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Hunting the sea otter Allan, Alexander, active 1796-1801 1910

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INGS, E.G. |fSi
ioio.  ""'       mm
Alexander  Allan.
feonbon *
In the following pages I have endeavoured, from a sporting
point of view, to give the reader some account of a hunting
cruise among the Kurile Islands in quest of one of the
most interesting and, as regards commerce, valuable of all
the fur-bearing animals, the sea otter, and to furnish details
also as to the method of hunting employed, which will
hardly fail to attract attention, as, up to the present time,
scarcely a record exists from the pen of an eye-witness.
To these will be added such particulars of the haunt> and
habits of the animal as time and circumstances allowed me
to observe.
Born on the surface of the heaving ocean and cradled
in the tempest, the sea otter only makes its home on such
storm-swept waters and inhospitable coasts as almost
preclude its pursuit by any but the hardy natives, whose
lives have been spent amidst the surroundings of those
gloomy regions and who are inured to peril and privation.
The great distance from a base of supplies, expensive
outfit, and the impossibility of effecting an insurance on
the vessel in the event of shipwreck; the total absence, in
many cases, of harbours, or, indeed, shelter of any kind,
all add to the difficulty of the undertaking, nothing
lessened by the shortness of the hunting season and
rigorous climate.
During the two or three months that constitute the
summer  of   the, North   Pacific   Islands,  four-and-twenty
r IV
hours of fine weather is a matter of rare occurrence. Cold
and wet alternate during the greater part of each month,
while such stray sunshine as occasionally relieves the
dulness, however cheering at the moment, is in reality but
a further aggravation of the hunter's discomfort by
scorching the skin into a state of tenderness ill-adapted
to facing the salt spray and chilling gales that succeed
each other so rapidly in these latitudes.
Beyond a short description in some American Government, reports, there is* no work devoted exclusively to sea
otter hunting, and this must be my excuse for venturing
into print, both tastes and pursuits having led me more to
the contemplation of Nature's works than to the use of the
pen and the acquisition of what is demanded in literary
My very best thanks are due to my nephew, Mr. Malcolm
H. Beattie, for his care and patience with illustrations and
reproduction of sketches.
Alex. Allan. CONTENTS.
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• 154
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. 163
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• 174
J  1
THE SEA OTTER...   ... frontispiece
ROVER AND THE SEA   LION           facing page 44
ARCH   ROCK                       ,,           „ 60
A  BREACHING  OTTER                 |           „ 81
WAITING  FOR  THE   OTTER   TO   RISE     ...          „           „ lOO
NEARING THE   END   OF  THE   HUNT       ...          „           „ 120
THE TYPHOON                          „           ,, 150
CREEK              ...                        „           „ 180  HUNTING THE SEA OTTER.
TOWARDS the end of the seventeenth century, Feodore
Altosov, with a band of pioneering Cossacks, arrived
at the end of the Kamschatka Peninsula and became
acquainted, for the first time, with the rare and beautiful fur
of the sea-otter. Ignorant of their value, and prizing them
but little above the skins of hair seals and sea-lions, the
natives were only too glad to barter the pelts for such
trifles as the Russians possessed. Greed on the one side
and fear of the intruders on the other led before long to
the practical extermination of the animal along the whole
of the Kamschatkan seaboard. A new impulse was given,
however, to this profitable trade in 1743, when the survivors
of Veit Behring's second and disastrous voyage landed at
Petropaulovski, bringing with them large quantities of otter
skins from the hitherto unknown Aleutian and Commander
Islands. Two years later Michael Novidoskov pushed
boldly into the seas farther north, and, after exploring them
for a distance of seven hundred miles in an open boat,
beached his primitive bark on the shores of Attoo, the
extreme western islet of the Aleutian Chain. Quickly
followed' by others as hardy and intrepid as himself, the
trade carried on in the rude vessels of the time soon
assumed such proportions that by 1769 a great part of
Alaska had been explored and roughly charted, while in
1799, when the Russian-American Company was incorporated under the authority of the Government of St.
Petersburg, there  were   more than sixty distinct trading
B 2 Hunting the Sea  Otter.
companies on the Alaskan waters alcne. The consolidation
of these companies into one great corporation put an end
to the sanguinary quarrels amongst the rival traders, and
perhaps lessened somewhat the cruel persecution of the
unhappy natives who frequently sought redress for their
wrongs in wholesale massacre. By the appointment of a
resident governor, invested with almost absolute powers
and backed by a military force, the introduction of order
into a hitherto lawless and utterly irresponsible community
may have been beneficial to the traders and natives, but
the object of their pursuit gained no protection in the
way of regulation or system in the times and methods of
Heedless of the inevitable consequences of such a
short-sighted policy, already so clearly demonstrated in
Kamschatka, and regardless of the palpable diminution in
the number of furs obtained, the early hunters contemplated
with unconcern the practical extirpation of the source of
their wealth, which became simply a matter of time. At
length the Company was bankrupt alike in resources
and credit, its footsteps being dogged with the results of
ignorance and neglect; and the termination of its charter in
1864 was taken advantage of by the Russian Government
to put an end both to the Company and the Colony.
Finally, in the year following, for the sum of $7,200,000,
the whole of the Alaskan territory was formally transferred
to the United States.
In order to form some idea of the enormous numbers of
sea otters which during the early years of discovery existed
on these coasts, it may be mentioned that two sailors,
Lukannow and Karekov, killed at St. Paul's Island, in the
first year of occupation, five thousand, the next year less than
one thousand, and six years afterwards not a single otter
was seen; and none have appeared since. When Skellikov's
party first visited Cook's Inlet they secured three thousand,
during the second year two thousand, in the third, only eight
hundred ; even this diminished number fell the next season Hunting the Sea  Otter. 3
to six hundred; and since then not a tenth of this number
has been taken in any one year. At the first visit made by
the Russians to the Gulf of Yahkutat in 1794, two thousand
sea otters were taken, but the numbers went down so
rapidly that within five years of this date less than three
hundred rewarded the hunter's toil. In 1798 a large
party of Russians and Aleuts secured in Sitka Sound and
neighbourhood twelve hundred skins; besides these they
obtained by trading with the natives fully as many more ;
and in the spring of 1800 a few American and English vessels
came to the same spot, anchored off the small Russian settlement, and traded with the natives for over two thousand skins.
The largest number, however, that was exported to the
Okhotsk was during the early days of the Company above
mentioned, when fifteen thousand skins were brought away
from the coast of Alaska.
Owing" to the more favourable conditions under which
hunting could be prosecuted elsewhere, the whole of the
American coast proper, that is from Lower California to
Alaska, the extremities of the sea otter's range, has long
been abandoned as a profitable hunting ground; such few
skins as are still obtained would scarcely amount to one
hundred annually; although Sir George Simpson, writing in
1841, states that since 1814 the Russians had sent to market
the enormous number of eighty thousand sea otter skins
from California alone.
So much for the state of affairs under Russian administration. Let us now see what the United States Government
have done for the preservation of the sea otter and the
protection of the natives who depend upon their barter as
the only means of ameliorating the conditions under which
they existed.
Mr. W. H. Elliott, the special agent of the Treasury
Department, charged with the Government interests in
Alaska, writing in 1875 remarks: " Now, during the last
season, instead of less than seven hundred skins as obtained
by the Russians, our trade has secured not much less than
B 2 Hunting the Sea  Otter.
four thousand. This immense difference is not due to the
fact of there being a proportionate increase of sea otters,
but to organisation. Yet the keen competition of our
traders will ruin the business in a comparatively short time
if some action is not taken by the Government. This can
easily be done, and in such a manner as to perpetuate the
sea otter and to benefit the natives, who are dependent on
its hunting for a living. As matters are now conducted by
the hunting parties, the sea otters at Saanach and the
Chernobours do not have a day's rest during the whole
year. Parties relieve each other in succession, and a
continuous warfare is maintained. This persistence is
stimulated by the traders, and is rendered still more deadly
to the sea otters by the use of rifles of the best make,
which, in the hands of the young and ambitious natives, in
spite of the warnings of the old men, must result in the
extermination of these animals, as no authority exists in
the land to prevent it; for these same old men, in order to
compete with the riflemen successfully, have to drop their
bows, spears, and arrows, and take up fire-arms in self-
defence. So the bad work goes on rapidly, though a
majority of the natives and the traders deprecate it."
As the above remarks are embodied in Mr. Elliott's
interesting work on Alaska, published in 1886, it is to be
presumed that no steps have been taken in the matter;
and the work of extermination goes on unheeded and
Such is a brief history of the long-continued course of
pursuit, varied occasionally by wholesale slaughter, which
has reduced the numbers and diminished the haunts of the
sea otter till, at the present time, it is only amidst
the stormy waters that gird with barriers of foam the
most inaccessible coasts and islands of the North
Pacific that it is now to be found, but in such trifling
numbers as have relegated its pursuit from one of the
most profitable of trades to the region of speculative
enterprise. Hunting the Sea  Otter. 5
It was only after a somewhat extended residence in
Japan, and when the writer had been long acquainted with
the fact that the habitat of the sea otter covered a stretch
from the Kamschatka Peninsula as far south as the Kurile
or Northern Japanese Islands, and had from frequent
description become familiar with the methods of hunting
employed by the natives on both continents, that the
subject became personally interesting, leading up as it did
to the expedition, an account of which will form the matter
of this book. A more intimate knowledge of the American
method of hunting, adapted from that of the natives with
all the superior advantages of civilisation, the boat and
rifle taking the place of the skin "bidarkie," the spear, or
the bow, suggested a cruise in these waters. There was
the alluring prospect of sport and adventure, leaving little
room for the colder but more practical calculation of
profits; and the delights of anticipation generally exceed
the enjoyment of the object when obtained.
About two years previous to the venture contemplated,
a small American whaler, which had been fishing in the
Okhotsk, had the misfortune to be wrecked on one of the
northern points of the island of Yezo. The captain and
those of the crew who were saved were kindly treated by
the Japanese, and when sufficiently recovered to bear the
journey were dispatched overland to Hakodate, where they
took steamer to Yokohama and eventually reached home.
This captain, who occasionally varied the occupation of
whaling with that of sealing, or sea otter hunting, finding
how scarce whales had become in what at one time had been
the El Dorado of the whaler, had been quite willing to
explore the neighbouring islands and to examine their
coasts in the hopes of falling in with a shoal of larger or
smaller prey. How far success attended his enterprise is
unknown, as little was saved from the wreck, but the
information he gave on his landing in Japan was that it had
been worth while for him to keep on the ground until the
season had become too far advanced for safety, the coast Hunting the Sea  Otter.
an unusually dangerous one, being subject to the most
violent and sudden storms, powerful currents, and impenetrable fogs. A few sea otters were found as far south as
Skotan, a few round Kunashir, and a sufficient number off
Yetorup and Urup to make hunting profitable. A black
or silver-grey fox, the most valuable of all the fur-bearing
animals, was shot on Skotan, though, unfortunately, in its
summer coat. Altogether, in spite of his loss, the
prospects were sufficiently good to cause the captain to
express his intention of returning the following year with
another vessel, solely for the purpose of sea otter hunting;
while the description he gave of the manner in which the
chase was carried on, together with the united charms of
healthful sea life, the excitement of the hunt, and the
pleasure of exploration, were alluring in the extreme.
Perhaps the very meagreness of the information obtained,
with its unavoidable poverty of detail, leaving so much to
the imagination, only added to the fascination of an enterprise which, while promising an amount of sport of a most
original description with sufficient danger to give a spice
to it, would not improbably result in reimbursement for the
heavy outlay demanded. The wish to try the experiment
was strengthened by repeated conversations with a friend
of kindred tastes; and at length it was determined that, in
the event of being able to find a suitable vessel—and this
was no mean difficulty—a pioneering expedition should be
dispatched on our own account, with as perfect an equipment as the lateness of the season and the difficulties to be
surmounted would permit.
We were both of that age when success seems almost
a foregone conclusion, and failure appears but as a remote contingency, easily to be warded off even when at
hand. So the venture, in which I could not personally
participate, owing to a Government appointment which
would not terminate till the spring of the following
year, was undertaken by my companion, with his usual
energy;    and  a  small   pilot   schooner,   the    only   vessel Hunting the Sea  Otter. 7
available,   was   purchased  and   hastily  equipped  for the
voyage. ^
Sanguine as we were, it was impossible to be altogether
satisfied with the result of our exertions, whether in
regard to vessel, crew, or armament. But the resources at
our disposal, however limited and inefficient, were the only
means by which experience—always difficult and generally
costly—was to be obtained. And we parted at length with
the understanding that, if even partial success should crown
our efforts, the present attempt should be followed up by us
both in the ensuing spring in such a manner and with such
an outfit as the practical knowledge, which it was expected
would be gained, might dictate.
Briefly stated, this voyage was neither pleasant nor
profitable. The vessel was not only old but unseaworthy,
the skipper incompetent} the crew insubordinate, and both
outfit and armament, in the shape of boats and rifles, defective.
So leaky was the old schooner that the pumps were seldom
at rest, and before a quarter of the distance to the hunting
ground had been completed both masts went by the board
during a sudden squall off Scindai Bay. This caused a
delay of over two months, and when eventually the scene
of operations was reached, the lateness of the season prevented anything beyond the chance of a partial repayment
of the expenses incurred; in fact, nothing but the indomitable energy and perseverance of my active partner,
Captain Snow, prevented the whole affair from being a
complete failure. It had been the original intention to
remain as late in the winter as possible, but the rotten state
of the old craft made it only too evident that she was ill-
prepared to face the furious blasts of a northern autumn.
As the season advanced, chains had to be bound round
her to keep the hull from going to pieces; battens were
nailed over the more open seams to keep the water out; so
—thankful to reach the little fishing village and harbour of
Nemoro, situated at the northern end of the Island of
Yezo — Snow ran  the old hulk ashore  and burned  her. 8
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
Fortunately, the Japanese Governor was very friendly disposed, and generously offered a godown, or fireproof
building, for the storage of what was preserved, Snow
stating his intention to return for them in another vessel.
The iron knees with which the old schooner had been built,
and to obtain which she had been burned, the Governor
promised with many declarations of good faith to forward
by junk to Hakodate at the earliest opportunity, and so, all
arrangements having been completed, inventories made,
and receipts obtained, Captain Snow presented the Governor
with a new breach-loader which he had taken a great fancy
to, and leaving Nemoro, after a journey of five hundred
miles along the seaboard, occupying about twenty-six days
and mostly performed on horseback, captain and crew
arrived safely at Hakodate.
Snow lost no time in communicating with me, giving full
particulars of the voyage, mishaps, and ultimate disaster,
adding that he had nearly paid expenses by the skins taken,
and, being sanguine of success with a more suitable vessel
and crew, expressed his determination of getting such a
craft put in hand without delay, so as to be ready by the
following spring. To his urgent request that he might be
joined by me in the new expedition my assent was readily
The shipbuilding interest in Hakodate was, and it is still
to be hoped is, represented by an Englishman, Mr.
Thompson, equally well known for geniality, kindness, and
generosity; a Sunderland man, moreover, whose family
had been for generations shipbuilders, his knowledge and
mechanical skill eminently qualified him to execute the
commission with the strictest attention to the minutest
detail. In the hope that this may some day meet the eye
of friend Thompson, this opportunity is gladly taken of
repeating once more our thanks, with the same sincerity
that they were tendered when we parted, for the many acts
of kindness and hospitality received by us all at the hands
of himself and his partner, Mr. Bewick.
w Hunting the Sea  Otter. 9
So the Snowdrop was commenced, and shortly afterwards Snow returned to Yokohama.
To hunt the sea otter properly three boats are required,
each carrying four hands ; two to row, one with a paddle,
to steer, and one to shoot. The first three, it was intended,
should be Japanese, the last necessarily a European or
American. Snow and myself would each take a boat,
therefore another comrade was required. Fortunately, a
young Englishman was soon found as third hunter; he
possessed a captain's certificate in the American mercantile
marine ; our new associate could thus discharge the double
functions of hunter and skipper, but his certificate necessitated our sailing under the stars and stripes. This was no
disadvantage, for America was represented at that time by
a very able and energetic minister, whose recall later on
through the exigencies of political parties was much
regretted by the community, as he had so zealously watched
over and protected their interests and policy. Perhaps the
most important part of all, that of ship-keeper, so called
from his having to keep, or work, the vessel, as the case
might be, while the boats and most of the crew were away
hunting, was to be filled by the same man who had accompanied Snow before. In this we were exceptionally
fortunate, for Mr. Baker, a Jerseyman, held a first mate's
certificate, and was, moreover, like most Channel Islanders,
a thorough seaman, full of resources as a sailor should be,
sober, active, and capital company. His services from first
to last were invaluable.
On Sunday, April 19th, with a perfect cargo of
guns, rifles, ammunitions, and stores of all kinds, we embarked for Hakodate in an old P. & O. steamer which had
been bought and re-christened by the Japanese. Our
skipper soon discovered, to his disgust, that she was completely manned and commanded by Japanese—rather an
unusual thing in those days, it being the rule to have at
least a European or American captain and engineer. As
he seemed much put out on this point, we proposed that he 10
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
should on no account leave the bridge, remarking casually
that it would only be a matter of three or four days. But
the skipper, who had thrown up a comfortable appointment
on shore to accompany us, seemed to view it in a different
light. A compromise was, however, effected by which he
was to offer his services to the Japanese captain, remaining
on deck as much as possible, especially at night; while we
promised very solemnly to keep him on the alert in the event
of danger, or when the drowsy god proved too much for weak
human nature. It need hardly be said that this promise
was religiously kept for the next three days by means of
alarming intelligence of stormy skies, breakers ahead, and
other imaginary perils, whenever the unfortunate skipper
lay down—a relaxation which, having nothing to do, he often
indulged in. He invariably declared, on being awakened,
that he had just come off deck.
At ten o'clock on the fourth day we were abreast of
Tchoochee, an extensive fishing town, backed with a large
blunt-topped hill completely covered with pines. The
coastline in the immediate vicinity was fringed with hills
more or less precipitious which rose to a height apparently
about three hundred feet, their outline was pretty regular
till they terminated in perpendicular cliffs. The Lighthouse of Boie indicated to vessels arriving the dangerous
strand. At three on the fifth day we were off Scindai
Bay, the scene of Snow's first disaster. Here the scenery
was very beautiful, the coast being deeply indented, the
mountains higher and splendidly timbered to their very
summits. It is here that the wonderful lake or inlet
studded with a thousand islands and so frequently depicted
in Japanese Kakimonos, though never yet explored by any
but the natives, is said to be situated.
At seven o'clock on the sixth day, a Wednesday, we had
passed Cape Shiriya, the Whale Back, and the Rattler rock,
the last so-called after one of our vessels wrecked on it.
At noon, after a calm, uneventful passage, we dropped
anchor in the beautiful, land-locked bay of Hakodate; the Hunting the Sea  Otter.
air was cold but clear and invigorating, the surrounding
hills being still covered with a mantle of snow. For the next
fortnight we were all busily occupied, helping Baker with the
sails and rigging of the Snowdrop which was already afloat,
having been launched a week prior to our arrival. On May
7th we were ready to sail, but, pending the long-promised
delivery of our "papers" from the Japanese authorities, we
took a short trial cruise round the bay to test our vessel and
crew. Everything proved as satisfactory as could be
expected, only more so, as the skipper observed. Before
commencing our voyage, it will be as well, perhaps, to give
some description of the ship and her crew.
Built entirely by Japanese carpenters under the constant
supervision of Thompson—the native dikesan being quite as
clever at " scamping' his work as his more civilised
brother—the Snowdrop was a fore and aft schooner with
pole masts and of about the following dimensions :—
Length over all	
Length of water line
Draught, loaded	
The knees were all of solid
62 tons B.M.
70 feet.
60   ,,
18   ,,
native-grown oak, requiring
but a slight trimming with the axe before being put in their
places. This abnormal angularity is owing to the fierceness
of the blasts that, at all times of the year, but especially in
winter, sweep over them with resistless force. Sheltered
and upheld by the deep snow, they struggle upward gnarled
and lichen covered; but here their course is checked, and
frequent bending to the storm results, as they grow, in
strange and weird shapes and angles.
Although the Governor of Nemoro had repeatedly
promised that the iron knees, to obtain which Snow had
burned his vessel, should be dispatched as early as possible
to Hakodate, they never appeared, and, when a few weeks
later we reached that place, they were to be seen exactly as
they had been left eight months  before.    With laudable
J mm
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
prudence Thompson, after waiting for them a considerable
time, had determined to dispense with them altogether, or
the expedition would have been delayed an indefinite time ;
indeed, entirely abandoned.
