitioned the Kamtchatkan authorities that its capture might be restricted. It appears
that at the time of his visit the Ehytina had been driven away from Copper Island. 3

Scherer informs us of the landing of three other hunting expeditions at Bering Island,
between 1757 and 1762, for the purpose of capturing Sea-cows, implying at the same time, as in
the instance already quoted from him, that such was the custom of all expeditions sent thither.
His allusions to the subject are as follows: "The autumn storms, or rather the wish to take on
board a stock of provisions, compelled them (a number of hunters sent out by the merchant
Tolstyk under command of the Cossack Obeuchov) to touch at Commander's Island (Bering
Island), where, during the winter up to the 24th (13th) June, 1757, they obtained nothing else
than sea-cows, sea-lions, and large seals."

1 Specimens of this crustacean were found in a small piece of Rhytina skin discovered in 1 lie Rritish Museum.

"SCHERER: Nene Nachrichteu von denen neuentdeckten Insuln in der See zwiseben Asien tiiul Amerika, 177C,
p. 38, fide Nordenskiold.

Jakovlev'g diary was published in Russian in 1867, by Pekavski, and translated into Latin nnd republished in
1868 by Brandt. See BRANDT: Symbolie Sirenologicre, fasc. iii, pp. 29.">, 296.

Tin: AIMTIC si:.\ ro\v. KXTINVTION.

Again: "They (a, Russian hunting vessel under Studenzov, in IT.Vs) landed on Behring
to kill Sea cows, as all vessels are accustomed to do." On another page he states that "alter
Korovin, in 1762 (on Bering Island), had provided himself with a miflicient stock of the flesh and
hides of the Sea-cow for his boats ... he sailed on."' Saner, in his account of Bering's
voyages, published in 1802, alluding to the Rhytiua, says: "The last was killed on Behring Island
in ITiis, ;iiid none has been seen since then."*

In this conclusion most authorities are agreed. Nordenskiold, however, obtained information,
of a character which he regards reliable, which would seem to show that the Sea-cow was not
entirely exterminated before 1854. The first informant was a Creole. Nordenskiold writes: "A
Creole (that is, the offspring of a Russian and an Aleutian), who was sixty-seven years of age, of
intelligent appearance, and in the full possession of his mental faculties, stated 'that his father
died in 1847 at the age of eighty -eight. He had come from Volhynia, his native place, to Behring
Island at the- age of eighteen, accordingly in 1777. The two or three first years of his stay there,
i.e., until 1779 or 1780, sea-cows were still being killed as they pastured on sea-weed. The heart
only was eaten, and the hide used for baydars. In consequence of its thickness the hide was split
in two, and the two pieces thus obtained hat! goue to make a bayilur twenty feet long, seven and a
half feet broad, and three feet deep. After that time no sea-cows had been killed.'

"There is evidence, however, that a sea-cow had been seen at the island still later. Two
Creoles, Feodor Mertchenin and Stepnotf, stated that about twenty-five years ago [in 1854] at
Tolstoj-mys, on the east side of the island, they had seen an animal unknown to them which was
very thick before, but grew smaller behind, had small fore-feet, and appeared witti a length of about
lifteen feet above water, now raising itself up, now lowering itself. The animal 'blew,' not through
blow-holes, but through the mouth, which was somewhat drawn out. It was brown in colour with
some lighter spots. A back fin was wanting, but when the animal raised itself it was horrible, on
account of its great leanness, to see its backbone projecting. I instituted a thorough examination
of both my informants. Their accounts agreed completely, and appeared to have claims to be
regarded as trustworthy. That the animal that they saw was actually a sea-cow, is clearly proved
both by the description of the animal's form and way of pasturing in the water, and by the account
of the way in which it breathed, its colour, and leanness. In Ausfiirliche Benchreibung ron nontler-
baren Meerthieren, Steller says, page 97: 'While they pasture, they raise every fourth or fifth min-
ute their nose from the water in order to blow out air and a little water. Page 98: 'During winter
they are so lean that it is possible to count their vertebra? and ribs'; and page 54, 'some sea-cows
have pretty large white spots and streaks, so that they have a spotted appearance.' As these
natives had no knowledge of Steller's description of the animal, it is impossible that their state-
ments can be false. The death-year of the Rhy Una race must therefore be altered at least to 1854." 3

Neither of the statements appear improbable, but they should be accepted, I believe, with
caution. At all events, the Sea-cow was practically extinct within four decades from the time of
its discovery.

