The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic
SEA LIONS in tussac


Sealers were versatile and when one species was depleted they would harvest another. When Fur sealsl became scarce on the Falklands attention turned to the Southern Sealions (then known as 'Hair Seals'). They provided not only a marketable skin but more importantly, oil. In 1842 Governor Moody reported that 'the hair seals which were formerly so abundant on these islands have decreased considerably in number, in consequence of the wanton destruction at all times of the year when they can be met with; neither old seals nor pups are spared by the sealers'. He also said that 'the hair seals were the most numerous, and although their skin is not of great value, yet combined with their oil, which is of a very good quality, the taking them may still yield a good return'.

An article in the Illustrated London News dated April 19, 1856 carries a report and illustration ofSealion hunting in the Falkland Islands:

'In some of the smaller islands, which are generally  covered with Tussac grass, the seals congregate in great numbers, called rookeries: and, to avoid the danger of attacking them under cover, the sealers set fire to the grass, which of course, obliges the alarmed inhabitants to scamper helter skelter   down their pathways to the sea, on the road to which they are attacked and slain in great numbers for their oil and skins.'

The seals were up to breed on the islands and had young, and the the island's tussac was burned so with no restrictions or protection the lucrative hunting of this seal soon depleted their numbers. James Lovegrove Waldron- Notebook and Diary 1866- 1867 leaves us an insight into the trade and state of Falkland seal stocks in 1866: 'A few years ago seals were very numerous on these islands but being mercilessly killed at all times both young and old, they are becoming very scarce, both fur and hair seal, although it is but justice to say they the young being left always pined away and died. They now have to seek them on the coast of Patagonia and South Georgia.  However, with the departure of the Canadian sealers, around 1908/ 09 after they found it unviable, the sealions recovered enough to come to the notice of sealers again and in 1928 the Falkland Islands and Dependencies Sealing Company Ltd. was born, backed by the Falklands Government and formed by some Falkland Islanders and Norwegians with South Georgia interests. This enterprise was based at the North West Arm at Albemarle, and boasted a factory with accommodation for the gang of 30 employees who could in one day gather up to 300 sealions and kill them. This was done by driving them into a corral with stock whips and shooting them, then processing them for their oil. The venture struggled on for a decade, eventually closing in 1938, with no profit but a loss of 40,000 sealions lives. In 1950 attempts to harvest seals at Albemarle station began again, sponsored and overseen by the Colonial Development Corporation. This was more closely monitored, only large males were allowed to be taken with hides and meat being utilized as well at the blubber for rendering to oil. Seals, sealions and elephants were gathered by schooner from as far away as George and Barren Islands, Carcass, and Sea Lion island and taken to Albemarle for processing but still, after only two and a half years the project was abandoned and Albemarle closed. There were simply not enough seals.

Today The Falkland Islands Marine Mammals Ordinance 1992 protects all marine mammals in all waters from the coast to the edge of the economic exclusion zone and Sea Lions have recovered.

Photographic credits: Ali & Marlane Marsh- Sea Lions Jason Island
Sources include: The Falkland Islands- Ian J Strange, James Lovegrove Waldron- Notebook and Diary 1866- 1867, The Falkland Islands- G Moir

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