A raised poop, about two feet six inches high, extending
aft from the mainmast, gave good head room to the cabin
and, stopping short at the cabin scuttle, left a large cockpit,
in which were the wheel and binnacle. Taken altogether,
she was a strong, roomy little craft; her principal weakness,
we soon discovered, was a decided tendency to make leeway,
consequent on her great beam and light draught; and, though
the latter on more than one occasion saved a scrape on the
rocks, the uncomfortable fact was always present that,
should it come to clawing off a lee shore, our position would
be anything but agreeable, and our chances of the smallest.
The difficulties attending the design of a vessel especially
adapted for the purposes of sea-otter hunting were, almost
of necessity, very great, and will be appreciated when it
is remembered how many essential points have to be
Room on deck was. required.for. four boats, three for
hunting, and one for such rough work as getting wood and
water; these had all to be lashed on deck when not in use;
below, storage for eight or ten months' provisions for a large
crew, water for all purposes for a month, wood for the store,
galley, cabins and magazine, and yet the craft to be
sufficiently small to be worked in all kinds of weather by two
men and a boy, only one of whom, the ship-keeper, would
be a sailor. The crew consisted of nine men supposed to
be sailors, a cook, and a cabin boy. All of them were
natives, and occupied the fo'castle, the after part of which
formed the galley. The hold, with its two large wooden
water tanks, spare sails, and stores of all kinds, came next,
and was divided from our mess cabin by a sliding door,
through which the boy brought our meals. Right aft was
Snow's cabin, which was also the magazine, and as he was
the only non-smoker of the party he had the distinction of Hunting the Sea  Otter. 13
reposing on and being surrounded by explosives enough
to delight the heart of a dynamitard. The mess cabin
was bulk-headed on either side into berths, which, by
means of sliding doors, could, if total darkness and certain
suffocation were not objected to, be made into cabins also.
Indeed, Thompson, with a merry twinkle in his eye,
designated them as such, with more polite pretension than
truthful regard for reality. The skipper, under the excuse
of not being able to see the chronometer properly, got a
dead light inserted in the deck; but, as it was placed just
over his head and persistently leaked, he had to go to bed
in his oilskins, a fact which must have detracted somewhat
from its supposed convenience, and the stray sunbeams
which found their way through the dim glass were more
depressing than cheerful. BOBS
At length, after a series of wearisome delays, due either to
the ill-will or stupidity of the Japanese Custom House
authorities—it was difficult to say which—the skipper,
accompanied by the American Consul, managed by threats or
guile to get possession of our papers, without which we
could not legally clear out of the port; and within an hour
afterwards the anchor was weighed and the little Snowdrop,
as if in delight at her tardy freedom, spread her white wings
to the breeze and gaily threaded her tortuous way through
the surrounding junks and sampans. The breeze freshened
as we left our anchorage, and by standing well over to the
northern shore we soon drew away from under lee of the
mountain which protects the other side of the harbour, and
on whose slope the town of Hakodate is built. Ere long
the wind got steadier, though still too light to please us,
and we were abreast of the fort with nearly a mile of offing.
This fort, an ingenious arrangement of mud and stone,
which would not have stood a couple of rounds from a big
gun, was to us an object of considerable anxiety, for so
numerous had been the obtacles thrown in our way by the
Japanese authorities—obstacles which even Eastern procrastination would scarcely account for—that we were
almost forced to the conclusion that they, for some reason
of their own, had determined, if possible, to stop us
altogether; or, failing that, to delay us until the season was
so far advanced as effectually to mar the success of the
expedition. For it must be remembered that the islands
for which we were bound were surrounded in winter and
^early spring by masses of ice, even as late as the month of Hunting the Sea  Otter. 15
May, while when the September Equinox drew near terrific
gales, with their usual accompaniment of fog, swept with
relentless fury the rock-bound coasts. The hunting season
therefore being necessarily short, every day was precious;
and it may be easily understood that, having so far overcome all difficulties and having made a fair start, the
prospect of being "brought to" with a round shot across
our bows was not an agreeable one, though unfortunately
not so improbable as might be imagined. Nor were our
suspicions unfounded, as was to be amply demonstrated in
the event; but our time was not yet come, and it was only
later on that we were to be subjected to much anxiety,
danger, and that which, but for our own resolution, would
have resulted in inevitable disaster.
We had examined this fort and its primitive armament
several times during our forced inactivity, and had
determined that when we did sail we would keep well over
to the farther shore and let them blaze away till tired. As
a precaution, however, our consular friends who had come
on board to see us off and take a farewell, caused their
respective flags to be hoisted in the boats we were towing,
as a mild hint that we were under their protection.
Nothing happened to interrupt our progress, and as we
had now fairly opened the mouth of the harbour, and as
some dark clouds had begun to rise with a squally look,
the boats in tow were hauled alongside, and, after a parting
glass of petroleum champagne, and many a cordial handshake, our guests dropped over the side, and with a hearty
cheer left us to continue our onward course.
We were soon round on the other tack and heading
straight out, the wind getting lighter every minute, until,
as ill-luck would have it, just as we reached what a railway
porter once called the " entrance out," it fell a dead calm;
and, with nothing to stem the insetting tide, we drifted
steadily back, and finally, about ten o'clock, we were forced
to drop anchor under the guns of our objectionable friend
(?) the fort.    Certainly we  might  have anchored  before i6
Hunting the Sea   Otter.
drifting into such a position, but the water was deep and
the bottom rocky, and having only one small anchor and
hawser aboard, it was thought more prudent to risk the
possible danger from the fort than to incur the chance of
losing our anchor. As it happened, anchors, of which we
had the most need, were the very things in which we were
most deficient; three, at least, were absolutely necessary
for such a cruise as ours. For the islands which were our
destination were without a single harbour, or even fairly-
sheltered bay. The only chart we possessed gave but a
bare outline of the coast, and that, as we subsequently
discovered, not always correct. The terrific gusts of wind
which literally tore down the ravines or " woolled " down
the mountain sides silenced the roar of the surf, frequently
lifted the spray in steaming clouds to dash it in blinding
showers upon the deck; under these circumstances, the
possession of good holding gear was a question of the
greatest importance. To be blown off the land at such a
time meant groping one's way for days, perhaps weeks,
helpless and powerless amidst fogs and currents, without
counting loss of time. On the other hand, those days are
exceptional indeed, even during the prevalence of the
calmest weather, when a thousand leagues of ocean, restless
and unrestrained, forget to fret against its island barriers
and hurl with sullen grandeur its giant combers on their
shores. We found it difficult to procure anything in the
way of anchors suitable to so small a craft. The one we
had was bought in Yokohama, and brought with us among
our stores and personal baggage in the steamer. It would
have been folly to start so lightly equipped in many
respects, had it not been that we expected to take in
many more stores, anchors included, at a point farther on
in our course, and just previous to encountering the more
dangerous navigation of the hunting grounds.
The first night passed quietly, some amusement being
caused, when we turned in, by the discovery that our friends,
before  leaving, had  sewn up the legs and arms of  our Hunting the Sea  Otter.
pyjamas. Each one thinking that the joke had been
perpetrated on himself alone kept silence, until the skipper
let the cat out of the bag by remarking, in a very matter-
of-fact tone, that having now fairly left port, he reckoned
he would commence sleeping with his clothes on. Next
morning, by five o'clock, the anchor was up, but the wind
was light and variable, so that it was fairly noon before we
could round Cape Blunt, or Red Bluff as it is also called,
and get into the Straits of Tsugaru. As soon as this was
done we could head southwards, with a strong current in
our favour. A spanking breeze was blowing outside, and
by two o'clock we were abreast of Cape Yesan.
While Snow was giving out some tinned meats for
dinner, it was proposed that there should be a pudding of
some kind—not that anyone cared for such a thing, of
course, but merely to see how far we could trust in the
hitherto untried capabilities of our cook. This worthy
individual had a plump, sleek appearance as far as his face
was concerned, though its beauty was considerably marred
by a most pronounced squint, and his spindle legs, clothed
in tight-fitting blue continuations, gave him very much the
appearance of a paddibird. After a short, but impressive,
speech as to how apple pudding was made in civilised
communities, Snow handed him a tin of Canadian apples,
covered outside with a gorgeous representation of the red-
cheeked fruit within. Assuring us that apple pudding was
a thing of nought before his skill, he received with a low
bow the materials for the famous delicacy. The whole
proceeding reminded us of some chairman of a workhouse
committee receiving from a group of admiring tradesmen
a testimonial of esteem and regard for one who, while
lining his own pockets well, had not denied to them
corresponding advantages. The scene was impressive,
and, as all subsequently agreed, the best part of the
pudding. Whether it was through being our first dinner
on board, or because of the haze of uncertainty that
surrounded   it,   the  fact   remains  that   more  than  usual
C i8
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
interest centered in that meal; everything passed off well
till the pudding appeared.
" By Jove! boys, it looks first-rate. I always thought he
was not such a darned fool as he looks, although I never
saw a man yet that squinted who was not either a knave
or a fool," exclaimed the skipper.
"You bet I took very good care of that before I took
him," remarked the master.
But when the deceptive pudding was cut, the revulsion
of feeling was terrible, for not a vestige of apple could be
seen ; in fact, it was a suet pudding pure and simple.
" The beggar has eaten the apples," said Snow.
" He daren't," answered the mate, with a significant
glance at his sea-boots.
"Well, then, where are they?' rejoined Snow. "He
cannot have forgotten them. Look for yourselves ; I have
given it up."
This led to a more minute examination, which disclosed
the fact that the idiot had mixed both dough and apples
into one solid mass before submitting the concrete to the
pan. The mate was much disgusted, the rest of us highly
diverted. The delinquent was summoned, and stood trembling before the wreck of his handiwork, his weather eye
rolled towards the companion ladder. After a good rowing
for his conceit and for spoiling our dinner, the punishment
decreed was that he should eat it- But this was too much.
Lickings he might be accustomed to, but to swallow a
" foreign devil's " pudding was too awful, and with a yell of
terror he sprang like a monkey up the ladder, materially
assisted by one of Baker's sea-boots—in case he might slip.
Oki, our boatswain, who had acquired certain expletives,
which gave to his mangled pidgin English a warmth of tone
and colouring which would otherwise have been wanting,
gave a graphic account of the cook's sudden appearance
through the scuttle.
" I makee lookee topside deck, speakee wheelman, makee
look see cookee, all same fly.    Cabin plenty bobbery.    Son Hunting the Sea  Otter.
of a gun, I thinkee. No can savey that pidgin cookee no
makee sit down, all same sea-boot. I think all same
fooro (fool)." I I
The natural tendency of man to strong language, in order
to ease the expression of his more violent emotions, is universally illustrated, and has been even justified, by the pious
Scotchwoman, who, when reproached with the fact of her
son being too strongly addicted to swearing, replied that,
I There was nae doubt that Jock was a awfu' swearer, but
who could deny that it was a great set-aff to conversation."
Cape Yesan terminates in a large volcanic mountain,
which, rising sheer from the sea to a height of 2300 feet,
stood out in bold relief against the hard northern sky. In
the calm, clear air its blunt and somewhat rounded summit
was enveloped in a mist of steam and sulphurous vapour.
Frequent landslips revealed here and there the red
sandstone rock, contrasting vividly with the snow-like
appearance of the beds of sulphur with which its upper half
is covered.
In the still air, great columns of vapour rose like genii
from the innumerable boiling springs which studded its
base and shoulders, while every now and then from some
unseen crevice a cloud of molten sulphur, impelled by the
pent-up steam beneath, was hurled upwards with the noise
of artillery. The lively imagery of Eastern story was
witnessed in Nature's forces; the mind, so retentive of early
impressions, recalled without effort that delightful story of
boyhood's days, " The Fisherman and the Genii."
It might well have been upon some kindred shore to this,
where Nature in all her wildness and mystery reigned
supreme, some tiny sandy bay, such as we can just see
breaking the stern grandeur of the rock-bound coast, that
the lonely fisherman, with his primitive net, dragged from
the crystal depths the earthen jar. He breaks the magic
seal, and lo ! with a terrible report, where all was clear and
still before, there rises a cloud of blinding vapour, which
gradually assumes the form of the genii of the mountain.
C 2 20
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
In the Plutonic chain that skirts the eastern shores of
Asia, passes southwards through the Philippines and
Moluccas, joins the Southern Belt, and finally traverses
Sumatra and Java, the Japanese Islands may be said to take
the most prominent place for active volcanos and seismic
disturbances, and although, since the terrible earthquake of
1855 which destroyed the greater part of Tokio, and brought
death to tens of thousands of people, there has been nothing
approaching catastrophe, almost every mountain may be
said to be of volcanic origin, while no fewer than fifty are in
a state of intermittent activity. Waves of earth motion
numbering1 hundreds within a single month have been
observed and recorded by the Seismological Society. In
the south especially the earth not unfrequently opens in
cracks and chasms, making the natives fly to the bamboo
groves under the belief that the thickly interlacing roots
would so bind the surface of the ground as to prevent its
disruption. It is impossible to imagine a more disagreeable
and eerie sensation, or one more suggestive of the uncanny,
than to be suddenly awakened on one of those sultry nights'
which usually precede those visitations, by the violent
rattling of every door and window in the house, to be
succeeded by one, two, or more sickening heaves, while
every beam and rafter cracks and groans like a soul in
agony. In Japan an old legend ascribes earthquakes to the
movements of a creature with an oblong, scaly body, ten
legs, feet like a spider's, and the head of a dragon Jishin-
mushi, or earthquake insect; on its head rests the Kaname
rock, with which it is the duty of the Kami or deity of the
district to keep the beast as quiet as possible
To continue the narrative. The breeze which had been
very light freshened somewhat about eight o'clock, and being
right aft enabled us, running wind and wing, to make good
way until midnight, when it became so brisk that we were
compelled, not a moment before it was absolutely necessary,
to take in a couple of reefs. About three in the morning
the skipper, keeping watch on deck, startled all the ship's Hunting the Sea  Otter.
company by the cry of " man overboard." In a moment we
were on deck, and a boat lowered. The vessel was already
hove to, if such it could be called, when without a breath of
wind, and regardless of her helm, she lay tossing and turning
like a log on the water in a heavy cross-sea and "tide-rip."
The skipper, who had hastily taken the bearings the
moment he missed the man, pointed out the direction in
which to search, but though the boat cruised about for a
couple of hours, in the dim uncertain light of the early
morning, and every ear was intent to catch some responsive
cry to the repeated shouts from the boat to guide and cheer
the unfortunate swimmer, if yet above the waves, nothing
more was ever seen or heard of our poor little messmate
"Dandy Jim."   - M§ 1 $
It appeared subsequently from the skipper's account that
after running steadily until nearly three o'clock, the wind
suddenly died completely away, leaving the schooner
pitching and tossing in an ugly "tide-rip." After waiting
a short time to make sure that it was not a momentary lull
to be followed by an increased blow, a very frequent occurrence on these coasts, he summoned the watch to shake
out the reefs, and it was while doing this, though specially
cautioned to be careful, that poor little Jim must have been
pitched by a sudden jerk into the sea. The entry in the log
is as follows :—"Dandy Jim, while casting off reef earing at
end of main boom, jerked overboard. Tide-rip, heavy sea,
no wind. Boat lowered, no swimmer, heavily clad, lost."
Apart from every other consideration, the loss of one of our
best hands was a serious matter. Only the boatswain
and himself had, of all our crew, ever served aboard a
European vessel, and consequently knew something of their
duties. It would be impossible now to replace him, and our
crew before this had only just been sufficient. Poor fellow !
his sufferings must soon have been over in a such a heavy
sea. There were many sharks about; indeed, we had seen a
considerable number on the preceding day. But in spite of
the many stories told of the cruel ferocity of these monsters, 22
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
not one of us had ever come across a really well authenticated instance of a swimmer having been seized, although
collectively we had been pretty nearly all over the world.
In fine, sailors' superstition, his own repulsive looks and
dogged perseverance in following ships, though not more so
than that of gulls or " chickens," have given to the shark
that proverbial bad name which it is sought to perpetuate by
maligning him on all available opportunities. In all
probability, as its habits become better known and studied,
the true character of the shark will be found to assimilate
with that of scavenger vulture rather than the swooping
After an unmerciful amount of tumbling and tossing, by
some unaccountable means, possibly a local current, we got
outside the influence of the tide-rip and into smoother
water, drifting along, fortunately on our course, a few miles
distant from the shore.
The coast, which at Cape Yesan, terminates in a mass of
mountains all more or less volcanic, turns abruptly, runs in
a northerly direction for about fifty miles, then, breaking
away to the north-east, forms Volcano Bay, and running
back in an almost straight line to the south-east, is brought
up in a huge mountain bold outline, 3500 feet high, at Cape
Yerimo. The cliffs rising from the water which washed the
base of the chain, presented an even face, unbroken by
either dip or gulley; there was no sign of any stream
discharging into the bay, although there are said to be
several farther on. The country was well wooded, but
there was not a trace of a human dwelling or even a boat.
Nothing broke the bright surface of the water save the fin
of an occasional shark, a melancholy guillemot, or a few
gulls with their jaunty, high-pitched stems, looking like
miniature caravels on the lake-like sea.
As we drew abreast of Cape Yerimo, the scene became
more animated, for we found the fur seal in large numbers.
The extensive groups of half-sub merged rocks, many of
large size, which form a reef stretching more than a mile Hunting the Sea  Otter.
into the sea, evidently afforded a favourable place for
refuge or repose. The food supply is here doubtless as
plentiful as varied, on account of the different temperatures
of the neighbouring waters. For the equatorial current of
about sixty degrees passes into the Sea of Japan, after
rushing through the Straits of Tsugaru at the rate of four or
five knots, and still keeps its easterly course till it meets
off this cape the colder Arctic current of thirty-six degrees
coming from Behring Straits.
With a bright sun and clear sky overhead, a smooth and
glassy sea around, it wras just the time to observe with
accuracy anything strange or unusual in the water; in fact,
it only wanted the appearance of that periodical mystery,
the sea-serpent, to put a finishing touch to the scene.
And we were not to be disappointed; for after having been
busy all the morning cutting out a cleat and rigging a reef
pennant to provide us with the means of reefing the mainsail from the deck, and thus to prevent the chance of any
such mishap as had recently befallen, we had all turned in,
as we stood, for a few hours' sleep, when I was aroused by
the skipper calling me on deck and to bring a rifle quickly.
Hastily snatching one from the rack, I was soon by his
side, and he pointed out right ahead and about two hundred
yards off, what to all appearance was an enormous serpent
lying coiled up asleep on the water. It certainly seemed
impossible to mistake it for anything else, for every fold
could be distinctly seen, several of them standing out so
high above the surface of the water that light was plainly
visible beneath.
I could not help exclaiming, " By Jove, it is a serpent."
" Wal," rejoined the skipper, not washing to compromise
himself, " it certainly looks a sort of curio; but wait a bit
till we get a little nearer, and then plug him—I guess that
will make him clar up a bit; " and sure enough, in another
couple of minutes, both the mystery and the serpent did
" clar up." For just as the rifle was at my shoulder, the
mainsail gave a slight rustle, and in a moment, with a 24
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
sounding flap, flap, our kraken vanished, to appear the next
moment in the shape of a dozen large fur seals, craning
their heads and necks out of the water, gazing at us in
astonishment with their great round eyes. One of them, a
fine big fellow, received the contents of my rifle, but,
unfortunately, sank before a boat could be lowered. This
was the first time we had seen the fur seal sleeping; they
were all in a row, and seemed to be lying on their sides
with the flippers bent back to the head, assuming very
much the position of the homely whiting when served for
breakfast. The body curved, and the flippers, resting on
the head, showed daylight underneath, giving the exact
representation of a huge, basking snake.
Both the skipper and myself came to the conclusion
that, though incredulous as to the existence of the renowned
kraken, if we had not seen the denouement we should
hereafter have been inclined to agree with Sir Roger de
Coverley," that a good deal could be said on both sides."
We saw no sea lions (Eumetopias stelleri), although
there is generally a colony of these monsters on the reef.