CAUSES OF THE EXTINCTION. Two causes have been assigned for this rapid destniction.
The most generally accepted notion is that the rate of capture much exceeded that of the increase
of the animal, and that extinction followed as a matter of course. Nordenskiold, however, and, in
a certain way, Brandt also avows his belief that the Sea-cow had gotten ont of harmony with its
environment many years before the Russians discovered it, and that its extermination would have

1 SCIIERKB: Op. fit.. ji|i. lo. .i.'i. and -J, fid* Xordcnskiold.

*SAUKR: RTiii;;'* Voyage, 1802, p. \*\,fidr Xordeuskiold.

3 NouDENSKiou>: Voyage of llu- V<'jj:i. Iji^lish tranalntion, ii, 1881, |>p. 277,!I78.


occurred within a comparatively short time without the intervention of man. The fact that in
Steller's time the range of the animal was much circumscribed, seems to give weight to the latter

The range of the Sea-cow, when discovered by Europeans, seems to have been confined to
Bering and Copper Islands, but the investigations of Brandt show that it probably extended
from Nishne-Kamtchatka or the bay of Karaguescensi to the coast of China and included also the
outermost islands of the Aleutian Archipelago. Sailer's statement that " Sea-Cows were very
common on Kamtchatka and on the Aleutian Islands, when they were first discovered," seems with-
out foundation, and is properly rejected by Nordenskiold. Whether the Sea-cow ever occurred on
the Aleutian Islands appears somewhat uncertain. Vosnessenski found a rib of the animal on
Attu, the last island of the archipelago, but, as Brandt suggests, it may have been derived from a
Rhytina washed thither by the waves. Mr. Lucien Turner kindly informed me that an aged Aleut
woman stated that Rhytina had been seen at Attu by her father, but such testimony is, perhaps,
not altogether satisfactory.









XI. The Alligator and the Crocodile 141


34. The Marine Turtles iu general 147

35. The Loggerhead Turtle 147

;tC. The Hawk's-bill Turtles 14'-

37. The Green Turtles I 50

38. Tlie Soft-shelled Tortoises 162

39. The Snapping Turtles 163

40. The Musk Tortoises 13*

41. The Fresh-water Terrapins 166

4JJ. The Dianioncl-back or Salt-water Terrapin 166

4X The Pond Tortoises 167

44. The Box Tortoises I 58


4!>. The Bull-frog lr>9





reptiles of the Crocodile family, one a true Crocodile, Crocodilutt acutus, Cuv., and the other the
well known Alligator Alligator mitisiiisippienHUi, Daudin. 1 The former animal is of rare occurrence,
only a few spedmi'iis having been captured in the United States, and it can, therefore, scarcely
claim attention from a commercial standpoint. 9 I shall confine iny remarks to the Alligator.

ORIGIN OP THE NAME "ALLIGATOR." The origin of the name "Alligator" is involved
somewhat in obscurity, but several theories have been entertained regarding it. "Some," says
Holbrook, 3 "have supposed it derived from the word 'Legateer' or 'Allegater,' a name by
which the young Crocodile is distinguished in some parts of India. Cuvier says it is much
more probable that it is a corruption of the Portuguese ' Lagarto,' derived from the Latin * LacertaJ
as Hawkins writes it 'Alagartos,' and Sloan, in his 'History of Jamaica,' spells it < Allagator."*

The matter was undoubtedly set right by Cuvier. In the writings of all the very early
English explorers which I have been able to consult the terms " Crocodile " and " Cayman " are
generally used in alluding to the Alligator. Under the name " Cayman " it would seem that the
Alligator and the true Cayman of South America have been confounded. In Sir Walter Raleigh's
account of his travels in 1595, however, he used the name " Lagartos" for the Alligator. He says.:

" Vpou this riuer there were great store of fowle, and of many sorts : we saw in it diuers sorts
of strange fishes, and of maruellous bignes ; but for lagartos it exceeded, for there were thousands
of those vgly serpents ; and the people call it for the abundance of them, The riuer of Lagartos, in
their language." 4

The name Alligator, with its present orthography, seems to have been adopted about 1730.