Yerimo seems to be the western limit of both the fur
seal and sea lion, a young one of the former kind has
been killed in Hakodate harbour earlier in the year, but
whether, as is probable, it came down from the Okhotsk or
found its way from Yerimo round Cape Yesan it is impossible to say. On account of the interest attaching to
the subject, no excuse may be needed for introducing here a
short account of the fur seal industry, taken from the final
report on the; tenth census of the United States, giving, as
it does, not only a description of the capture of the animal,
but of the different processes through which each skin has
to pass before it is fit for wear.
" The killing of fur seals is accomplished entirely on land,
and the able-bodied Aleuts who are settled upon the two
islands of St. Paul and St. George are, by the terms of the
agreement between them and the lessees, the only individuals permitted to kill and skin the seals.    For this labour Hunting the Sea  Otter.
they are paid at the rate of is. Sd. per animal. The work
connected with the killing of the annual quota of fur seals
may be divided into two distinct features, the separation of
the seals of a certain age and size from the main body and
their removal to the killing ground, and the selection among
the select and killing and skinning the same. It is the
habit of the young male seals, up to the age of four years,
to lie near the sea-shore, and the experienced natives
manage to crawl in between them and the sea, and gradually
drive them inland in divisions of from two thousand to three
thousand. It is unsafe to drive the seals more than five or six
miles in any one day, as they easily become overheated, and
the skins are thereby injured. When night comes on the
driving ceases, and sentries are posted round each division
to prevent the animals from straying during the night,
occasional whistling being sufficient to keep them together-
In the morning, if the weather be favourable, the driving is
continued until the killing ground is reached, where the
victims are allowed to rest over-night under guard; and
finally, as early as possible in the morning, the sealers
appear with their clubs, when again small parties of twenty
or thirty seals are separated from their fellows, surrounded
by the sealers, and the slaughter commences. Even at this
last moment another selection is made, and any animal
appearing to the eye of the Aleut to be either above or
below the specified age is left untouched and allowed to go
on its way to the shore. The men with clubs proceed from
one group to another, immediately followed by the men
with the knives, who stab each stunned seal to the heart to
secure its immediate death. These men are in turn followed
by the skinners, who with great rapidity divest the bodies
of their valuable covering, leaving, however, the head and
flippers intact. A fewr paces behind the skinners come
carts drawn by mules, into which the skins are rapidly
thrown and carried away. The wives and daughters of the
sealers linger in the rear of the death-dealing column,
taking away the blubber, which they carry on their heads, 26
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
the oil dripping down their faces and over their garments.
The skins, yet warm from the body, are discharged into
capacious salt-houses, and salted down for the time being.
This treatment is continued for some time, and after the
application of heavy pressure they are finally tied into
bundles of two skins, securely strapped, and are then ready
for shipment.
" The following is the process by wThich these skins are
prepared and dressed in New York. When the skins are
received by the furriers, in the salt, the latter is washed off,
and the fat removed from the inside with a knife, great care
being taken that no cut or uneven places are made in the
pelt. The skins are next thoroughly cleansed by being
stretched upon beams and dried. After the drying process
they are soaked in water, and thoroughly washed with soap.
After this the fur is washed again, the pelt being kept
moist, and the workmen pull out the long hair with the
assistance of a dull knife. This operation, a very delicate
one, is repeated several times, until nothing but the soft fur
remains. The skins are then dried again, and moistened
on the pelt side, and shaved until a firm, even surface is
obtained. Then follows the process, a slow and tedious
one, of working, drying, and softening the skins by treading
them with bare feet in a hogshead, with fine sawdust to
absorb the grease. In dyeing, the liquid is put on with a
brush, the points of standing fur being carefully covered.
The skin is then pulled, so as to make the points touch
each other for some little time, and partially dried. The
dry dye is removed and another coat applied, and the same
process is repeated a number of times. A few of the coats
of dye are put on heavily, pressed down to the edge of the
fur, from eight to twelve coats producing a good colour.
The skins are then washed again, and cleansed with sawdust."
In the neighbourhood of Yerimo the fur seals were
exceedingly numerous; in whatever direction the eye was
turned  they might be observed, sometimes singly or in Hunting the Sea  Otter.
pairs, but generally in small groups, swimming about or
diving, but more frequently " breaching," as it is called.
This consists in throwing themselves completely out of
water every few yards while going at racing speed. It was
certainly most curious and interesting to see a string of
about a dozen at equal distances chasing each other rapidly,
all springing at the same moment, the bright sun shining
upon their glistening skins, then cleaving the water head
foremost, without the slightest splash, only to reappear and
go through the same performance farther on, frequently
keeping this up for a long time, just as if they were playing
at " follow the leader." The porpoise frequently resorts to
this means of what seems a more rapid progression, and
on a bright day a school of several hundreds progressing in
this curious manner offers an attractive spectacle, the eye
being frequently directed to them by the glinting of the sun
upon their sleek skins as they spring through the air. We
afterwards found this to be a favourite movement both of
the fur seal and sea-otter when hard pressed. CHAPTER   III.
Anxious as we were to get on, we would fain have
lingered for a few days to get some seal skins, but the
inhospitable shore was absolutely without shelter of any
kind. What a delightful cruise could be~~made along this
comparatively unknown coast in a good steam yacht, which,
regardless of wind or tide, could stand out to sea when
necessary, for the reefs are covered and the waters
abounded with sea-lions, fur and hair seals, the latter of
several varieties, while on the land are bears, great
quantities of deer (Cervus shika), almost identical with our
red deer, of large size and carrying splendid heads,
probably the Nigou or Japanese chamois (Antelope Krupi),
or some kindred species in the mountains; trout in the
streams; swans, geese, and ducks of many varieties in the
lakes and lagoons.
In the evening of the fourth day of our cruise a breeze
sprang up and we were soon running along the coast at
about five knots, but morning found us again in a dead calm.
It had been blowing hard enough outside, for in the trough
of the great glassy seas, which seemed too lazy to break,
we rolled incessantly, the gunwale almost under water, till
even Baker, who had been at sea, man and boy, for forty
years, was forced to pay toll to " Father Neptune." The
reefs began to show marks on the canvas, and both sails
and chafing gear suffered considerably, and all the time we
were drifting nearer the shore. This state of things lasted all
day, till about the same time the preceding evening, when,
just as orders had been given to "out boats " and tow the
ship off, JEoXus, in sheer pity, sent us a nice steady breeze
w Hunting the Sea  Otter.
which enabled us, after getting a good offing, to resume our
true north-east course, running five knots. Unfortunately,
this only continued for four hours, when it fell dead calm
again, a strong current setting us to the eastward.
All next day was dull and misty, with occasional rain,
a striking contrast to the lovely weather we had had
hitherto. When Snow and I relieved the skipper at four
o'clock in the morning, a strong north-easterley wind was
blowing, with rain and fog. So we ran into fifty fathoms of
water to get out of the current, and waited for the weather to
clear up, which it did in the evening, when we sighted Cape
Temposti. But the fog no sooner lifted than the wind went
down, and we dropped anchor about two miles from the
shore in twenty fathoms of water. The next two days were
warm and beautiful, but without a breath of wind, and there
was nothing for it but to remain where we were. Our men
enjoyed this sort of thing immensely; even at busy times
they were seldom trusted to do much.
The Japanese, though good enough boatmen, are not
naturally sailors, like the Malays or Kanakas.
Sidney Smith accuses Englishmen of always wanting to
kill something on a fine day. Without going so far as
that, though, considering that we were on a hunting
expedition, his remark might seem particularly applicable
to us, an Englishman is certainly miserable without something to do. But how our men luxuriated in what the
skipper called "a good, solid f loaf,' " lying sprawling about
on the deck, half naked, while the sun dried their upper
garments—half toga, half dressing-gown—which they
dignified by the name of " kimono ! " They giggled and
chattered away in their language, soft as Italian, fluently
enough to have elicited the approbation of the good Scotch
baillie who, on his return from the Continent, expressed his
greatest source of wonderment to have been to hear the
children jabbering awa' at their French " for a' the warld
like our ain bairns their mither tongue." The coast here
was very beautiful; a background of mountains, apparently o
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
about 2000 feet high, broke up rapidly into hills as they
neared the water, down to which they sloped somewhat
abruptly. In many places huge landslips, the result of frost
and the undermining action of the waves, formed cliffs,
leaving the half-submerged rocks piled up in endless
variety and confusion beneath, many of them on end like
huge needles, reminding one forcibly of the Quiraing in
Skye. The country was well wooded with stunted birch
and fir, the former mostly white-looking and dead, through
having their bark stripped off by the Einos for covering
their houses, and for torches and other purposes. The fibre
of this bark is woven into a coarse kind of cloth, and
twisted into the string of which their nets are composed.
While here we observed a number of curious marine
creatures, which had before attracted our attention when
lying in Hakodate Harbour; there they were more plentiful,
but we were too busy to notice them much. They might
wTell be termed " marine millepeds," they looked somewhat
like animated ribbons. The largest we measured was
14 inches long and 1 inch broad, colour a reddish-brown,
lighter underneath, shape like an exaggerated milleped,
their movements when swimming, very slightly undulating,
were evidently performed by the short legs, many hundreds
in number, which lined both sides of the body like a
delicate fringe. Head and body were all in one; in fact,
it was difficult to say whether it had a head at all, and
if so, at which end it was. What we took for it, on
account of being a little broader than the rest of the body,
had the appearance of a half-closed anemone. They were
all swimming on or near the surface of the water, which
was here 20 fathoms deep, with fine, sandy bottom.
We tried in vain for a long time to fish up one with a
boat-hook, but they invariably broke in halves, dyeing the
water a milky-white. At length we had recourse to a
bucket, which proved more successful, and we obtained
the individual that enabled us to give the foregoing
I Hunting the Sea  Otter.
Akkeshi Bay runs inland about five miles, with a nearly
corresponding breadth, and it is the only harbour properly
so-called on the east coast of Yezo. But though there is
plenty of water and the holding good, it is very much
exposed, east and south-east winds sending in sometimes
a heavy rolling sea. A small colony of Japanese, with
about three or four times their number of Einos, live, or
rather exist, here by collecting edible seaweed, deer's horns,
oil, and fish manure, all of which are sent to the south by
native trading junks, and these call every summer. The
mountains are here broken up into a succession of low
hills and ravines, densely wooded with stunted birch, oak,
and alder; at the head of the bay is a large lagoon, which,
later on in the season, is covered with swans, geese, and
duck, besides large flocks of waders. The Japanese shut
themselves up in the winter in these cold regions, to appear
in the spring with their faces blanched white with the
poisonous fumes of their charcoal fires.
Feeding almost exclusively on rice, fish, and vegetables,
they are ill-adapted to stand cold, and it is surprising what
a small amount of blood they have in their bodies. The
writer remembers to have seen a native have his foot cut
off, from whom scarcely a teaspoonful of blood escaped.
On another occasion, when leaving home early one winter
morning for a day's shooting, he had stumbled over the
body of an unfortunate jinrickshaw coolie, which lay at his
threshold, where he had evidently been cut down by his
irate and drunken passenger. This man, though killed by
a terrible stab in the breast, had scarcely dyed with his
blood the snow on which he lay.
Formerly, the Japanese possessed the island of Saghalien,
but the cold was always too great in winter to permit of
any successful attempt at colonisation, but a short time
before our voyage, being alarmed by Russian claims, they
had sent up several families to make another attempt, and
Baker had been mate of the steamer that was commissioned
to call in the ensuing spring to see how they had fared. 32
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
After passing over a mile of frozen sea, which separated
the exploring party from the land, they reached the
unfortunate settlers, who were found in a most deplorable
condition. There was scarcely one of them who had not
suffered more or less severely from frost bite, many having
lost both feet and hands. The Russians now claim the
entire island, and would probably annex the Kuriles if a
pretext occurred.
The Einos, though looked down upon by the Japanese,
are much hardier than they, and hunt the deer in the deep
snow, killing large numbers with their primitive bows and
bone-tipped arrows. The flesh of these animals forms their
principal winter diet; the skins are converted into robes
and the horns are exported to be ground up for a medicine,
in the efficiency of which both Japanese and Chinese place
great faith.
Our progress still continued to be miserably slow, the
wind being both light and unsteady, never more than
sufficient to keep the mainsail from flapping. In the
afternoon, however, we had an unlooked for diversion,
for what had been hitherto considered as the indication
of a fire lit by some Einos on the coast proved to be
the smoke of a steamer which, rounding the point at
that moment, bore down upon us. She was at once
recognised by Baker as the Kuroda, a screw-boat
belonging to the Japanese Government, in which he had
served as mate before joining us at Hakodati, and in
which he had assisted to convey the settlers from the
island of Saghalien. Being anxious to hear if there
was anything stirring up North, we at once lowered a
boat into which Baker descended, and as the Kuroda,
in common with most of the Japanese steamers at that
time, was officered and engineered by Englishmen, they
quickly recognised their old shipmate, and as soon as
they were abreast of us the engines were stopped and
we remained for a quarter-of-an-hour almost within hailing
distance. Hunting the Sea  Otter.
The   news  which   Baker  brought   on   his   return  was
by no   means  reassuring.     The  unmistakable  reluctance
on  the  part  of   the   Hakodate custom  house officials  to
give us our clearance papers, and the remissness of the
Governor of Nemoro in failing to deliver the iron knees,
which but for  our builder's  ingenuity would have been
absolutely necessary for the construction of the Snowdrop,
have  already  been  touched upon ;   these matters,  taken
in   conjunction  with  the  late  colonising  movement  and
the high-handed conduct of  Russia, had been  a subject
of   frequent    discussion   among   us ;   and   as   we   were
aware, before leaving Yokohama, that considerable diplomatic  correspondence, coupled  with   strong   protests   on
the part of the Japanese, had been going on with Russia
respecting the Kurile Islands, it was extremely probable
that the  former,   who  are  a spirited and  warlike  race,
might,   without  actually  declaring war with   their  more
powerful  neighbour,  take  such   steps  as   to   avoid   any
further annexations by bringing these islands under their
more immediate protection;   in  fact, it was no secret at
the time that Russia had endeavoured first to filch them
and then to purchase them from their lawful owners.    So
that when Baker informed us that it was the  intention
of the Japanese to send up an expedition to the larger
islands of Kunashir and Yetorup, to the latter of which
we  were  bound,  we  were   not   taken  by  surprise;   but
when he added that they had determined to put a stop
to   all   otter-hunting,  we   felt  that things  were  getting
serious for us.
True, we were aware that, according to international
law, their jurisdiction could not extend beyond a radius
of three miles from the coast, and that the sea otter
is as often as not found considerably outside that
limit. But this was poor consolation at the best, for
with light winds, constant fogs, and powerful currents,
we might be weeks without knowing our whereabouts,
unless within easy  reach  of  the  shore;   in  which case,
D Hunting the Sea  Otter.
to lose touch of the schooner would be almost certain
destruction to those in the boats. For this to happen,
even when near the coast, was often bad enough, as
the surf was generally too heavy to admit of landing,
but when inshore we could always fasten the boats to
the beds of kelp, and this growing in twenty or thirty
fathoms spread the long leaves so effectually over the
surface as to prevent any sea from breaking. In this
manner, when unable to find the vessel, we afterwards
spent several secure but miserable nights. These difficulties
were bad enough but had to be risked. Wood and water,
however, would be required at least once a month, and with
a blockade, or even prohibition, approach to the shore, in
the event of discovery, might lead to capture and confiscation. The fact also that the Governor of Nemoro, who, as
as already mentioned, had withheld our stores, was strongly
suspected of being the prime mover of placing obstacles in
our way, since capture of otters might interfere with his
perquisites, was calculated to cause us much uneasiness;
we had already had annoyance enough and did not want
any more.
For these particulars, which were sufficient to give us
plenty of food for thought, we were mostly indebted to one
of the crew of a small schooner which had been wrecked
early in the winter in Hitokatpu or Jap Bay, and who was
now being conveyed to Hakodate with a number of the
skins they had obtained, leaving the rest of his companions
on Yetorup to patch the vessel sufficiently to permit of their
It appeared from the account given by this man that
their vessel had started very late in the season, intending to remain all the winter amongst the islands to hunt
the sea otter. Though not yet very successful, all went
well until one night in the beginning of December they had
run into Hitokatpu, a large open bay, the only place bearing
any resemblance to a harbour on the whole of the eastern
coast.    As the wind had fallen and the sea was quite calm, Hunting the Sea  Otter.
they felt perfectly secure, and had turned in after a hard
day's work when, without the least warning, a succession
of huge seas—either the effect or precursors of some distant
storm—set right into the bay; and when the half-clad crew
had tumbled up to face the bitter cold of a December night
the cable had already parted. The wind soon followed the
seas, in keen and cutting squalls; a rush was made to loosen
the sails, but they were frozen stiff as boards, each reef point
and gasket like a bar of iron, and before another anchor could
be got out they were in seven fathoms of water. The seas
had begun to break and they were clinging to the rigging;
the night was dark and to its horror was added a blinding
snowstorm; clouds of foam poured over the deck, drenching
them and presently to freeze on their half-naked bodies.
Few minutes elapsed, though each seemed an hour, ere,
borne along by resistless strength amidst a rush of seething
froth and spray, they were hurled half frozen and helpless
upon the desolate shore. Fortunately they had been heaved
upon a bight of the bay where there was nothing but sand,
so that as the litttle craft had been pitched well up, she did
not go to pieces.
When daylight appeared they all got safely to land.
But in what a plight! Most of their provisions wTere
spoiled; the whole of the eastern shore of the island they
knew to be totally uninhabited; nor was there the
remotest chance of being rescued before the following
spring. Remembering, however, that there was a good
house a few miles off, which was used as a fishing station
during the summer months by the small colony of Japanese
on the opposite coast, and, as nothing could be done until
the sea went down, they set out in a heavy snowstorm; and
having reached their destination, they broke open the door,
a good fire was started, and a meal off the dried salmon
which hung in abundance on the greasy rafters made them
forget, for a time at least, their awkward position.
After about a week of this life, during which, the sea
having moderated, they stripped the vessel of as much as
D 2 36
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
they could, they were joined by some of the natives, and
with their assistance the craft was hauled up out of danger.
Nothing now remained to be done except to pass the weary
months as comfortably as possible; they accompanied the
islanders to the western and warmer shore. There they
spent a miserable six months, being often half-starved; for
the addition of several mouths to feed put a severe strain
upon the resources of so small and poor a community, who
were able to lay up but little store for winter use beyond
that which they absolutely required for themselves.
The forlorn party, however, managed to shoot several
bears, and these, with the flesh of seventy-five otters they
were able to procure, constituted the main supply of food
till the welcome arrival of the Kuroda.
Jack, as a rule, has little to say of his sufferings; the
simple phrase, "we were wrecked," or, "we lost the ship,"
is usually the sum of his remarks. It is only when described
with the graphic pen of a Clarke Russell that scenes of
suffering and hardship attending a wreck are brought
prominently before the eye with full effect. Scarcely a day
passes but the same story, told in the briefest outline by
the newspaper reporter, is met wTith, and read over without
any but a passing emotion. Perhaps it is only those that
have experienced the horrors of shipwreck who are able to
realise in an adequate degree the details of misery and
privation which go to make up the story.
The little Snowdrop was fated to furnish just such an
episode under almost identical circumstances of season,
locality, and disaster, with the sole difference that, less
fortunate than her predecessor, she was to leave her tough
timbers rotting on the shore the very next year. But as
Gray says : " Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."
And youth is, or ought to be, full of the buoyancy of hope,
and its anticipations bright and rosy tinted. Moreover, we
had no Cassandra on board in the shape of a grizzled
boatswain to shake his head ominiously and croak over the
recollection of having set sail on a Friday, or that the cat Hunting the Sea  Otter.
had jumped into the sea.    The only depressing influence
was the obstinate lightness of the wind, which caused our
progress to be miserably slow.    Talking about Friday, we
were one day discussing the superstitions connected with it
among sailors, when  Mr. Thompson, our builder, told us
that his father had once laid the keel of a large vessel and
launched and sailed on this unpropitious day, and yet she
was  the  luckiest vessel he   ever built.    Snow,   however,
followed on the other side, and proved by his  log that,
curiously enough,  not only the sailing, but every mishap
from the dismasting to the burning of the unlucky schooner
in which he served, had happened on a Friday.    So deeply
engrained is this superstition in sailors that Jack seems
positively unhappy if nothing occurs to justify it.    Sensible
commanders accordingly, however much they ridicule the
prejudice or feel tempted to defy silly prognostications,
avoid, if possible, leaving port on this day in deference to
the men, for the simple reason that for a sailor to anticipate
disaster is almost equivalent to courting it. CHAPTER   IV.
Anxious as we were to get on, the wind remained
provokingly light; never freshening, but just sufficient to
allow of our making a trifling headway against the current.
This continued until next morning, when it fell a dead calm
which lasted until the afternoon. All at once a stiff
northerly breeze sprung up, of which we took full advantage,
beating up as carefully as if we were sailing a race.
Steadily, but surely, we made up for lost time, and by nine
o'clock were nearly abreast of Cape Noshap ; another hour
would have seen us round this point and out of the current,
but it was not to be, for, as usual, the wind died away, and
as it was too deep to anchor, in that hour which should have
given us a snug berth for the night, so strong was the
current, we had drifted back, over the space that had taken
us six hours to beat up, to the place whence we had started
when the wind met us, and there was no alternative but to
anchor till morning.
Cape Noshap, which stood out temptingly before us in the
bright moonlight, is the extreme east point of the Island of
Yesso, and terminates a long and comparatively low-lying
peninsula, about the middle of which, but on the western
shore, is the harbour of Nemoro, a mere indentation on the
coast protected by a small rocky island. The Cape itself
was stated in the chart to be furnished with a " flash-light"
seventy-four feet high, visible at a distance of six miles.
We were, accordingly, much surprised that although within
that radius, a good glass was required to see it at all, and
certainly there was no flash about it; in fact, to judge by
its hazy appearance on a calm and cold night, it was nothing Hunting the Sea  Otter.
more than a Japanese lantern, or a " Chochin," such as may
be seen at home suspended from trees at an illumination or
fete, a collapsible paper affair with a snuffy candle inside.
Perhaps the flickering of the latter produced the flash, which
really only existed in the imagination of the hydrographer.
The latest chart, with corrections and additions to 1883,
extends the illuminating power of this miserable speck to ten
miles, but it is very doubtful whether any improved apparatus
has been substituted. Near this spot a small sloop called the
Kanki, while on her voyage to the otter ground, lost her
skipper and had to return. It was reported that he had
been knocked overboard by the boom during a squall; this
was the account given by the crew, a couple of Japanese,
though there was reason to doubt whether this was the fact.
Without boats or even a small dinghy it was the greatest
folly to have made the attempt, and it is possible that the
native seamen may have got rid of their quixotic captain so
as to have an excuse for giving up the adventure.
Extending from Cape Noshap in a nor'east by east course,
and parallel with the Kurile Chain, lie a number of low flat
islands and rocks, terminating in the larger island of
Shikotan, about forty miles distant. Judging by the
formation, there is little doubt that at one time these, islets
were connected with the coast, forming a long narrow
peninsula enclosing an inland sea from thirty to forty miles
across. The largest of these islands are Shibobzu, Suisho,
Taraku, and Yuru, varying in area from seventeen to two
and a half square miles. They are all uninhabited, being
only visited in the summer for the sake of the seaweed to
be gathered there, and, dried on the beach, is put up in
bales, and shipped by junk to China. Four miles to the
south-east of Taraku are three or four clusters of rocks
called Todo-shima, a favourite resort of the sea lion
[Eumetopias stellari). Two of these, low, flat, and treeless, each with its girdle of pure white sand, shining in the
distance like snow, looked like gems in a silver setting as they
lay bathed in the bright moonlight on our starboard bow. 40
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
These islands during the summer are the haunt of large
numbers of the plover kind and other waders, which no
doubt frequent them for the purpose of breeding; but it
was probably early yet, as none of their weird cries
disturbed the perfect stillness of the night, nor during the
next day did we either see or hear any signs of them. Very
few seals had been observed since passing Cape Yerimo,
but there were evidently some here, for during the night
Snow and I, who had come quickly upon deck to observe
the weather, were startled by a number of splashes in the
water close alongside, caused doubtless by some of these
animals, either attracted by curiosity, or, more probably,
passing with the strong Arctic current through the channel
to a more southerly and warmer latitude. But the moon
had gone down, and it was too dark to see anything—even
the " flash-light." Morning dawned with a gentle breeze,
a bright sun soon dispelled the early mists which hung over
the waters. Making short tacks, running as close in
shore as we dared, and taking advantage of every little
promontory which checked the powerful current, we continued gradually to make up the way lost on the preceding
evening; fortunately, the sea was quite calm, the wind
being so light as scarcely to ruffle its surface, and so long
as it kept clear we made some progress, but presently a
dense fog rolled down from the north, causing the wind to
become lighter, and introducing an element of danger that
seriously interfered with our sailing and tacking. Our
misgiving was soon justified, for about eleven, when we
were all on deck, Snow happened to say, " I wonder
whether there are any barnacles on the ship's bottom ? I
A remark elicited by our slow progress. In consequence
of his remark all eyes were directed over the gunwale, and
to our horror we discovered ourselves over a mass of
sunken rocks. There was just enough wind to put the ship
about, and at that moment the fog suddenly lifted and we
became aware of our position, which was within two hundred
vards of the shore.    Not ten feet from us were pointed Hunting the Sea   Otter.
rocks above the surface; had we drawn a little more water
we should inevitably have stuck on a reef. True, the sea
was calm and there was no wind, but on this coast five
minutes is a sufficient time to bring a gale howling about
one's ears, and a sea heavy enough to break up a frigate
will sometimes set in where but an hour before all was calm
and smiling. Consequently, we were very thankful for
escaping from what might have been at least a dangerous
position, entailing further delay. The fog showed no signs
of coming on again, so we proceeded with renewed confidence, but so slowly that evening was fast drawing in
before we rounded Cape Noshap, and we were compelled to
anchor for an hour through the wind falling. After tea a
light breeze sprang up, and, turning our bow to the southwest, we ran down the other or the western side of the
peninsula till Nemoro light was sighted; there we anchored
for the night about a hundred yards from the island which
shelters the settlement and on which the light is placed; the
anchor watch was set, and we were not sorry to get below.
There was a good deal of what a Chinaman would call
I talkee talkee" in the cabin that night. All were well
aware that we had reached the most momentous period in
our cruise. Our own suspicions, amply confirmed by the
information obtained on board the Kuroda, left little doubt
that the recovery of our stores left in the hands of the
Governor would be attended with some difficulty, though
how he could refuse to restore property to which he could
not lay the slightest claim and for which we possessed his
own sealed and signed receipt was a question we could not
solve; but the ways of a Japanese Governor are frequently
inscrutable. A charge for storage it was certainly his right
to impose, if he thought fit, and that, of course, we were
quite willing to pay; anyway, the fact could not be overlooked that it was within his power to be very obstructive
and disagreeable, for his authority here was almost absolute.
The Government, to whpm alone he was accountable, was
some hundreds of miles distant, and we knew well that any 4-
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
appeal from him must be sent through tortuous channels
and entail a delay of months before an answer could be
obtained, leaving us in the meantime to kick our heels at
Nemoro. The next day would be May 21st, ten days
having been consumed in sailing from Hakodati harbour
over a course of two hundred and eighty miles. And now,
from where we lay, but seventy or eighty miles—only half a
day's sail with a good breeze—separated us from our
hunting grounds. But it was, after all, of no use to anticipate
contingencies and difficulties which might never arise; so,
until the Governor should declare his hand on the morrow,
we were fain to turn in and get a good night's rest, for the
schooner was as steady as a farmhouse, resolving only that
he should find that he had not Japanese to deal with this
time, and that it would go hard if we did not adopt some
means—force if necessary—to thwart him in any little
scheme of personal profit at our expense. As to his prohibiting otter hunting, there were other places to which we
could go—the Aleutians, or even Kamschatka if so minded.
At daybreak we got up the anchor, and taking a short
tack, ran in and brought up in front of the settlement, in
three and a half fathoms, and about fifty yards from the
shore. Large quantities of gulls dotted the sand and
gravel bank which formed the low ground of the peninsula,
while upon rocks of no great elevation, about a couple of
hundred yards off, were two white-tailed eagles, preening
their feathers in the morning sun. It was interesting to
observe how the presence of these lordly birds affected the
gulls, for no sooner were they conscious of the nearness of
their dreaded foe, than, with a yell seemingly more of anger
than fear, the gulls rose in a mass, screaming continuously,
although the eagles never took any notice of them.
After breakfast, Snow went to call upon the Governor,
and took with him, as a present, some central-fire cartridges
for a gun which he had presented to him the preceding
autumn. The skipper and I lowered another boat, and
pulled for the island, with the intention of shooting some Hunting the Sea   Otter.
of the dovekies or black guillemots (Uria troila) that were
swimming about among the rocks or flying over the island
to a smalf bluff at the farther end of the harbour. I was
soon successful in bringing down some of these interesting
little birds, which I now met for the first time. Their
plumage is a sooty black all over, with the exception of a
white ring round the eyes; their legs are of a bright
scarlet, and the inside of the mouth and gullet are of the
same colour; the bill is like that of a water-hen. In size
they are smaller, and in motion more active than their
aldermanic congener, the common or foolish guillemot.
When flying, their outstretched legs looked like a scarlet
tail, similar to that of a grey parrot. To tell the truth,
our eagerness to procure specimens arose from the belief
that we had met with a new variety. Rover, my black
curly-haired retriever, who had been my companion in
many a good day's snipe and pheasant shooting, was
perhaps as keenly interested as anyone, and took much
delight in retrieving the little black birds, doubtless
thinking it more like old times and much more agreeable
than dull life aboard ship. The birds showed little of the
proverbial stupidity of their genus, for, soon becoming
wary, they kept out of range, and shots occurring at longer
intervals, after a time ceased entirely.
My attention was, however, soon centred in the little
pools left by the receding tide, each one a miniature
aquarium with a wealth of many-coloured shells and seaweeds, among which anemones of varied hues bloomed like
many-petalled flowers in these gardens of Neptune; while
bright coloured starfish in changing shades from crimson to
scarlet, square in shape with slightly elongated corners,
clung limpet-like and motionless to the smooth grey rock,
each form of life, however humble, seeking to outvie the
other in producing a picture of beauty and colouring framed
by the grey rock of the island. While examining one of
these miniature seas so full of life and colour, a low growl
from the dog caused us to look up, and about thirty yards 44
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
off, for we were close to the sea, we caught our first glimpse
of a sea lion, and a magnificent fellow he looked. Perfectly
motionless in the smooth sea, he reminded one of a huge
frog with his great broad shoulders just visible above the
water; he seemed to regard us with a mild curiosity.
Before we could recover from our surprise he turned his
great head solemnly from side to side, as if unable to come
to any satisfactory conclusion about us, and sank in that
slow, eerie way common to the seal tribe, so suggestive of
a drowning man. On our return to the schooner, we found
Snow in no very pleasant frame of mind. The Governor's
reception had not been so gracious as at the former
interview, and, in spite of his promises and in the face of
his own papers and signature, he now positively refused to
givQ up our property; the only concession he made was to
allow us to remove our anchors and chains, and that only
after Snow had assured him in the most forcible manner
that, in the event of disaster, a more than probable
contingency if we left without them, he alone would be held
responsible. This rather alarmed him, for at that time
England was represented in Japan by a minister whom of
old the Japanese knew they dared not trifle with ; this
gentleman was the late Sir Harry Parkes, to whose
uprightness of character and zeal for the service British
influence in the country was entirely due. While on this
subject I may say that it is a pleasure to know7 that his
eminent qualities were fully appreciated both at home and
abroad, and his death shortly afterwards in China, to which
country he was transferred, was universally regretted; but
only those whose immediate interests he so ably cherished
and protected are in a position adequately to judge of the
success of his ministrations.
As nothing more could be done that day we rowed
ashore to have a look at the village. We found it consisted
chiefly of fish-curing establishments, which formed a street
stretching along the beach. The better class of houses,
perched on the side of the hill rising behind them to the ye
o  Hunting the Sea  Otter.
height of about three hundred feet, were protected from the
cold east winds and almost hidden by the dense growth of
stunted oak and beech, already beginning to put forth
leaves. Vegetation, though late here, is very rapid when
once the snow has gone, and now only the mountain range,
running to the north-east, retained its wintry aspect. Here
and there single trees and small clumps of the Pinus
Jessoniensis, the only tree that seems capable of rearing its
head above the storm-twisted undergrowth, relieved the
monotony of the wooded slopes. The principal occupation
of the people was the curing of the hard roe of the
herring and boiling down the rest of the fish for manure.
In May and June this fish swrarms on the coasts in enormous
shoals, the bays and creeks are almost choked with
them. Immense quantities are literally pushed up on the
shore by the sheer weight of those behind ; on every bit of
shelving beach they form a silvery belt of food for eagles,
gulls, foxes, and bears, which become fat and sleek on this
plentiful supply. A net supported on stakes driven into
the bottom about a hundred yards from the shore, is spread
by the natives, the fish killed by the pressure of the superincumbent mass sink to the bottom, the rest crowding
outwards in incredible numbers into a cul-de-sac at the
end; so great is the weight that it would be impossible to
lift the bag, they have, therefore, to be scooped out with
long-handled landing nets and emptied into unwieldy
barge-like boats alongside. That morning we counted seven
boats, capable of holding about twenty tons each, loaded to
the gunwale carrying their gleaming green and silver cargo
to the shore from one net alone. Removed from the boats
in large creels, they are deposited in huge pens and piled
up in stacks. Near these pens are cauldrons in which
they are boiled, the oil being ladled out or allowed to run
off into sunken tubs, or small natural reservoirs. The boiled
mass is then transferred to wooden lever presses, roughly
about two feet square but somewhat smaller at the bottom
than the top, and weighted with stones the more effectually 46
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
to express the oil. The remaining work is to stack the cubes
obtained from the presses, and when sufficiently dry they are
broken up and spread on mats in the sun and finally packed
in straw bags for exportation. Whether these are the same
species as those that frequent our coasts it was impossible
to say. Their flavour was far inferior, and no amount of
boiling or frying could make them palatable, much to our
disappointment, as we had counted on a treat. Their
insipidity might be owing to the low temperature of the
water, which is quite twenty degrees below that on the
coast of Scotland, but of course they were out of season and
spawning. After having had a look at the little settlement,
Snow and I strolled along the rocks and shot twenty-seven
small grey plovers and a couple of dovekies. A grand
council of war was held that night, in which it was decided
that next day we should go in a body to the Governor and
insist upon our property being given up ; at the same time
three of the boats should be lowered and all the crew taken
•on shore, so that, once the door of the godown open, we
should be in sufficient force to take away what we required.
Failing this, we would take our rifles with us, break open
the door, and defy them, for we wrere determined not to be
robbed in such a cool manner because the Governor
happened to be a rogue. Next morning, after breakfast, we
pulled ashore in the three boats, leaving only the cook and
Rover aboard. We went first to the interpreter's house
and were told he would see us in a few minutes, but we
soon discovered he had left by the back way to avoid
us. When we reached the Governor's house he came out
and informed us that the godown was already open, and
the anchors and chains were being got out. Doubtful
whether this were but a subterfuge, or whether a march
had not been stolen upon us, we were not long before we
reached the .godown, and found, much to our delight, not
only the door open, but nobody there, the interpreter
having evidently gone to hurry up the coolies to do the
work.    This was a rare piece of good luck, of which we Hunting the Sea  Otter.
were not slow to take advantage. Leaving the others to
get out as much as possible, I ran off to the boats, and
brought them to the nearest point; ten extra pairs of hands
made short work, and anchors and chains, barrels of salt
junk, boring powder, Winchester cartridges, and a spare
suit of sails wrere quickly bundled out and carried down to
the boats. Just as we were finishing, down came the
Governor, purple with wrath, accompanied by the interpreter and another yakonin, to whom he seemed to be
using what Mark Twain calls " familiar quotations," and
half-a-dozen coolies. The two yakonins, after chattering
away with the Governor in a high key for a minute, sprang
into the godown, fairly turned us out, and locked the door.
We took it all in good part and fairly laughed at their
impotent rage, for we had obtained all we required, otherwise the turning out would have been on the other side,
for Englishmen have a strong objection to be handled by a
native. Such a proceeding might have entailed serious
consequences, as we were quite unarmed, while they each
-carried the usual complement of two swords, a long one for
offence and a short one, or long dagger, for use upon
themselves in the event of having recourse to the Harukiri,
or happy dispatch, which consists of disembowelling themselves, while a friend stands behind to complete the act by
decapitation. With unsuccessful governors of fortresses,
unable to hold out, and with beaten generals, this has
always been a common and convenient resource, avoiding
both courts-martial and executioners' fees, besides possessing the advantage of removing all stain and disgrace from
the surviving family of the self-" dispatched." The other
sword, a double-handed, heavy weapon, is used very
dexterously, considering its weight, and we had more than
once seen a man's head taken off at a single blow, without
apparent effort. The first, or drawing, cut as the sword
leaves the scabbard is very clever and sudden, so much so
that it was always the rule in case of dispute to shoot
down a man who laid his hand on his sword, for that meant 48
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
drawing,  and   to   sheath   without   blooding  was   always
considered a disgrace.
However, "All's well that ends well," and we were
not further interfered with. The irate trio took themselves
off in high dudgeon, leaving the coolies, who, no longer
awed by the presence of their superiors, allowed their faces
to relax into a comfortable grin, showing they rather
enjoyed than otherwise the official discomfiture. Meanwhile, the boats plied backwards and forwards, and before
evening we had everything aboard, with only one hitch.
This occurred in getting off the heavy anchor. The dingy
in which it was stowed just managed to get alongside of
the schooner, almost gunwale under, when a few larger
waves than the rest completed what the slight ripple had
endeavoured to accomplish all the way out, and down it
went, depositing the crew in the water and the anchor at
the bottom in three-and-a-half fathoms. The lead was at
once dropped over the place. As we were slewing about
somewhat, the wind coming in eddies round the rocks, the
men in the water were soon picked up. Divers were at
once called for, and a couple of dollars being offered as a
stimulus, a volunteer stepped forward, but he had no sooner
reached the water than he clambered back, with the remark
that it was "taisoo samui" (very cold). Things looked
bad, none of us could dive, and though we all knew that
Japanese sailors are, as a rule, good swimmers and divers,
we did not appear to have one on board. Presently old
"Junky," as we called him (from being an old junk sailor),
a dried-up specimen of humanity, but looked up to with
considerable veneration by the rest of the crew, probably
on account of the dangers he had not gone through—for
he was remarkably careful of himself—doffed his long
gown, pulled off his blue tights, and, taking the manilla
line to reeve through the anchor ring, disappeared down
the lead-line. In half a minute he was on deck with the
rope, and in half an hour the anchor was safely hauled up.
This opportune service of old Junky's was not overlooked.
■T" Hunting the Sea  Otter.
A present of four dollars was at once given to him, and,
whenever the chance occurred, as it frequently did, to
shoot a few shags or cormorants for him, we never lost the
opportunity, for their flesh was as great a delicacy to him
as turtle to an alderman. All setting to work with a will,
the boats were soon unloaded, hoisted on deck, and lashed
in their places. The cargo was safely stowed in hold and
magazine; and the wind favoured our eagerness to leave
the inhospitable port, for a good stiff south-westerly breeze
set in, and so, with a wet sheet and a feather at the bows,
we were soon cleaving the water on our trim north-east
course at the rate of eight knots. The wind kept fresh and
steady all night, although, as usual, the morning broke cold
and foggy; as day advanced, the haze, concealing the
outlines of the islands of Kunashir, which lay on our port
bow, lifted like a curtain and revealed a mountainous island,
from which rose here and there, like giants of the,ir race,
volcanic cones, piercing the heavens with their lofty shafts
and, dominating them all, St. Anthony's Peak towered to the
height of seven thousand four hundred feet. . As we gazed,
the sun, as if at length ashamed of his tardiness, for the
morning was now pretty far advanced, emerged from cloud
and fog and shed a rosy radiance on the scene. The shore
of alternate black rock and shiny sand, the stunted forest
growth that formed . its background, the snow-clad
mountains, here smooth, there jagged in outlines, were all
irradiated by the warm, soft light—truly an enchanting place
for the sportsman or naturalist, smiling just then in all the
pride of its new-gotten greenery, smiling but desolate,
solitary and unexplored, a land of the eagle, the bear, and
the fox. There the wild swan, whose plumage vies in
whiteness with the eternal snow on the lofty peaks, rears
her downy brood in solitude, mid swamps forest-girdled,
unseen save by the hungry fox or the swooping eagle: but
she quits the shaded scene, obedient to instinct, ere winter,
more fatal than bird or beast of prey, binds in its iron grasp
both land and wave.