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION. The geographical range of the Alligator has not been very
accurately defined. Holbrook 5 fixes the nQrthern limit on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the
Neuse River, North Carolina, although at the present day it is doubtful whether any specimens
could be found so far north. It occurs in increasing numbers southward, and is comparatively
abundant on the northeast coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It ascends the Mississippi River as far
as the mouth of the Red River. In regard to the western limit of its range, Cope states that " it

'A recent writer, the place of publishing of whoso article I have forgotten, raise* the question of the occurrence
of two species of Alligator in the South. No herpetologist, however, so far as I am aware, has made such a distinction,
and I cannot, therefore, give the matter more than a passing notice here.

I have been able to gather but few references to instances of the actual capture of C. acute* in Florida. Wyraan,
I believe, first pointed ont its existence in that state, in 1869, bating his remarks on the features of a skull sent from
the Miami River by Mr. William H. Hunt. (See Amer. Journal of Sci. & Arts, xlix, 1870, pp. 105-106.)

Another specimen, this time a full-grown animal, was obtained by Mr. H. A. Ward, of Rochester, New York,
in Bascnyne Bay, Florida. This specimen is now in the National Museum.

Still another Crocodile was said to have been captured in North Lake, Florida, in 1875, by a Mr. William Butler,
but whether this specimen was ever sent to a museum, or wan identified by a professional hMpatolqgMy I am unable
to say. (See Forest and Stream, ir, 1878, p. 167.) Two other writers, Mr. C. J. Mayuard, of Ni-wtoiivillc, Mnss.,
and a gentleman concealed under the pseudonym " Wanderer," claim to have seen the Crocodile in Florida, the former
in 1867. (See Forest and Stream, xiii, 1880, p. 867.)

* HOLBROOK: North American Herpetology, ii, 1842, p. 61.

RALEIOH : The Discoverie of the large, rich, and beautifull empire of Guiana. <Haklnyt's Collection of Voyage*,
iv, 1811, p. 137.

Op. cH.


is common in the waters of the Guadalupe drainage, and is occasionally seen in the San Antonio
River, within the limits of the city of San Antonio," ' and Professor Baird has recorded a specimen
from Brownsville, Tex., on the Rio Grande. 2 From thence its range extends southward into
South America.

ABUNDANCE. The Alligator is growing less and less abundant, particularly on the Atlantic
coast, and on the west coast of Florida, owing to the increase of population and the reckless
manner in which it has been hunted and destroyed. Many persons have engaged in slaughtering
these creatures merely for the sport which is supposed to be derived from so doing, no use having
been made of the carcasses.

SIZE. The Alligator is the largest living reptile occurring within the United States, and is
approached in size only by the marine turtles. Holbrook records having seen one which was
thirteen and a half feet long, 3 while Bartram, in his narrative of travels in Florida, affirms that
they attain a length of twenty to twenty-three feet in that region. 4 The latter statement, however,
must be taken with some caution; if true, it would seem that the Alligator does not now attain his
former wonted proportions. From a note in " Forest and Stream," of 1870, we learn that " the
largest alligator killed in Florida for many years was shot last spring [187G] by Dr. De Marmon, of
Kingsbridge, N. Y. The animal measured 12 feet 6 inches in length when spread on the dock. It
was 6 feet 10 inches round the body, 5 feet 10 inches around the jaws, and weighed about 700
pounds. The head, which is now in the doctor's possession, is 30 inches long. It was killed on
the Homosassa River, about two miles from Alfred Jones's grove." 5 The average length would
appear to be about ten feet.