E 5o
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
The island of Skotan lay on our starboard quarter, rising
with its mountains to a height of one thousand four hundred
feet above the sea; the bright sun and swiftly passing
clouds showed their summits of the colour of heather in
every change of light and shadow. Skotan is entirely
uninhabited, a few Einos in the summer months only use
the one little land-locked harbour for their nets and boats
to catch and cure fish for their winter provision. It was
intended to explore the island on our return, and if it
seemed prudent to winter there for the purpose of trapping,
as a black fox had been shot here by an American whaling
captain, but circumstances wrere not favourable, and
probably the dangers to be encountered Would not have
been compensated by the profits. By nine o'clock the fog,
which still enveloped Yetorup, lifted bodily, and we caught
a first glimpse of our destination in the bold rocky headland
of Roko Bay. CHAPTER V.
BEFORE resuming our narrative, it will be as well to give
the reader some information concerning that curious and
almost unknown animal the sea otter. In doing so, I have
thought it advisable to amplify our own observations by
those to be obtained from the few authentic sources available,
and so to place all possible knowledge concerning the
animal at the service of the reader, and more especially to
give him details as to the hunting, since the method
employed by the tribes along whose coasts it is found
differed very much from that adopted by our party.
From the tiny weasel with its lithe body and active movements the family of Mustelidae, through well-defined genera
of maiteus, skunks, badgers, etc., culminates at length in
the sub-family Enhydrinae. This group is represented by a
single genus and species, the sea otter (Enkydris lutris);
it is, moreover, the only thoroughly marine member of the
whole family, and its only habitat lies around the islands
and coasts of the North Pacific Ocean.
The length of the full-grown male is as nearly as possible
four feet from nose to root of tail. Our largest skin when
nailed upon the drying frame measured sixty-three inches
over all, of which the tail was about nine inches. This skin
was not stretched more than was absolutely necessary, as
to do so destroys the appearance and value of the pelt, but
so loose or rolling is it that nearly, if not quite, twelve
inches must always be allowed for in estimating the length
of the carcase which it has covered. The girth of the long,
cylindrical body varies from two feet six inches to three
E 2 52
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
■■ Co^v^V
The illustrations of the sea otter usually met with, even in
scientific treatises, are quaintly incongruous. In some it is
represented as something between a black bear and a
wolverine; in others as a gay and festive weasel. Both are
equally erroneous and misleading, while they utterly fail to
give any true idea of its habits or appearance. The fore
paws are rudimentary, being very short and weak, and quite
useless either as a means of progression or for raising the
body from the ground, while the hind flippers, as in the
seal, are only of use when in the water. Nor are they
brought together as in the phocidas, but are placed almost
exactly as are the hind legs of the common mole.
In fact, if the reader will imagine a gigantic mole with
the head of a river otter and the-fore paws of a cat, the
latter each about four inches long, only widely placed and
just meeting when folded over the chest, he will get an
excellent idea of the appearance of the sea otter.
The comic showman defines an amphibious animal as one
that tires on the land and dies in the water. In the present
case, the exact reverse of this would seem to hold good,
considering that, among the many hundreds of sea otters
met with in our expedition, only in one solitary instance Was
one shot above watermark, and this, on being skinned, was
found to have been so terribly injured as to have sought
the shore to die. Viewed in a commercial light, the pelt is
one of the most valuable of all the fur-bearing animals ; for
this reason the chase and capture of the creature who
wears it has long been an important industry. In spite of
its having been known for an indeterminate time to the
Katines, on whose shores it was found, to the Kamschat-
dales, as the " Kalan," and to the Russians as the sea or
Kamschatka beaver, the skin having been an important
article of trade in China, whose high-class mandarins loved
to trim their robes with its beautiful fur, it was not until the
middle of the last century that a description having any
scientific value was given to the world, when the celebrated
navigator, Steller, in 1751, under the name of Lutra Marina, Hunting the Sea  Otter.
gave a sufficiently accurate account of it to be quoted and
consulted to the present day.
Dr. Elliott Coues, in his admirable monograph on the
American Mustelidae, gives no less than fourteen Latin
designations to the sea otter, as applied by as many
different naturalists, some classing it with the seals, others
with beavers and river otters. That these mistakes should
have arisen is scarcely a matter for surprise, as few, save
the native or American hunter, ever had the opportunity of
seeing them alive, much less of studying their habits and
scientific distinctions. The similarity of the sea otter to
the seal is entirely confined to the fact that both possess
flipper-like hind feet. There all physical likeness ceases,
though they certainly approximate more to the seals than
to the otters in being purely marine in their life and habits.
Instead of the sudden tapering of the tail, as in the seal,
the sea otter has an almost cylindrical body, abrupt behind,
tapering forwards to a long, flat-topped head; in repose
the neck appears short, but when alarmed it is capable of
being stretched above the water to such an extent as to
give the animal a rather graceful appearance; when lying
dead upon the deck the general outline is very much like
that of a gigantic mole ; the limbs are short, the tail, never
above a foot in length, is somewhat flattened and of even
breadth to within an inch and a half from the end, when it
abruptly tapers. There is a marked disparity between the
fore and the hind limbs both in size and shape, the former
being very short, terminating in paws like those of a cat,
while the latter are broader and shorter than those of the
seal, having elongated digits webbed by membranes stretch-
from tip to tip of all toes and furnished with short, stout,
arched claws. Both digits and membranes are covered on
either side wTith stiff, coarse hair. The eyes, of moderate
size, are placed high up in the head, the ears low down, sharp-
pointed, short, and hidden in the fur. The skin is remarkably loose and "rolling," and when removed is seldom less
than twelve inches longer than  the  animal  itself.    The 54
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
colour of the fur is a dark liver brown, with very thinly
scattered fine hairs somewhat longer than the rest. In the
finest skins the pelt is very dark, and the hairs interspersed
more numerous, but black with white tips, and the whole
appearance is very beautiful. As the animal grows older
the head assumes a yellow colour, some of the old bulls
having the head almost white. Judging from the character
of the teeth, the food of the sea otter is almost exclusively
shell-fish ; the grinders have a singularly massive, almost
bulbous form, without trenchant or even angular edges.
An examination of the contents of many of their stomachs
showed no sign of anything but mollusc diet. That the
female seeks the shelter of the kelp beds when about to
bring forth her voung is very probable, more especially
in rough weather, but that this shelter is not necessary we
proved in several instances by shooting them with newly-
born pups, many miles from either shore or kelp beds, the
placenta not having yet been voided. The cry of the
adult, only heard by us at night, is exactly like the mew of
the domestic cat. Sometimes " schools" of from one to
two hundred were met with, but, as a rule, except in the
kelp beds, where a few might be seen together, we found
them singly or in pairs.
The following account of the sea otter, and the method
of hunting it is taken from Mr. H. W. Elliott's report on
the condition of affairs in the territory of Alaska in 1835.
" The sea otter, like the fur seal, is another illustration
of an animal long known and highly prized in the
commercial world, yet respecting the life and habits of
which nothing definite has been ascertained or published.
The reason for this is obvious, for, save the natives who
hunt them, no one properly qualified to write has ever had
an opportunity of observing the enhydra, so as to study it
in a state of nature, inasmuch as, of all the shy, sensitive
beasts upon the capture of which man sets any value
whatever, this creature is most keenly on the alert and
difficult to obtain ; and also, like the fur seal, it possesses
Vi Hunting the Sea  Otter.
to us the enhancing value and charm of being principally
confined in its geographical distribution to our own shores
of the North-West. A truthful account of the strange,
vigilant life of the sea otter and the hardships and perils of
its human hunters would surpass, if we could give it all, the
most attractive work of fiction.
"There is no sexual dissimilarity in colour or size, and
both male and female, and both manifest the same intense
shyness and aversion to man, coupled with the greatest
solicitude for their young, which they bring into existence
at all seasons of the year, for the natives get young pups
every month. As they have never caught the mothers
bringing forth their offspring on the rocks, they are
disposed to believe the birth takes place on kelp beds in
pleasant or not over-rough weather. The female has a
single "pup," born about fifteen inches in length and
provided during the first month or two with a coat of
coarse, brownish, grizzled fur, head and neck grizzled,
greyish, rufous, white, with the roots of the hair growing
darker towards the skin. The feet, as in the adult, are
very short, webbed, with nails like a dog, forepaws
exceedingly feeble and small, all covered with a short,
fine, dark, bister-brown hair or fur. From this poor
condition of fur, they improve as they grow older,
shading finer, darker, thicker, and softer, and by the
time they are two years of age they are " prime," though
the animal is not full grown until its fourth or fifth year.
The white nose and moustache of the pup are not changed
in the adult. The whiskers are white, short, and fine.
The female has two teats resembling those of a cat,
placed between the hind limbs on the abdomen, and no
signs of more ; the pup sucks a year at least, longer if
its mother has no other; the mother lies upon her back
in the water or upon the rocks, as the case may be,
and when she is surprised she protects her young by
clasping it in her fore paws and turning her back to
the danger. Hunting the Sea  Otter.
" The sea otter mother sleeps in the water on her back
with her young clasped between her fore paws. The pup
cannot live without its mother, though frequent attempts
have been made by the native to raise them, as they
often capture them alive, but, like some other species of
wild animals, it seems to be so deeply imbued with the
fear of man that it invariably dies from self-imposed
" They are not polygamous, and more than an individual
is seldom seen at a time when out at sea. The flesh is
very unpalatable, highly charged with a rank smell and
"They are playful it would seem, for I am assured, by
old hunters, that they have watched the sea otter for
half-an-hour as it lay upon its back in the water, and
tossed a piece of sea-weed up in the air from paw to
paw, apparently taking great delight in catching it before
it could fall into the water. It will also play with its
young for hours.
"The quick hearing and acute smell possessed by the
sea otter are not equalled by any other creatures in the
Territory. They will take alarm and leave from the
effects of a small fire, four or five miles to the windward of them ; and the footstep of man must be washed
by many tides before its trace ceases to alarm the animal
and drive it from landing there, should it approach for
that purpose.
" There are four principal methods of capturing the
sea otter, namely, by surf shooting, by spearing surrounds,
by clubbing, and by nets.
" The surf-shooting is the common method, but has only
been in vogue among the natives for a short time. The
young men have nearly all been supplied with rifles,
with which they patrol the shores of the island and
inlets, and whenever a sea otter's head is seen in the
surf, a thousand yards out even, they fire—the great
distance and  the  noise  of the  surf preventing the  sea Hunting the Sea  Otter.
otter from taking alarm until it is hit. And in nine cases
out of ten when it is hit in the head, which is all that
is exposed, the shot is fatal, and the hunter waits until
the surf brings his quarry in, if it is too rough for him
to venture out in his bidarka. This shooting is kept
up now the whole year round.
" The spearing surround is the orthodox native system of
capture, and reflects the highest credit upon them as bold,
hardy watermen. A party of fifteen or twenty bidarkies
with two men in each—as a rule, all under the control of a
chief elected by common consent—start out in pleasant
weather, or when it is not too rough, and spread themselves
out in a long line, slowly paddling over the waters where
sea otters are most usually found. When any one of them
discovers an otter asleep, most likely in the water, he makes
a quiet signal, and there is not a word spoken or a paddle
splashed while they are on the hunt. He darts towards the
animal, but generally the alarm is taken by the sensitive
object, which instantly dives before the Aleut can get near
enough to throw his spear. The hunter, however, keeps
right on, and stops his canoe directly over the spot where
the otter disappeared. The others, taking note of the
position, all deploy and scatter in a circle of half a mile
wide around the mark of departure thus made, and patiently
wait for the reappearance of the otter, which must take
place within fifteen or thirty minutes for breath; and, as
soon as this happens, the nearest one to it darts forward
in the same manner as his predecessor, when all hands
shout and throw their spears to make the animal dive again
as quickly as possible, thus giving it scarcely an instant to
recover itself. A sentry is placed over its second diving
wake as before, and the circle is drawn anew; and the
surprise is often repeated, sometimes for two or three hours,
until the sea otter, from interrupted respiration, becomes so
filled with air or gases that he cannot sink, and becomes at
once an easy victim.
" The clubbing is  only done in the winter season, and f v^
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
then at infrequent intervals, which occur when tremendous
gales of wind from the northward sweeping down over
Saanach have about blown themselves out. The natives—
the very boldest of them—set out from Saanach and scud
down on the tail of a gale to the far outlying rocks just
sticking out above surf-wash, where they creep up from the
leeward to the sea otters found there at such times with
their heads stuck into the beds of kelp to avoid the wind.
The noise of the gale is greater than that made by the
stealthy movements of the hunters who, each armed with a
short, heavy wooden club, dispatch the animals one after
another without alarming the whole body; and in this way
two Aleuts (brothers) were known to have slain seventy-
eight in less than an hour and a half.
" There is no driving these animals out upon land. They
are fierce and courageous, and, when surprised by a man
between themselves and water, they will make for the sea
straight, without any regard for the hunter, their progress
by a succession of short leaps being very rapid for a small
distance. The greatest care is taken by the sea otter
hunters on Saanach; they have lived in the dead of a severe
winter six weeks at a time without kindling a fire, and with
certain winds they never light one. They do not smoke,
nor do they scatter or empty food refuse on the beaches.
" The hunting by use of nets calls up the strange
dissimilarity existing now, as it has in all time past, between
the practice of the Atka and Atton Aleuts and that of those
of Ounalashka and the eastward tribes. The former capture
the sea otter in nets from 16ft. to 18ft. long and 6ft. to
1 oft. wide, with coarse meshes, made nowadays of twine,
but formerly of sinew.
" On the kelp beds these nets are spread out, and the
natives withdraw and watch. The otters come to sleep or
rest on those places and get entangled in the meshes of the
nets, seeming to make little or no efforts to escape,
paralysed, as it were, by fear, and fall in this way easily
into the hands of the trappers, who tell me that they have
€ Hunting the Sea  Otter.
caught as many as six at one time in one of these small nets,
and frequently get three. They also watch for surf-holes,
or caves in the bluffs, and when one is found to which a sea
otter is in the habit of resorting, they set this net by
spreading it over the entrance, and usually capture the
" No injury whatever is done to these frail nets by the
sea otters, strong animals as they are ; only stray sea lions
destroy them. The Atka people have never been known
to hunt sea otters without nets, while the people of
Ounalashka and the east have never been known to use
them. The salt water and kelp seem to act as a disinfectant to the net, so that the smell of it does not alarm
or repel the shy animal." CHAPTER   VI.
I SHALL now proceed to describe the boats, their equipment, rifles, etc., and give an account of the modus
operandi in hunting the sea otter followed by ourselves
and others employed on the same errand, whose vessels,
schooners, and sloops we subsequently met with at various
periods during our cruise. -The boats were sharp at both
ends like those used in whaling, and about fourteen feet long
and five feet beam, carvel built, strongly made and low in the
water, so as to admit of paddling when necessary; the bow
was covered in for about three feet so as to provide a rest
for the rifles, ammunition, etc., the under part forming a
locker for provisions and spare ammunition. When not on
the look-out, the hunter sat on the foremost thwart facing
the bow, with his rifles, two heavy muzzle-loaders and a
seventeen-shot Winchester, with cartridges, bullets, and
powder before him. The next two thwarts were occupied
by the rowers, each pulling a long oar; the steersman,,
sitting right aft, with a spare thwart before him, used to
trim the boat when sailing, and underneath this was a small
drawer carrying a boat compass, an absolute necessity
where fogs were so sudden and so frequent. Each boat
had a slight keel to admit of sailing, and when fully
equipped carried three natives and one European; three
rifles, two heavy muzzle-loaders, and a seventeen-shot
Winchester for "breaching" otters, and four hundred
rounds of ammunition, a pair of extra thole pins—more
easily made and replaced than iron—a mast and sprit, sprit-
sail and jib, oars, paddles, and a compass. The provisions
consisted of rice and fish for the natives, salt junk, bread or
biscuits, and cheese for the hunter. fed
o t Hunting the Sea  Otter.
The arms par excellence for this kind of wrork are :
First, the old Kentucky muzzle-loading pea rifle with hair
trigger, for single shots, or, at least, a modification of it,
and the Winchester repeater for quick snap-shooting at
"breaching"' otters. This may seem to many a curious
statement to make in these days of highly-finished breechloaders of a hundred types and fashions, and the old
backwoods rifle of Fenimore Cooper's heroes is considered
to have long been " relegated to the limbo of dead dogs."
But the truth of my assertion is mainly proved by the
adoption of this weapon for this particular sport among a
class of men second to none as game shots, whose life and
antecedents bring them in contact with most of the different
rifles in use. They are natives of America, where the rifle
is, or was then, used, and costs much less than it does in
England. The reasons for its being a general favourite
are not far to seek, for the accuracy of these long-barrelled,
small-bore pieces, with their small charge of powder and
spherical bullet, would surprise many who had not seen the
shooting that can be made with them up to a hundred yards,
and it is within that range that the otter hunter looks for a
telling shot, though we repeatedly made and saw kills at
double that distance. The sea otter, if struck in the head
or neck is easily dispatched, the small bullet and corresponding charge of powder is amply sufficient for the
purpose. When it is remembered that the marksman has
to balance himself in a cockle shell of a boat in a sea rough
or rippling, and to shoot at a moving object no bigger than
a bulldog's head, it will be, perhaps, readily understood
that the great weight and unequal balance of such an arm
gives a steadiness of aim not to be obtained in one lighter
and more easily directed.
These rifles could, of course, be easily converted into
breechloaders, and certain reminiscences of chilled fingers
that had to be carefully watched because they were too
cold to feel the bullet, and teeth used to pull the greasy
patches off the shoe lace on which they had been threaded, 62
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
because the aching fingers refused to do their duty, are not
easily forgotten; but as two are always carried in each boat,
with the Winchester to fall back upon, no change is really
required, except on the score of comfort, a consideration
little studied by the otter hunter. Moreover, the time
between the divings of the animal is generally sufficient for
the purpose of loading. In a description of the fur-seal
already given, there is an explanation of the term
" breaching." It is on such occasions that rapid snapshooting is the order of the day and the Winchester is in
request. Besides these two different kinds of rifles we had
others by Rigby, Holland, Spencer, Ballard, and a Swdss
match rifle, all of which, though good of their kind, were
ill-adapted for our purpose.
The following will give an idea of the method of hunting :
After a hasty breakfast, often by lamplight, the three boats
were hoisted out and provisioned for the day, with sails,
ammunition, rifles, and compass carefully seen to, we put off
from the side as the first streaks of dawn began to light up
the eastern sky. Proceeding in line with an interval of
two or three hundred yards between each boat, according
to the more or less foggy state of the atmosphere, each hunter
standing upon the foremost thwart, a sharp look out was
kept until an otter was seen, when the observer raising his
paddle in the air to signify to the others that he had
" found," rows straight for him as hard as his men can send
the boat through the water. Should the otter be lying on
its back, with eyes consequently but little raised above the
surface of the water, the hunter may at times approach
within a hundred yards, or even less, of his prey, and with
a single, well-directed shot may, to use an Irishism, put an
end to the chase before it had commenced. But so acute
are the senses of these animals that as a rule, except when
there is a heavy sea on, before the boat has arrived at twice
that distance the otter is on the alert, and might be seen
craning his head and neck above the water, observing with
alarm   and, unfortunately for him, considerable  curiosity,
% Hunting the Sea  Otter.
the approach of so strange an object. But this does not
last long, for he is naturally wary, and, turning his back
upon the foe, swims rapidly away, until the ping or splash
of a rifle bullet in more or less close proximity to his head,
causes him to dive out of sight in a moment. As soon as
the leading boat, which meanwhile has been pulling for all
it is worth, reaches the spot where the otter dived, the men
lay on their oars, the hunter and steersman keeping a lookout in all directions for his re-appearance. , In the meantime, the other two boats have advanced, and taken up
their positions in the rear, representing with the first as
nearly as possible an equilateral triangle, and separated
from each other by a distance of three or four hundred
This pause in the pursuit is made in order to take
advantage of the practice almost invariably followed by
the sea otter of diving back behind the danger. This
peculiarity is soon learned by the hunter, and ceases to
baffle him. The very cunning of the move becomes the
principal cause of its undoing, for should the otter, as was
sometimes the case, elect to trust to his heels, or rather his
flippers, the chances of escape, more especially in a seaway,
were greatly in its favour, so small an object as its head
being easily lost sight of in the tumult of the waters. Some
of the American hunters, who had pursued them upon the
Pacific Coast, declared that they had completely outgrown
the habit of diving back, and, as soon as they caught sight
of their pursuers, up tail and " breached" across the ocean
as hard as they could go, so shy and wary do they become
when much hunted.
Each hunter, rifle in hand, eagerly scans the space
between the boats, ready to salute the reappearance of the
otter with a bullet. This must be done as quickly as
possible, so as to make him dive again before properly
getting his breath, and so shorten the time of his stay under
water. Should he make his appearance close to one of the
boats, it is at once backed, the others closing in so as to 64
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
keep him as much as possible within the area of the fatal
triangle. Should the otter commence " breaching," or
leaping like a porpoise every few yards, as they often did
when hard pressed, the nearest boat takes up the chase,
and, watching the line of bubbles pressed out of the pelt by
the resistance of the water, holds his Winchester ready to
take a snapshot each time of his re-appearance. Balanced
upon a narrow thwart, with the boat propelled at its utmost
speed, the steersman guided by the pointed rifle of the
hunter, it becomes snap-shooting with a vengeance. The
rapid shooting has, moreover, another object, that of so
scaring him as to stop the "breaching" and cause him to
dive back. When this is the case, the two boats, which in
following have throughout maintained their proper position,
cease rowing and prepare to pursue the same tactics as
before. Frequently the otter breaks the water close to one
after the other, and starts " breaching" at full speed from
each in turn; and it is sometimes as much as four hours of
such strenuous exertion on the part of both hunted and
hunter before fatigue and shortness of breath give a favour-
able opportunity for a successful shot.
All too often for the hunter, good fortune favours the
pursued, for he is either lost in a tide-rip or swallowed up
in a fog. Not unseldom, some fierce volcanic blast will
sweep down upon the frail boats without a moment's
warning, and, catching up the crest of every little wavelet
in its passage, churns the sea into foam and hides the boats
in a cloud of spindrift, until, drenched and half blinded, the
chase has to be abandoned for the sake of personal safety.
To proceed with our narrative. As we opened out the
land more, the wind fell calm, leaving us tossing about in an
ugly tide-rip, which, however, carried us rapidly along the
the coast, so that by two o'clock in the day wre were already
abreast of Otter Island, a mass of igneous black rock
situated about half a mile from the shore, marking the
northern extremity of Roku Bay. The island got its name
from the early hunters, who found great  numbers of the
MB! Hunting the Sea  Otter.
animals frequenting the kelp bed which grows in the small
bay on its inland side.    Longing for the chase, from which
we had been so long debarred by unlooked-for difficulties
and  adverse  weather,  we were all eagerly scanning the
water when Snow sang out: "An otter, boys.    There he
is!'     Another moment and we all saw a bullet-like head
appear on the crest of a large wave.    " Out boats " was
now the cry, and in a very short space of time, considering
the roughness of the sea and the unhandiness of the men,
the boats  were lowered   and  cast off;    and, though the
otter had by that time disappeared, we pulled gaily through
the nasty cross sea for the island about four miles distant.
As we approached the  land we  left the tide-rip behind,
getting into smoother water.    Snow, who was in advance,
had no sooner turned ,the corner of the rock than we heard
the report of his rifle, and were pressing on to join him
when, without a moment's warning, one of  those terrible
gusts of wind which make this particular part of the coast
so peculiarly dangerous tore with a scream of fury down the
one solitary ravine that here breaks the continuity of the
rugged coast, churning the sea into foam and drenching us
in  a few  minutes  with  sheets   of  spray.    Short  as  the
distance was, it took us a hard pull, all hands rowing or
paddling, to reach the friendly shelter of the island.   Several
otters passed close to us, but, unaccustomed as we were to
keep our feet—much less shoot—in such weather, the few
shots fired proved abortive.    Nor was Snow more successful, though he had come quite suddenly upon no fewer than
seventeen lying in the kelp, to the long fronds of which we
soon made fast until the violence of the storm should subside,
and when it did abate it was only to blow hard upon us
from the opposite quarter, leaving the schooner too lightly
manned on a lee shore.    We saw at once that to save
the  vessel  Baker would have  to  clear  off as   sharp  as
possible, but  she  had  already  as   much   sail   on   her  as
she could  carry; while  reefing with only the  cook  and
boy to help,  neither of  whom could be trusted   in  such
F 66
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
an emergency, was almost an impossibility, and, to make
things worse, night was fast closing in. As to ourselves,
the wind had grown bitteriy cold, piercing our wet things
like a knife; and, without provisions, a night in the boats
was anything but pleasant to contemplate. So it was
deemed advisable, though the sea looked very ugly, to
attempt to reach the vessel, as the rough weather might
not improve. This we accomplished in safety, after a
long, hard pull, just as the daylight began to fail, and
a glass of grog, dry clothes, and a little rifle cleaning
soon made us comfortable. It was decided, however,
both for the safety of the ship and comfort in the boats,
to leave the steersmen aboard, the hunters taking their
places and shooting from the stern. This was found to
suit Baker very well, as there is always much to be
done in a vessel, independent of the work of cleaning
and scraping otter skins ; moreover, while in the boats,
the hunter always erect could readily fire over the rowers'
heads, and, the boats being less down in the head, the men
could pull better and were less exposed to getting wet.
Two hours after boarding, a dense fog settled down over
us, and the wind died away almost as suddenly as it had
arisen, leaving us at the mercy of the tide-rip, which
literally roared round us. This state of things lasted
until four o'clock in the following afternoon, and we
groped about purposeless for want of a wind. Once
we were nearly ashore, fortunately we had plenty of
water under us close up to the cliffs, and we got about
in time, but none too soon. When the fog lifted, a strong
south-easterly breeze sprang up, enabling us to run into
Hitokatpu or Jap Bay, opposite to which we had drifted,
and the anchor was dropped for the night close to another
vessel, which turned out to be the Flying Mist, of San
Francisco. After making everything snug for the night,
we were boarded by the skipper, Captain Beckwith, a
very jolly old fellow, who told us that he had been on
the  hunting  ground  since   May   ioth,   and  had  secured Hunting the Sea  Otter.
thirty-five skins, mostly very large ones, some measuring
as much as eighty-two inches in length. He had run
across with two American hunters to Honolulu, where
they completed their crew with Kanakas. These men
make capital sailors and are in much request amongst
whalers and sealers, being both active and obedient.
The two hunters, brothers, we subsequently met on many
occasions, and being accustomed to that terrible product
of civilisation, the " whitewashed' Yankee, generally an
Englishman or Irishman who has adopted all the vices
and none of the virtues of the American character, we
were agreeably surprised to find what good fellows they
were. As they seldom " guessed" or " calculated," and
rarely used bad language, we got to like them very
much. They told us that their usual life was duck-
shooting and punting in the Chesapeake, while in summer
they went otter hunting and sealing — a sufficiently
hard and adventurous life to suit the greatest lovers of
The island of Yetorup lies nearly N.E. and S.W. It is
about one hundred and ten miles in length, varying in width
from about two and a half to twenty miles where the
peninsulas on which the mountains of Atosa and Chirituba,
respectively 4050 and 5040 feet in height, project almost
at right angles to the general lie of the land. The total
area of the island is about nine hundred and thirty square
miles. Hitokatpu Bay, or Jap Bay, as we always called it,
the largest indentation on the south-east coast, is situated
about the centre of the island. It is about six miles deep
and about the same in width, the two points of entrance
lying almost east and west of each other. With the
exception of Roku Bay, where we saw our first otter, and
which is not marked on the chart, it is the only well-defined
bay on the whole of the south-eastern seaboard. It affords
but little protection from the Pacific, whose great rolling
seas break almost continually upon its shores. A long, low
reef of rocks runs straight out to sea from its southern
F 2 68
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
extremity, and gives some protection in an east wind if it
veer a point or so to the south, but the same amount of
variation to the north made it an absolute necessity for
us to up anchor and run to the other side for shelter.
This, of course, added much to our feeling of insecurity,
and the prospect of spending a long day in the boats
and of making sail at all hours of the night was not
The physical aspect of the whole island is remarkably
bold, the dark plutonic rock of gorge and precipice
betokening at once its volcanic origin, A range of lofty
mountains broken up into eight great groups connected by
low flat spaces or broken hills, generally covered with
dense primeval growths of stunted timber, extends from
north to south of the coast in steep and rugged precipices,
against which the waves break with resistless fury in
wreaths of foam. Remains of former eruptions are very
numerous, easily traced in stupendous precipices and vast
masses of rock piled upon each other in endless confusion,
while conspicuous cone-shaped mountains, some solid,
others mere shells, differ somewhat in external configuration, but all bear evidence of the primitive forces of
The scene from the deck was very beautiful, though the
appearance presented by the country is bleak, sterile, and
desolate beyond description. The rays of the rising sun
were just beginning to tinge the summits of the mountains;
each peak and ridge grew rosy red, to pale slowly as the
orb of day rose higher, leaving by degrees the virgin snow
in unsullied whiteness ; huge masses of rock hung poised
along the steep declivities, which, here and there rent
asunder, formed deep and rugged ravines, showing darkly
against the lighter tint of the background. While
numerous rivulets, now swollen and violent, leapt with
impetuous freedom over dark precipices to fall hundreds of
feet on to the boulders beneath.
From the skirts of the mountains to the sea, a distance Hunting the Sea  Otter.
of a mile more or less, the country was broken up into
mounds and hillocks. The bight of the bay was entirely
composed of sand backed with sand dunes, now white with
snow> which shielded with protecting care the scanty
growth around ; the extremities were rocky and boulder-
strewn, the east one terminating in a huge unwooded
volcanic mountain, the west one stretching out into a spit
of raised level ground, like an artificial embankment,
terminating in a reef with several kelp beds around it.
After breakfast, all hands went ashore to get wood and
water, both of which were much needed on board. We
hauled the boats up on a little peebly patch, between two
small streams that came down murmuring and sparkling,
and not far from two substantial wooden houses, the only
habitations on the eastern side of the island, one evidently
Used as a store, the other occupied by a Japanese and two
or three Einos; the former told us that they lived for the
greater part of the year in the small fishing colony on the
west coast, only coming across occasionally to fish during
the summer. I had taken my gun, and shot a yellow
shanks, but there was little life to be seen. Two large
eagles hovering over the scene only added to the desolation, and a few crows, like black dots upon the snow,
could be distinguished above watermark, feeding upon
some garbage of the sea; a single red-breasted thrush,
looking like an overgrown robin, sat sulky and disconsolate
on an alder branch behind the houses, and two pretty
white-breasted birds, harbingers of spring, sang sweetly,
but plaintively, from the wood hard by.
On our return, we boarded the Flying Mist, wrhose crew,
similarly employed, had been working all the morning
alongside of ours. We found the ship to be a regular
Newfoundland Banker of sixty tons, fore and aft rigged,
with large mainsail, the boom running twenty-five feet
over the counter, deep and sharp as a yacht, with beautiful
lines; no better craft could be chosen for cruising in a
deep   and   sudden-storm-swept   sea, in which  ability  to 7°
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
work sharply off a lee shore might at any time make all
the difference between safety and disaster.
Next day the wind still blew strong from the south-east,
with fog and slight rain, so we employed the morning in
filling up with wood and water; at noon the fog cleared
away, and, getting the anchor up, we set sail, and w7ere
soon scudding across the bay. It was too rough to hunt,
so, after anchoring, the skipper and I went to explore the
coast, while Snow set off in another boat to try and intercept
a couple of bears which we had observed from the deck to
be making for the big bluff which terminates that side of
the bay. We were all in hopes of a shot, for, if successfully headed, they would either have to come down the
coast where the skipper and I were, or take to the
mountain side, which is in that part precipitous. Snow,
however, was too late, though by following them up he got
a shot at the smaller one, evidently a half-grown cub ; it
fell into the breakers beneath, out of our reach.
The beach, which sloped gradually from a high bank, was
entirely composed of hard, white-looking stones, few
weighing less than a ton and many as high as a man, but
all beautifully smooth and rounded. On reaching the top
of the bank we found that a lake, about a couple of miles
round, occupied part of the low ground at the base of the
mountain, which here stood back at some distance from the
strand. The country was densely covered with a species
of reed, with laurel-shaped leaves of a green and white,
interspersed with stunted pine and cypress. In hopes of
getting a shot at some wild duck, we pressed on to the
margin of the lake, but found them as scarce as the " black
swan' of Latin grammar celebrity. Not a feather did we
see, save a couple of white-throated songsters observed on
the other side. It was late when we got on board, when we
stood over for the other shore and anchored for the night.
The fog cleared away early next morning, both wind and
sea having abated. An otter was soon sighted, and we
were congratulating ourselves on getting sport at last, when Hunting the Sea  Otter.
a heavy sea began to set into the bay, followed by a stiff
south-easterly wind, which soon raised such a commotion in
the water that we were compelled to return, the sea
becoming dangerous. On our way back we boarded
another schooner, the Lizzie, Captain Cole, which had
anchored alongside during our absence in the boats.
Eighteen skins had rewarded the efforts of her crew. In the
afternoon we got under way, intending to run down the
coast, an example soon followed by the Lizzie, but we found
the wind had freshened so much that we were both glad to
run back again. The sun shining brightly all day greatly
tempered the cold, besides melting the snow, and the scene
wore in consequence a less wintry aspect. The following
day we started early in the boats, as the wind had died
away during the night. Huge glassy rollers, mountains of
water, were still coming into the bay, and breaking in a roar
like thunder on the beach. We struck across to the big
bluff on the other side, round whose boulder-strewn
declivities four eagles were hovering, one of which, bolder
than the rest, gave a long and unsuccessful shot. A
number of fur seals were seen, and five great whales were
swimming and diving about in all directions. We saw
several otters, but, as usual, the wind sprang up again and,
many of the rollers beginning to break far from the shore,
made it very risky work, and we were glad to get back safe
to the ship.
May 30th, the succeeding day, was destined, fortunately,
to put an end to our bad luck; we left the schooner at five
o'clock in the morning, after a hasty breakfast of porridge
and molasses, coffee and biscuit; and, rounding the reef,
pulled southwards down the coast. The air was clear and
warm, and the sea much quieter.
We had not proceeded far when Snow, whose boat was
in advance and who, it may be mentioned here, had, on
account of his former experience, been unanimously elected
leader in all the hunting arrangements, raised his paddle
aloft  as  a  sign   that  he  had   " viewed."     Sitting  down 72
■ Hunting the Sea  Otter.
quickly and plying his paddle so as to urge the boat
onward as near as possible before the otter should take
the alarm, Snow presently rose, rifle in hand, and
simultaneously with the report we saw the otter's head
disappear beneath the wave about two hundred yards in
advance. Quickly resuming his paddle, the boat shot
forward until over the place where the otter had dived,
while the skipper and I took our respective places
in the rear. For a few minutes all was eager expectation, the boats, about three hundred yards apart,
rose and fell regularly on the glassy sea, while each
hunter, with rifle thrown well forward and a face rigid
with suppressed excitement, stood erect and motionless
as a statute, scanning with expectant glance the sunlit
space; even the stolid rowers showed signs of animation
and interest in the result. Presently the hissing sound of
his escaping breath drew my attention to the otter, which
had risen about fifty yards to the right. Quick as thought
a bullet splashed up the water near him, as, alarmed by the
close proximity of the boat and its occupants, it dived again.
Pulling rapidly away, the other two boats advanced so as
to bring the spot where the otter had disappeared in the
-middle of the triangle; another interval, and the otter
rose close to onow, but, instead of diving, it commenced
" breaching," while Snow, in full pursuit, took snapshots
with his Winchester every time it left the water. The
animal tried every artifice to elude its pursuers, dodging
now to the right, now to the left; but no breeze ruffled
the oily smoothness of the water, and a long train of
air bubbles that ascended from the pelt gave as sure
an indication of its presence and direction as if it had
been seen, enabling the hunter to guide the rowers
accordingly. This continued for some time until the
otter, finding such tactics useless, dived back, only to
emerge near me and go through the same performance,
then several more long dives gave opportunities for
steadier shots.    The chase lasted four hours, most of the
m Hunting the Sea  Otter.
time being occupied in breaching at a great pace, until
eventually the dives became shorter, and longer time had
to be taken for getting breath, until a well-directed shot in
the head from Snow's rifle put an end to his life, as well as
to one of the longest and most exciting chases during the
whole of our cruise. The otter, an old, white-headed bull,
proved one of the largest and gamest we were destined to
meet with. The sun, which was high in the heavens, had
become quite powerful, so we rested for ten minutes to
give the men time for a smoke and to wipe off the per-
SDiration that trickled down their swarthy faces. Another
otter was soon sighted, which, being encumbered with a
very young pup, soon succumbed ; the maternal instincts
aroused by its plaintive wailing prevented her from
deserting or, by taking too long dives, from drowning it,
until a well-aimed shot put an end to her life and anxiety.
This hunt wras in great contrast to the first, and was
objectionable to all of us as savouring of cruelty. The
feeling of a true sportsman is always strongly opposed to
the destruction of any wild animal under such conditions,
tigers, perhaps, excepted. But the costly preparations and
heavy outlay demanded for such work as otter hunting, the
continual danger of shipwreck, and the risks run in the
boats must not be lost sight of; while, further, the shortness
•of the hunting season, the prevalence of gales and fogs
give to the sea otter an amount of protection and extent of
"" close' season which will, I trust, go far to extenuate, if
not excuse, a practice universal among those who follow
this dangerous occupation.
At mid-day we fastened the boats together, and made a
frugal and hasty dinner of bread and cheese, moistened
with a bottle each of excellent Bass, the natives stuffing
themselves with rice and fish. Luncheon over, we
succeeded, after an exciting hunt, in getting another large
bull otter, quickly followed by another, about half grown,
but with a beautiful skin, the latter just in time, as a stiff
breeze sprang up, bringing in its train a thick fog; it was MB
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
now about six o'clock, and, as we were fully twenty miles
from the schooner, masts were shipped, and we were soon
scudding back under a couple of reefs before the freshening breeze.
Shortly after getting under way Snowr shot a small
sea-lion about seven feet long which rose before him,
the speed of the boat fortunately carrying him alongside
before the animal sank. Old Junky, who wras in the
skipper's boat, licked his lips on seeing the capture, and
explained that, next to cormorant, fried seal was the most
dainty of dishes. It is certain that the two or three
succeeding days gave us ample opportunity of judging the
truth of old Junky's observation; and if the power and
penetrative effects of the aroma when cooking was any
criterion of its culinary excellence, fried seal must be a
right royal dish—for those who like it. At all events, it
had the good effect of protecting the whole seal tribe more
effectually than the most rigidly observed close time could
have done. The boats with their three inches or so of keel
sailed splendidly; and, well-trimmed aft, did not take so
much water aboard as when first tried at Otter Island. The
navigation, however, was far from pleasant. In the dense
fog we soon lost sight of each other, and, though the
compass gave generally the direction, our dependence was
principally on the ear to judge the distance from the shore.
The constant roar of the giant rollers on our side, and the
huge green billows, whose crests became gradually thinner
and more over-arching in more shallow water, were our
chief, but precarious guides. It was, in fact, ticklish work.
The principal difficulty was in the dense fog and the
rapidly falling night to round the reef or point of the bay
without running so far as to miss the schooner. The turn
was successfully accomplished by observing the diminished
roar of the breakers. By edging in till the sail jibed we
knew7 that at length we had fairly entered the bay. Right
glad we w7ere when the dark hull of the schooner loomed
through the fog; and, within ten minutes of each other, the Hunting the Sea  Otter.
various crews of the boats were all on deck as the cabin
clock pointed nine.
After dinner, rifles were cleaned and the otters skinned ;
the latter a disagreeable process on account of the somewhat fetid odour they exhaled. The old bull was found to
have four bullets in the body besides the one that finished
him. The skin laid out on deck measured from nose to tip
of tail six feet five inches, the second bull's six feet two
inches, and the cow's five feet nine and a half inches. I     CHAPTER VII.
A GOOD deal of sea was running on Sunday morning,
making the occupations of that day rather unpleasant.
Ordinarily, this was the day for writing up the log,
mending clothes, casting bullets, etc., a series of light tasks
which, we flattered ourselves, did not partake of such a
wholesale desecration of the Sabbath as hunting would
have been. More important work, however, claimed our
attention this morning, for the skins of the five otters shot
the day before had been already removed, and required
curing, so as to be stowed away ready for the market. The
first step was with a sharp knife to thoroughly clear the
head, paws, tail, and flippers of all flesh and fatty matter.