FOOD AND MANNER OF OBTAINING IT. The food of Alligators consists almost exclusively
of fish and such small land or semi-aquatic animals as it is able to secure. It would appear that
they are also expert fly-catchers. The quaint allusion of Exqtiemelin to this subject is too
interesting to be omitted. "The Caymanes? he says, "are ordinarily busied in hunting and
catching of flies, which they eagerly devour. The occasion is, because close unto their skin,
they have certain little scales, which smell with a sweet sent, something like unto musk. This
aromatick odour is coveted by the flies, and here they come to repose themselves and sting.
Thus they both persecute each other continually, with an incredible hatred, and antipathy." 6

The existence of this habit, I have recently beeii informed, has been frequently confirmed
in Louisiana by reliable observers; but the gentleman who informed me was inclined to believe
that it is the saliva which attracts the flies into the gaping jaws of the Alligator. The manner
in which the reptile secures his fill of fishes is related by Dowler in a paper written in 1846, who
founded his remarks on the statements of some, to him, credible observers. He writes as follows:

"Many authors assert that Alligators cannot 'swallow under water. In offering some facts
to disprove this assumption, the sagacity of these animals will be more or less illustrated. A
gentleman, on two occasions, watched Alligators when catching sunfish, which were swimming in
shoals in shallow water. The Alligator placed his long body at a suitable distance from the shore.
As soon as the fish came between him and the land, he curved his body so that they could not
pass; the tail was moored on land; the mouth was opened under water, and brought so close to

1 COPE: On the Zoological Position of Texas. Bull. U. S. National Museum, No. 17, 1880, p. 13.

'GiRARD: Herpetology, U. 8. and Mex. Boundary Survey, ii, pt. 2, p. 5.

3 HOLBROOK : North American Herpetology, ii, 1842, p. 56.

1 BARTRAM: Travels through East and West Florida, 1791, p. 128.

'Forest and Stream, vii, 1876, p. 84.

I Ivji LMri.i.N : Buccaneers of America. English translation, 1684, p. 48.


the shore that tin- fish h;ul no method of escaping but through the month, where they were
cut lapped. Inriilit ill Si'i/IIiiin, '/HI rult ritiii'r (.'liin-i/l>ilim. ni

PUGNACITY ov 1111. ALLIGATOR. When we come to consider the possibility of the Alligator's
ability to attack successfully largo terrestrial animals, such as horses and cows, as well as men,
we find ourselves in great doubt. The accumulated testimony of travelers and observers on
this point can hardly be set aside, although several critical writers have done so, with ridicule.
Whether it was that the earlier observers, misled by the forbidding appearance of the Alligator,
were repeatedly imposed upon by fabulous stories, or whether they actually saw, at least in part,
what they recorded, seems to me, I must confess, a very open question. To cite all the accounts
of mishaps which are said to have occurred to man and beast through the aggressiveness of the
Alligator, would be to fill many pages of this volume. I can only refer to one or two prominent

llerrara -jives the following account of the Alligator in the harbor near Porto Belo, at the
Isthmus of Panama, on the occasion of Goluinbus's explorations there in 1502:

"In the Harbour there were extraordinary large Alligators, that went to sleep ashore, and
smelt like Musk, being so ravenous, that if they find a Man asleep on the Land, they drag him
away to devour him: tho' they are so timorous, that they fly, when attack'd. There are many of
them in these Itivers that fall into the North Sea, but many more in those that empty themselves
in the South Sea, and they are very like, if not the same as the Crocodiles of the Hirer Nile." 2

Kaleigh. after his allusion to the "river of Lagartos," a tributary of the Orinoko, as already
quoted, adds: "I had a negro a very proper yoong fellow, who leaping out of the galley to swim
in the mouth of the river, was in all our sights taken and devoured with one of those lagartos." 3

llerrara, again, relating what happened to the Spaniards in Central America in 1510, writes:

"At Panama an Alligator has been known to take a Man oft' from the Stearn of a Boat, and
carry him away to the Hocks, where as he was tearing him in pieces he was kill'd by a Musket
Shot: the Man being recover'd as the Monster was biting him oft' near the Groin was carried to the
Hospital, where he liv'd long enough to receive the Kites of the Church." 4