This being done, rough oblong frames, proportionate in
size to the skin to be stretched, were knocked together out
of battens about an inch thick and four broad, a supply of
which we had handy. On these the skins were laid, and
beginning from the head, and well nailed down, care being
taken not to stretch them more than was absolutely
necessary, so as to keep the fur as close and thick as
possible; indeed, much caution was required, the skin
being tender, and easily torn. The tail, carefully flattened
out, was lastly nailed on to a piece of wood fastened on to
the frame for the purpose, each skin, according to size,
would require any number up to eighty nails. This part of
the operation being completed, the next was to " lean " the
flesh and muscle adhering to the under side.
To " lean' a skin properly, one end of the frame is
placed on the rail, the other being supported on a cask or
trestle.    Two people working together from opposite sides
MSi Hunting the Sea  Otter,
generally undertake this delicate operation. They are
provided with very sharp broad-bladed knives, rounded
from the point to a third of their length, the rest of the
blade being covered with a couple of folds of canvas, to
protect the hand; an incision is made down the middle,
without piercing the skin, and the underlying substance
removed in opposite directions.
In the afternoon the wind tacked, so we weighed anchor:
but as a calm came on we returned to our old position.
Monday, June ist, was as beautiful a day as mortal could
desire. Otters were, however, scarce, and we moved
farther up the coast at seven o'clock. Hoisting all sail, we
were soon bruising through the little sparkling waves as
they came curling across the bay under a breeze from the
north-west. When abreast of the bluff which guards the
northern extremity of the bay, the boats put off to row
along the shore, while the schooner proceeded to an
anchorage some distance out. This day we only succeeded
in getting one otter, a full-grown bull. At noon, the wind
went round to the old south-east quarter, but gradually fell
away; and by six o'clock, when we returned, it was dead
calm. The schooner we found anchored in fifteen fathoms
in a small exposed bay, alongside of the Lizzie, whose crew,
more fortunate than ourselves, had secured six otters. Our
want of success was accounted for by the fact that we had
been passing over the ground already hunted by them that
morning. Another beautiful morning with a gentle breeze
blowing, and a clear, bright sun overhead, enabled us to
leave the ship early, with the result that we returned with
two full-grown otters, but by eleven o'clock it had begun to
blow fresh from the south-west, compelling us to return; and,
as there was no shelter should it increase to a gale, we got
under way and ran back to Jap Bay. When about half way,
however, it fell calm and the boats were again got out, but
without success; for not an otter was to be seen. Meanwhile, the sky began to look very threatening, and we
returned to the vessel  to   find the  glass rapidly falling, 7«
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
and every prospect of a dirty night. Very soon the wind
shifted to the north-east, and when at seven o'clock we
picked up our old moorings, it was blowing a stiff gale,
woollying with a noise like thunder down the mountain
When we awoke next morning the wind had moderated
considerably, but the short seas still showed their white
teeth ominously. However, we made an attempt to hunt at
ten o'clock, but only succeeded in getting drenched with
spray; so we had to return, and sent the boats ashore to get
wood and water instead. This was accomplished by the
.afternoon, when the anchor was hove up, and we were soon
scudding down the coast for Sandy Bay. At six o'clock the
wind died away, and, as we had been keeping well out to
get the full benefit of it, it was with much vexation that we
returned towards our anchorage, only to be tossed about all
night at the mercy of a chopping tide-rip.
Morning brought forgetfulness of our discomforts and,
before the cabin clock stood at six, the boats were lowered
and manned, and we were speeding over a glassy sea, lightly
fanned by a breeze too soft to ruffle its mirror-like surface.
It was certainly a magnificent hunting day; and, before
proceeding far, we fell in with a cow otter and pup which
were soon deposited in one of the boats. As the day
advanced, four more were secured, each one taking us
farther and farther down the coast. In considering the
matter a few hours afterwards, under somewhat unpleasant
circumstances, we concluded that every otter encountered
that day had exhibited a malignant desire to entice us as
far from the ship as possible. That they had been hunted
and disturbed lately was evident; they took to breaching so
much in preference to their diving-back tactics. The last otter,
a large bull, was killed at six o'clock, after giving a great
deal of trouble and narrowly escaping being lost in a dense
fog. This settled down upon us, enveloping land and sea in
a damp, dark pall which grew blacker as the night advanced,
chilling us to the bone,    We groped our way along the Hunting the Sea  Otter.
coast, keeping together and rowing steadily until ten
o'clock, when, we stopped for the last time to fire off our
rifles in hopes of the schooner being within hearing
distance. But as there was no response and the men wrere
exhausted, we gave up all hopes of bed and board that night
and made for the shore, keeping close in, a curious
columnar rock which had been observed by us during the
earlier part of the day giving us our position. By this time
it was almost pitch dark, for the only light visible was the
phosphorescent wave crests as they broke upon the sandy
beach. Fortunately, the immense rollers which usually spend
their strength upon the coast had melted away with the
calm weather, or landing would have been impossible. As
it was, already wet through with the fine "Scotch mist"
that had been falling all night, there was little objection to
jumping out and dragging the boats through the surf. A
little groping along the beach, and we had soon collected
drift wood enough to make a roaring fire, which added
much, in appearance at least, to our comfort. After disembowelling the otters we were too tired to skin, I took a
rifle in case we might fall in with a bear—a contingency
not at all unlikely, considering the strong scent from the dead
otters—and set off with several of the men, two of whom
carried torches of dried grass, to obtain wood enough to
keep up the fire for the remainder of the night. After
topping the bank, the little party found themselves in a
small sandy hollow overgrown with bunches of coarse grass.
At the bottom the leader stumbled and fell over a log of
wood, and this proved to be the topsail yard of a large
ship. Tucked underneath, and covered on the outside with
earth and moss, was the sail belonging to it, the whole
forming part of the side of a hut. These remains supplied
the materials for making up a tale of shipwreck and
suffering; and judging by the size of the sail, still in good
preservation, the vessel must have been a large one, for the
canvas was big enough to supply the whole crew with pants.
It was not difficult to divine by the dimensions of the refuge 8o
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
that the number of survivors must have been few, if more
than one. The solemn silence which reigned supreme over
the black darkness of the night, the flickering torches which
threw their dim, uncertain light around and yet were bright
enough to furnish us with these details, which, woven into
the web of experience, told an all-too-easily-read tale of
misfortune and disaster. Better, surely, to have perished
with their shipmates during the few moments of struggle
with seething foam and storm-tossed billows than to be
cast bruised and helpless upon a shore as bleak and inhospitable as the sea that had rejected them. All inquiries,
later on, failed to give us any information about the unfortu-
nate castaways who had never been seen or heard of by the
natives; so, probably, like many others who make their living
on the great waters, they rest quietly and unknown where
their only dirge would be the eagles' scream mingled with
the roar of angry waters, which alone unite to break the
silence of this gloomy solitude.
We gathered and cut as much firewood as we thought
sufficient, and, dragging with us the yard and sail, returned
without mishap to the cheery light of the fire. The sail
was given to the men, who crawled beneath its ample folds,
and doubtless slept; for cannot a Japanese sleep anywhere,
and at all times ? As to ourselves, we lay down or sat
round the fire to pass the night as best we could. The
skipper and I had to content ourselves with cutting out our
pockets, in which tobacco had been kept, and smoking
them, for neither of us could raise a pipeful of the precious
weed between us. The fire was carefully tended, as certain
unmistakable sounds during the night betokened the
presence of bears, which are both numerous and fierce in
these parts. After a miserable night of cold and hunger,
the first streak of dawn was hailed with delight. A bubbling
spring of clear, hot water, which issued from the rocks a
short distance from our camp, afforded us the means of
WTashing ourselves, and this added to our comfort. And, after
skinning the otters, we made an inspection of the hut and  p
u Hunting the Sea Otter.
its surroundings, which it was evident now had never been
finished. The immediate neighbourhood was carefully
examined for anything likely to throw light upon the
subject, without success. Subsequent inquiries of the
few natives we met, as already mentioned, failed also to
give us a clue to the mystery. Without regret, we
launched the boats and left the little bay to its ordinary
solitude. We found a number of otters swimming about
among the rocks, stretching their heads above the water,
with looks of astonishment, not yet mingled with alarm.
They afforded many a tempting shot, but the rifles were foul
and wret, and the caps only snapped; so we left them, for
the present, in peace. At six o'clock, the cold rain ceased,
the morning fog lifted, and we sighted the schooner; and
were very glad of the comforts it supplied. Under the
lightest of breezes, by ten o'clock we were anchored in
fifteen fathoms of water off Sandy Bay, our destination of
yesterday. A good feed partaken of, clothes changed, rifles
cleaned, and we were off again in the boats. Proceeding
a short distance up the coast without seeing anything, we
turned our heads in the opposite direction, in hopes of
meeting with some of those otters so numerous in the early
morning, but they were gone. Whether it was the want of
sleep or the want of better fortune that oppressed us, it
would be impossible to say, but without doubt a presentiment of coming trouble brooded over us; and, though
nothing was said about it at the time, a proposal made
by the hitherto enthusiastic Snow to return to the
schooner met with no objection from the rest. While
still some distance off, we were surprised to see a
steamer round the rocks and anchor a couple of hundred
yards from our vessel. Presently three boats put off
from her side, and, rowing up to us, took each of us in
tow, at the same time putting on board of us an armed
marine who, however graceful he might have been in his
native dress, looked ludicrously uncomfortable in his tight-
fitting uniform, for the day had turned out hot and close, 82
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
The last step called for a rather sharp remonstrance, but
our protest was answered so politely, that they would tow
us to their vessel, that it was useless to resist. Having
lived some years amongst these people, and liking them, as
we could not fail to do, their vagaries when assuming the
manners and dress of Europeans still struck us as very
ridiculous ; and, aware that we had done nothing of which
they could complain, wre quietly submitted. It was plain
now that this was either the forerunner of that expedition
which we had been warned was to take more formal possession of the island and put a stop to otter hunting, or that
we were at length to find a key to the obstructions offered
to our leaving Hakodate and to the conduct of the Governor
of Nemoro. On boarding the steamer, which we had already
recognised as the Japanese gunboat Capron Maru, we
were shown into a small deck-saloon aft. Seated at a table
which almost equally divided it were a number of Yakonins
in native costume, and when in one of them we identified
the portly form and ill-favoured visage of the Governor of
Nemoro, we began to foresee trouble ; for, although within
our rights in what we had done, it was hardly likely, now
that he considered he had the whiphand of us, that he
would forgive our high-handed but necessary proceedings
at our last meeting, and the small deference paid to his
We were, however, under the American flag, whose
prestige is almost as great as that of the English. Its
power was as well-known to our captain as to ourselves,
and any insult to the one was as sure to be resented as
any want of respect to the other. Our apprehensions, too,
were allayed by the consciousness that both nations were
represented at the time in these regions by two of the
ablest ministers ever sent out by their respective governments, and in the course of our examination all our fear
subsided. It would be impossible to give all the details of
this examination, or rather conversation, for the interpreter's
knowledge of the English language was limited; and, though Hunting the Sea  Otter.
we spoke very slowly, it was easy to see by the puzzled
•expression of his countenance when he was at a loss.
Naturally enough, he did not wish it to be seen, and
answered glibly enough, "I understand." To avoid the
necessity of drawing on his imagination, our replies to
.questions were repeated in* different forms, and, when all
seemed to comprehend, a consultation took place as to
what the next question was to be. The following however,
is the gist of what passed :
Interpreter : " What are you doing here ? "
bnow : | Hunting the sea otter."
Interpreter : " Who gave you permission ? "
Snow: "Nobody. We Englishmen do not consider it
necessary to ask anyone's permission when we sail on
the seas."
Interpreter: "You do not seem to know that this is
Japanese territory."
Snow: " What!    The sea ? "
Interpreter :. " No; but the Island of Yetorup, where you
have been hunting." «
Snow : " We have not been hunting on the land, only on
the sea."
Here the Governor, quite unaware of our knowledge of
their language and who evidently disapproved of the length
of the examination, briefly explained to his coadjutors the
maritime habits of the sea otter, and further added that the
charge upon which we ought to be arraigned should be that
we had stolen the sea Otters belonging to Japan, and were,
therefore, robbers—robbers of the worst description, he
added violently.
Poor man! No wonder he was angry, for the few otter
skins procured by the natives during the winter with
their matchlocks had been a nice perquisite, and to see
his monopoly destroyed by these foreign devils was more
than he could stand.
Interpreter ; " Have you obtained any otter skins ? '
Snow (airily): " Oh, yes, thanks, a few."
G 2 I
Hunting the Sea   Otter.
Interpreter (delightedly): " Then you are robbers, and
we will confiscate your vessel and everything belonging
to it."   1 m
This made us laugh heartily.
I (sarcastically) : " You do not seem to be aware that,
even if you own this island, according to international law,
your jurisdiction cannot extend beyond three miles from
the shore ; and the sea otter is found far beyond that limit."
This was evidently a poser, necessitating another long
consultation, when Snow incautiously added, " Besides, you
knew we were coming here, we made no secret of it, why
did you not tell us at Hakodate? Moreover, I was here
last year and met with no interruption j the Governor of
Nemoro then," pointing to that exalted functionary, " why
did he not warn us if our actions were illegal according to
Japanese ideas ? "
Interpreter: " When you were here last year did you
hunt at all within three miles of the shore ? "
Snow : "Very possibly. I certainly did not measure the
Interpreter (joyfully): " Then we will take you to
Hakodate. The others may go, but having admitted that
you may have hunted last year within three miles of our
coast is sufficient to show that you have been defrauding
the Japanese Government."
This was all amusing enough. But if they had not right
they certainly had might on their side, and if they liked to
carry out their design it would mean nothing less than the
collapse of the expedition, just as the best hunting weather
had arrived.
In the whispered council that was held amongst us Snow
asked what was to be done, remarking that if they did take
him it might, perhaps, be as well, for we should be able to
claim heavy compensation for such an unwarrantable
proceeding. In this view the skipper, was inclined to
acquiesce, but I would not. " No, no," I exclaimed, " If
you go it will be impossible to hunt with only two boats; Hunting the Sea  Otter.
and you know Baker cannot leave the schooner, and then
the cruise will end in disappointment and failure. While as
to compensation, that is hard enough to obtain from an
individual, but from a government the very essence of red
tape, and an eastern one, too, the idea is preposterous. Of
course it might be obtained, and very probably it would be,
but only at the expense of an amount of patience I, for one,
am not at all ambitious to practise. There is nothing like
determination in a case like this, tell them you do not
mean to be taken away, and trust the rest to fortune, and,
if you have to go, we shall be conscious of having done
our best."
Snow thereupon turned to the interpreter, telling him
they had no right to take him prisoner, for it amounted to
that, under any consideration; more especially for anything
that he might or might not have done a year ago; and,
in short, that he did not mean to go, and dared them to do
their worst.
This bold speech, when interpreted, seemed to stagger
all but the Governor, who made an insulting remark, the
last straw that broke the camel's back; for Snow, whose
wrath had been gathering for some time, and who, rightly
or wrongly, attributed the annoyance to the Governor's
greed, turned upon him and, bursting out into a torrent of
Teproaches, shook his fist in his face and gave him " such a
talking to " as the poor man, unless married, had never
received before. All his broken promises, written and
verbal, were alluded to in no measured terms, while his
motives were canvassed in decidedly uncomplimentary
terms. There was no need of an interpreter here, as everything was uttered in Japanese, which we all spoke well. I
had been watching my opportunity, took advantage of the
•consternation created, and whispering to the skipper
to keep his eye on the swords piled in a corner
behind him and to follow as soon as we gained the deck,
took hold of Snow's arm, saying: " Now is the time to
clear out," shoved him towards the door.    Snow took the 86
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
hint and when two of the Yakonins, who had been seated
on our side of the table, rose and seized him, the former
turned in a moment and threw one of them prone upon the
form from which he had just risen, while I seized the other
and sent him staggering into the corner. It is impossible
to say what might have happened next, as our blood was
up, and our hands almost unconsciously sought the hilts of
the hunting knives in our belts, the only weapons we
possessed. Everyone had risen to his feet, the cabin was
blocked with men, the rifles of the soldiers outside rattled
against the woodwork as they strove to look in through the
barred windows of the cabin.
Seeing my opportunity in the indecision displayed in not
proceeding to further extremities, I called out in Japanese;
"You see, this will never do, you must.let us all go."
Almost simultaneously with these words the interpreter
called out: " Stop, stop, we will consider again." Now it
is said that he who hesitates is lost, so we remained in a
state of armed neutrality for a few minutes while the usual
consultation took place. The interpreter then turned to us
and said:
" We shall not take you to Hakodate, but you are now in
Japanese waters; if at any time we find you here again, we
shall confiscate your vessel and cargo and carry you all to
Hakodate ; in the meantime, we give you ten hours to clear
away, and on no account are you to return."
So far we had triumphed; the interview had been a long:
one, for it had lasted four hours, it being past seven when
we got back to the schooner, after a more than usually
exciting two days. The preceding night, it will be remembered, we spent on the sand.
Baker, who had been anxiously awaiting us, had dinner
ready, and received with mingled consternation and amazement the story of our bearding the lion in his den, " The
Douglas in his lair." He had witnessed our capture, and
feared our long detention boded no good. The verdict that
we were never to touch the coast again wras startling, to say Hunting the Sea  Otter.
the least, but we were thankful matters were no worse.
The interpreter's funny mistakes were retailed with much
laughter, and the dinner was a merry one. Not knowing
whether the Governor might not be able to play us some
new trick, it was deemed advisable to place some distance
between us ; so, taking advantage of a light air off the land
which ushered in the night, we hove up the anchor and
stood out to sea. CHAPTER   VIII.
SOON after our departure we had the satisfaction of
seeing the Capron Maru weigh her anchor also and steer
towards the south, on her homeward journey. Part of the
night was spent in discussing the events of the day and in
considering what our future proceedings were to be. However doubtful the issue might be, there remained no middle
course, either we could remain on the coast and, trusting to
vigilance and good fortune, take our chance, or go farther
north where there would be less to fear from molestation.
The latter course was open to objections of a more serious
character than we were willing to risk, for bad as was the
reputation of Yetorup for storms and fogs that of Urup,
the next island—to which we might have gone—was infinitely worse ; for what with volcanic heat on land and the
varying temperature of the waters that washed its shores,
Urup seldom doffed its misty mantle; it could rarely be
seen otherwise than as through a glass darkly, and it could
only be approached at the peril of our safety. Otters
abounded, but nature had supplied them with a protection
more baffling to the hunter than deepest water or stormy
sea. Local storms of terrific violence swept down the
mountain gorges, churning the sea into foam, and were by
no means uncommon; so that, however numerous the otters
might be, the chances of hunting them would be few and
far between. Our only course, then, was to remain where
we were, and upon this we decided. We were pretty
certain that to confiscate a vessel which was hunting or
whaling out at sea, but might happen by calms, currents, or
stress of weather to be found within a few miles of the shore, Hunting the Sea  Otter.
could only result in making the captors ridiculous, though
it might be attended with inconvenience and loss to ourselves. Besides, we were not likely to be troubled for some
little time to come, as the coal-carrying capacity of the
Capron Maru we knew to be quite inadequate to admit
of any long cruising at any great distance from her source
of supply, which in this case could not be nearer than
Hakodate. Accordingly we determined in future to keep
a sharp look-out and trust to fortune; so we turned in for
a long rest to make up for our watch of the night before,
leaving Baker to work back to the coast and anchor there.
But this was to be no easy task, for, long before daybreak,
even the light breeze dropped completely, and was succeeded by a dense, wet fog, chilly and depressing; and for
the next four days nothing was to be seen beyond a radius
of twenty or thirty yards from the vessel. The profound
stillness of the air was soon broken by the roar of a tide-
rip, into which we gradually drifted, to be tossed and
tumbled during the period mentioned without intermission,
for, having once secured a victim, it seemed loath to give
him up. This tide-rip is evidently formed by the pent-up
waters of the Sea of Okhotsk rushing through a narrow
strait separating Kunashir from Yetorup, and, bending in a
north-easterly direction, sweeps the eastern coast of the
islands. Its greatest force, exerted a few miles from the
shore, overcomes, and doubtless deflects, the course of the
Arctic current flowing southwards from Behring's Straits,
and it is the meeting of these two currents that causes such
a commotion in the waters extending from the south of
Roku Bay to the extreme north of the island. Of the
former portion we had some experience on our first day's
hunting, as has been already narrated, the latter we had yet
to encounter. The frequency of fogs is easily accounted
for when it is remembered that the difference of the
temperature of the two currents is considerable; that
of the Okhotsk being warmer, the superincumbent air is
soon   saturated   with   moisture,   caused   by  the   constant 9°
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
evaporation going on, and when brought in contact with
the colder current naturally results in its deposition in the
form of mist and rain.