Velasquez seems also to have been impressed with the ferocity of the Alligator during his
sojourn in Cuba. By Herrara he is made to say :

"On the South Side about the Middle there runs down into the Sea a mighty Kiver, which the
Indian* call Cauto, the Banks of it are very agreeable, and in it are a vast Multitude of Alligators.
Those who happen to be benighted near it, must be upon their Guard, for those Creatures then
come out of the Water, walk about the Laud, and if they can surprize a Man, they drag him into
the Water, and devour him. They sometimes do so by such as venture to ford the River, and even
by Horses. They are to be found all over the Itidieg, especially to the southward, but in Cuba only
in this Kiver." 5

In the eighteenth century the writer who is most loud in the denunciation of the Alligator is
Bartram. He has devoted several pages of his book to the relation of the habits of these animals,
from which I will quote a few lines. Although he begins his account with a query as to how ho
shall do credit to what he observed without arousing the suspicion of his readers regarding his
veracity, his description seems overdrawn:

"My apprehensions were highly alarmed after being a spectator of so dreadful a battle; it was
obvious that every delay would but tend to increase my dangers and difficulties, as the sun was

'DOWLKR, BENNET, M. D. : Contributions to the Natural History of the Alligator. New Orleans, 1846.
HKKKARA (STKVKNS): Hist. Arner., i, 17'.ir>, p. $11.

Iv M.Miiiil : tin: ril.. p. i:!7.

1 III 1:1: M:\ -MI.VKNS): Hint. Aiuer., ii, 1725, p. 100.
HKKKAKA (STEVENS): Hint. Ainer., ii, 1735, pp. 11, 1 -.


near setting, and the alligators gathered around my harbour, from all quarters ; from these con-
siderations I concluded to be expeditious in my trip to the lagoou, in order to take some fish. Not
thinking it prudent to take my fusee with me, lest I might lose it overboard in case of a battle, which
I had every reason to dread before my return, I therefore furnished myself with a club for my
defence, went on board, and penetrating the first line of those which surrounded my harbour,
they gave way ; but being pursued by several very large ones, I kept strictly on the watch and
paddled with all my might towards the entrance of the lagoon, hoping to be sheltered there from
the multitude of my assailants; but ere I had half-way reached the place, I was attacked ou all
sides, several endeavoring to overset the canoe.

"My situation now became precarious to the last degree: two large ones attacked me closely,
at the same instant, rushing up with their heads and part of their bodies above the water, roaring
terribly and belching floods of water over me. They struck their jaws together so close to my ears
as almost to stun me, and I expected every moment to be dragged out of the boat and instantly
devoured, but I applied my weapons so effectually about me, though at random, that I was so
successful as to beat them off a little." 1

Writers of the present century also allude to cases of fatal attacks by Alligators; I may
quote one instance. Wells, writing of Lake Nicaragua in 1857, says: "Large tiberones (sharks)
have been captured in the lake ; and a few months previous, a woman at Virgin Bay, washing
on the banks, was seized and killed by an alligator." 2 Many other similar statements are on record.
The mass of most recent writers and investigators, however, seem inclined to regard all tales of
the Alligator's aggressiveness as idle fiction, and contend with one accord that he is sluggish,
harmless, and even timid, and that the damage which he sometimes does with tail and jaws
when wounded and tormented is due to aimless madness induced by pain, and not to any deliberate
attempt at revenge.

The stomach of Alligators is often found to contain, in addition to its natural food, a num-
ber of rounded masses of hard material, large pebbles and other indigestible matter. Zoologists
are not agreed regarding the function of these objects, some supposing that they aid in reducing
other matter taken into the stomach, and others that they serve to keep the stomach distended
when the animal is in a state of hibernation in winter. It seems probable, however, that they are
swallowed by mistake for better food, or are taken down with more nutritious matter when he
feeds too greedily.

MODE OP LIFE. Alligators are pre-eminently fitted for an aquatic or semi-aquatic life. In the

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 28 of 146)