The s*un pretended to shine at mid-day, but at best it
was a mockery, both as regards light and heat, so raW and
dense was the damp air; nor was there any abatement of
the rolling and pitching to which we were subjected; not a.
breath stirred, the masts creaked and groaned, sails had to«
be stowed, and booms lashed ; the cook was at his wits'
end, and meagre fare was the order of the day. For three
days this state of things continued, without a glimpse of
land or sky, and to a position of extreme discomfort was to
be added that of danger, for the sullen roar of surf breaking
writh tumultuous force against the coast, at first faint,,
grew nearer and more distinct, as we were evidently
drifting slowly but surely towards it. Without a breath of
air to steer a course, and in a sea too angry and broken to
admit of taking to the boats with any chance of safety, our
situation wTas sufficiently alarming. Gradually, however,,
the roar of the surf grew less audible, and it was evident
that we had drifted past some outlying rocks or promontory;
but the fog was as dense as ever, our wmereabouts still
The only break in the monotony of the day was caused
by me shooting with a short sporting Snyder one of those
curious porpoises, called by hunters " puffing pigs \ or
" grindstones," which abound on this coast. They are
generally seen in small parties of from two to six. On a
calm day the " puff-puff" as they come up to breathe can
be heard at a great distance; and when we were hunting
their unlooked for appearance among the boats often
brought the rifle to the shoulder, under the impression that.
it was the otter. We had often tried to shoot a specimen
to examine, but they either sank wmen shot, or their rapid
manner of turning over, unlike that of the common species,,
disturbed the aim, and we never got one. The term
" grindstone"   is   evidently  applied  on   account   of   this-
ms Hunting the Sea  Otter.
peculiarity of revolving on what might be termed a fixed
axis. We were now, however, to be more successful, for,
coming close under the counter, round which the porpoise
had been playing for some time, he offered a good shot,
giving me an opportunity of lodging a bullet in its head,
killing it instantly. The impetus acquired as he sprang
forward and left his life • in mid-air carried him some little
distance along the surface of the water before he turned
his white belly to the sky. He slowly sank, giving us a
chance for inspection of his form, and certainly a more
ridiculous resemblance to a pig it would be impossible to
imagine with his sharp snout and small eyes, while the long
pectorial fins placed close to the head supplied a pair of
ears to complete the likeness. The upper part of the body
was of a shiny black.
A night of great anxiety was spent by all of us on deck,
for the roar of the surf was sufficiently distinct to create
much apprehension; at any moment outlying rocks might
be struck; nor did daylight bring any improvement in our
situation, but the reverse. The fog was as dense as ever,
while the tide-rip grew worse; hitherto the waves had been
broken and pointed, as in a ground-swell; now they became
higher, and as we sank in the dark green hollows their
attenuated crests raised above the inclined deck would
break into a mass of seething foam, which rushed towards
the low bulwark with an angry hiss, leaving in its track a
snow-white sheet fringed with lace-like spray, beautiful
enough to the sight in all truth, but under the circumstances
demanding only a passing glance. The rolling of the
vessel was so great and so rapid that every moment we
expected her to jerk the masts out of her; the roar of the
surf, deadening the noise of the waves breaking around us,
grew louder and more terrible, and our drift towards the
ominous sounds more rapid. The lead was kept continually going by the skipper, whose face was more and
more eagerly scanned at each " heave," as the roar became
more distinct.    The boats would have been swamped in such 92
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
a sea—a huge sea, yet no air in motion ; all our dependence
lay in our anchors, both of which had been long ready, but
still no soundings. At length, when all hope seemed to
have left us, the tension was removed by the cry. " Fifteen
fathoms, let go." Cable was paid out, and as soon as she
brought up the lead was lowered to see if she drifted.
Fortunately for us the anchor held. The cable, a new one,
was as strong as elastic ; it gave and took under the severe
strain like a spring of steel; held, as it were, on the
brink of eternity by a slender thread of twisted coir, which
stretched and relaxed with each alternate roll and pitch of
the vessel, threatening each moment to snap. With every
eye riveted upon it as if it had been the thread of
Fate with remorseless Atropos holding the shears, while
the stern rose and fell on the very verge of the
breakers, whose white foam-covered waters waged ceaseless
strife with the precipices of dark, volcanic rock which
guard the shore and rise perpendicular from the sea, till,
hundreds of feet above, they blend their cold hues with the
warm greenery of the dwarf vegetation that clothes the
steep mountain sides. Thus passed the greater part of that
anxious day. Wet, tired, and sleepy from want of rest, and
half indifferent to what might happen—for at the worst we
should find the rest we so much needed; daylight would
soon be over, and only the darkness of night, now fast
approaching, was needed to complete our forlorn condition.
But if every cloud may have a silver lining, some fogs at
least may have a golden setting, for just as the day was
sinking into night and the white mist was slowly changing
to a more sombre leaden tint, suddenly and unexpectedly,
as if touched by some magic wand, the fog rose in great,
cloud-like masses from the water, revealing a wall of black
frowning precipices against which the sea broke in
continuous wreaths of foam and spray. Driven by the same
invisible force, for there was still not a breath of wind, it
mounted rapidly upwards, fold upon fold, higher and higher,
until, parted  by the shoulders of a huge mountain that Hunting the Sea  Otter.
seemed literally to overhang us, it folded its white wings on
either side, showing a black breast of rock and precipice,
leaving the upper part shrouded in wreaths of. trailing mist-
But quickly as it ascended, it settled down again as fast,
giving us scarcely time to scan the grim and towering rock
against which we might'at any minute be dashed to pieces ;
but that minute was sufficient, Baker recognised the
mountain at once with that instinct, common, though in
different degrees, both to the sailor and the savage, of
remembering a place once seen. The skipper had the
bearings taken in an instant, and wre set ourselves as
patiently as circumstances would permit to wait the advent
of a favouring breeze.
As to our position, it was now clear that the current in
wThich we had so long helplessly drifted, after skirting the-
eastern seaboard, doubled the north-eastern point of the
island and swinging round to the left, ran a north-westerly
course through the Yetorup Strait, and, still hugging the
coast, was carrying us into the Sea of Okhotsk when we
finally brought up. Not having time to visit the west coast,
it is impossible to say whether this current completely
encircles the island; but judging from our drift this theory
was not improbable, as we should inevitably have been
carried on to the north-west cape had we not been able by
the shoaling of the water to anchor in time to save
ourselves. The hypothesis that we were under the influence
of a powerful eddy setting in shore was contradicted^by the
tumultous tide-race in which we found ourselves to the
very last. It seems evident, therefore, that the current
from the Sea of Okhotsk, which passes eastward through
the Kunashir Channel, bends to the north, and after
washing the seaboard re-enters its parent sea through
the Yetorup Strait. Counting from the time when we
entered it till we anchored on the edge of the surf, we
were drifting for about eighty hours, and reckoning a mile-
and-a-half for each hour we had moved a hundred and
twenty miles.    We failed to catch a glimpse of Urup lying 94
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
on the other side of the strait, for the distance from one
island to the other, as marked on the chart, must be about
twenty miles. Four times within an hour was the windlass
manned, but each time the wind fell as suddenly as it rose,
and twice more was the anchor off the ground, only to
be dropped as quickly, the slight gusts carrying us but a
few lengths from our dangerous position. At last the
breeze came down stiff and steady from the north-west,
and with everything set we ran before it, the schooner
burying her nose in the seas and covering the deck with
foam and spray. By ten o'clock it was blowing a gale,
and at two a.m. when all but the watch turned in, having"
gained a good offing, we were jogging along under foresail,
staysail, and jib on a south-westerly course, heading in the
direction of Hitokatpu Bay.
Yetorup Strait, or as it was named in the old charts
Vries Strait, is, as already stated, nineteen miles across
from Cape Okabets to Cape Nobunots on Urup Island; it
is sometimes blocked with ice during the spring.
Urup is sixty miles long with an average width of six
miles and is the fourth largest of the Kuriles. It is quite
uninhabited except during the summer, and then only by a
few fishermen. About half way up the south-east or Pacific
side is a tiny basin-like harbour where the Russian Ameri-
can Company established a factory in 1795. It has a depth
of eight or ten fathoms, but a heavy swell rolls in with an
easterly wind.
There are four principal mountain groups separated from
each other, as in Yetorup, by lower and narrower land, and
varying in height from 2700 feet to 4150 feet. The northwest coast is the more mountainous side, terminating mostly
in perpendicular cliffs dropping sheer into the sea. The
Pacific side is much less bold though rocky and precipitous,
without any sufficient indentation to be called a harbour,
although there are three bays on the Okhotsk side.
The north-east end of the island terminates in a long,
flat narrow strip of land about one hundred feet in height, Hunting the Sea  Otter.
which extends from the mountain slope where it is about
two miles broad for some five or six miles, gradually
narrowing to a point. The last two miles have been
breached by the sea, giving it the appearance of a row
of steep and rugged islands.
The mountain peaks of black igneous rock are shrouded
in snow and mist during the greater part of the year, and
it is only on the lower ground that stunted pine, birch, and
alder are met with. Great beds of kelp, the favourite haunt
of the sea otter, extend along both sides of the island, but
the almost perpetual fog makes hunting as precarious as
the turbulence of sea and storm render it difficult. The
river otter and fox are the only land animals found on
Urup, for, unlike Yetorup, there are no bears. Leopard and
other seals are numerous and there is a rookery of sea lions
at the south-west end close to Cape Nobunots.
My old companion, Captain Snow, mentions in his
" Notes on the Kurile Islands," published in 1897, that the
remains of several old wrecks are to be found on the southeast coast. Close to Cape Nobunots on a ledge of rock and
boulders beneath the cliffs is a large ship's anchor and some
chain—all that is left of a whaler which was lost there
many years ago. Towards the north-east end is part of the
hull of another, whilst further along the bleached timbers of
another may be seen. In the summer of 1891 a Japanese
hunting: schooner was lost with all hands on the north-east
Things below were in a deplorable state; the cabin table
and one of the forms had broken loose and were lying legs
up, rifles had been thrown from the racks, and the destruction of crockery considerable; but tired as we were, we
were yet more hungry.
It was Saturday night since we had partaken of a regular
meal, and this was Wednesday, so the table was refixed,
the cook was roused to make hot coffee, and we dined after
a fashion on sardines and mixed pickles. The skipper, who
naively remarked that he always " went a pile" on hot things, I
Hunting the Sea   Otter.
"fixed off" a tin of the fish flavoured with a jar of piccalilli
pickles and a bottle of Worcester sauce. How delightful
to call to mind those grand, healthy, sea appetites, when
we got up at all sorts of hours with ready appetites, and
when the slightest rattle of a plate or a glass was answered
by a voice of the watch on deck down the scuttle:
" Hillo, there, is that you ? "
"Yes."  I
" What are you up to ? "
"Grub." '
"Rather." |
" So am I.    Hold hard a minute while I look round;   get
out two plates ; the grog is in the bottom locker."
Presently the skipper's head would emerge from his bunk.
" Ha, ha, neatly caught.  What have you got there, boys?"
Knowing his little weakness, the invariable reply was:
" Mixed pickles and Worcester sauce."
"All right, I guess I'll join you.    I feel just like taking a
square meal.    Yank us over the bread."
But, alas ! times have changed, and to look even at anything indigestible now is sufficient to draw forth a protest:
" If I were you, dear, I would not touch that."
«Why not?"
I Oh, nothing; but you know if you do you will be as
cross as two sticks to-morrow."
Too true. Like Beppo's wife, she might have inquired
afterwards, "How's your liver?"
The dirge of the night wind, as it moaned through the
rigging, sounded less mournful, and the dismal roar of the
waters, as they tumbled ceaselessly too and fro, were like a
soothing lullaby when contrasted with our late surroundings.
The wind, which had been going down for some time,
settled into a light breeze as morning broke, but the fog
still held its own; everything was wet and clammy, the
cabin felt cold and damp, and, as there was no.stove, our
wet clothes added to the discomfort of ourselves and our Hunting the Sea Otter.
surroundings. A glimpse of sunlight was ardently wished
for. At noon the air cleared and the land was seen abeam,
about twenty miles off, and when at four o'clock we
anchored off Gull Island, the wind had died away to a calm,
and the fog gathered, but not so thick as before. Gull
Island gets its name from the number of those birds that
breed upon it; it is a mass of rock somewhat resembling
Otter Island, and lies a few hundred yards from the shore,
a tiny shingly bay offers easy landing, and towards this we
were soon pulling in a couple of boats, with the intention
of procuring eggs, large numbers of which are generally to
be found in the hollows of the low-lying rocks, or amongst
the tufts of coarse grass growing in scattered clumps on
the tops and ridges of detached boulders.
Our landing was the signal for a terrible uproar among
the gulls, almost deafening us with their angry screams, as
they darted downwards, or wheeled and circled above us
till they darkened the air. Thousands of puffins (Arctica
fatercula and Arctica borealis), guillemots (Uria grylle
and Uria troila), razorbills (A lea tor da), and little auks
(A lea alle) flew round the rock in continuous streams from;
the sea to their nests. Terns [Steroia hirundo) shrieked
in sympathy, as with elegant, wavy flight they dipped and
rose like gigantic swallows among the angry multitude, and
the continued whistling of a thousand wings found a deep
bass in the hoarse croak of the puffins. Every ledge and
ridge of rocks was crowded with regular lines of snow-white
breasts, while from each cave and crevice issued swarms of
guillemots and shags. The cormorant alone was absent. A
solitary raven soared uneasily above the highest pinnacle
of the main rock, at whose base a couple of water-wagtails
ran unconcernedly to and fro amongst the seaweed.
There were many nests, but only fourteen eggs rewarded
our search, though it was June 10th. The main rock
being inaccessible, we were unable to overhaul the resorts
of the more cunning puffins and guillemots, who, high up in
crevices, were beyond our reach, so, after shooting a few
H 98
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
birds for the men, not forgetting some shags for old Junky,
we returned through the fog to the schooner.
It may be mentioned here that very few sea-birds were
shot during our cruise. Their extreme tameness was a
great protection to them, for it gave every facility for
inspection, as there were none but well-known species,
and we had no means of preserving their skins, there
was no object in wantonly slaughtering them. I always
had my gun ready, and made several attempts at forming
a collection, but the skins were invariably blown or swept
overboard during gales or heavy seas, and I gave up the
design in disgust.
The next few days were calm, with dense fog and fine
rain, similar in all respects to the weather we had lately
experienced. Time hung ^heavily on our hands, for no
hunting was possible; the only distraction from the
monotony of life was furnished by the taking of a few cod—
an agreeable change to our diet, cod chowder being a thing
of joy. Our principal amusement consisted of visits to
Gull Island for the purpose of getting eggs, omelettes being
no despicable addition to our bill of fare.
The habits of the numerous sea-birds, too, was a never
ending source of pleasure and instruction; I succeeded in
ishooting a variety of puffin quite new to me. It was black
.all over with the exception of the cheeks, which were
white, legs and feet bright scarlet, the latter each armed
with three sharp claws. Being only winged, it bit viciously;
drawing blood several times before it was safely in the boat.
The ^kin, after being carefully removed, was hung on the
forestay, but met the usual fate of my ornithological rareties
during the next gale. Two small rocky, but flat, islands
stretch out to sea in a line, separated from Gull Island and
each other by deep channels about two hundred yards wide.
The inner and larger one would not exceed a couple of
acres in extent; both are continually swept by the sea and
are bare of everything but weed, though they afforded a
Vesting place for a large colony of sea lions, who made Hunting the Sea  Otter.
night hideous with their unceasing bellowing. The
skipper, whose presence with us was a literal exemplification of the satirical adage so often heard among sailors,
"Who would not sell a farm and go to sea," declared that
when he closed his eyes at night it was hard to believe he
was not at home again among his beloved milk-giving
beasts. We found the sea lions when on the rock very
shy of allowing our approach within range; but their
confidence returned in a great measure when once in the
water; they would rise within twenty yards of the boats
and suddenly disappear again, giving few opportunities for a
successful shot. We were anxious to secure one, and made
many attempts at stalking, but they always seemed to sleep
with one eye open. I had a narrow escape one day.
Rowing in and out among the huge columnar rocks,
which fence part of the coast, we came suddenly upon
a huge bull resting upon a rock. As, noiselessly, we
steered round a bend of the channel, there was only
just sufficient time to back the boat from beneath him
and no more, before he dived with a great splash
from the rock, just clear of the bow. Another few feet
and he must have carried us with him to the bottom, as
he looked about twelve feet long and of corresponding
girth. The whiskers, which are very stiff and long, are much
prized by the Chinese, fetching about three shillings each,
the small end inserted into a tiny ivory hand is used for the
purpose of counteracting any irritation of the skin ; a Chinaman would say they are useful for " all the same scratchee."
The sea lion, Eumetopias Stelleri or Otaria Stelleri,
after Steller, who in 1741 accompanied Behring in his first
expedition as naturalist, is well-named from its leonine
dignity and appearance as well as its colour.
It is an immense creature, measuring as much as 12ft. or
13ft. long, with a girth varying from 8ft. to 10ft., and
weighing i2oolb. to 14001b. The female or cow sea lion
is only about 8ft. or 9ft. in length, but much finer built,
weighing only about 4oolb. to 5oolb.
H 2 100
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
The old bulls fight viciously amongst themselves, being;
often covered with scars, but are very timid otherwise; the
only danger is in getting between them and the water, when
nothing will stop them.
Their habitat extends from California to Behring Straits ;
but the sea lion observed on the rocks outside San Francisco
Harbour is much smaller, differing in many respects from
the more northern species.
The great rookeries are found on the two main islands of
the Pribylov group, St. Paul and St. George, where some
twenty thousand breed annually. About eighty years ago-
their numbers were very great—as many as two or three
hundred thousand; but, as such great numbers interfered with
the breeding of the more valuable fur seals, at the instigation of the Russians the natives hunted and worried them
off the land, with the result that the sea lions gave place to
the fur seals.
The sea lion is invaluable to the Aleuts, and great store
is set by it. The skins, unhaired by sweating, sewn
together and stretched over a light framework form their
bidarkas and bidarrahs, hunting kayaks and travelling
boats; whilst almost every part is made use of for food, oil,,
or raiment. Several hundred are captured every year by
"driving"in a similar manner to that employed with the
fur seal, only the operation is a much slower one on account
of their size and more cumbrous movements. North-East
Point on the island of St. Paul is a favourite place for
these drives, the lay of the land being exceptionally advantageous. After September, when the seal rookeries have
broken up for the year, fifteen or twenty hunters take up
their residence adjacent to the Point. When a favourable
night occurs, with a moon partially obscured by drifting
clouds and a wind off the land, the hunters proceed to creep
along the shore and amongst the boulders until they have
gained a position between the sea and the sleeping herd.
At a given signal the men leap to their feet, yelling, shouting,
and firing off pistols, while the terrified sea lions flounder w
is 1 Hunting the Sea  Otter.
about in all directions. Those which were sleeping with
their heads pointed in the direction of the water are
inevitably lost, as nothing will stay their stampede seaward,
but those looking landwards follow that course just as
desperately. These the natives follow up promptly until the
terrified creatures fall panting and gasping prone to the
With all sorts of horrible noises and gesticulations they
are again and again roused and forced onwards, until they
are finally corralled near the hunters' abode. From twenty
to forty is the general result of one of their surprises; the
•corralling consists in surrounding them with a few stakes
thrust into the ground some twenty feet apart with a line or
two of sinew-rope between them, from which flutter a few
rags of cloth. And although they are continually alert,
roaring, twisting and twining about, they never make the
slightest effort to escape from their flimsy bonds.
When a sufficient number have been corralled by these
night surprises—generally from two to three hundred—the
great drive commences. With only such pauses as are
sufficient to inflate the exhausted lungs of their helpless
prey, the natives urge them on with relentless persistence
by night and day until they reach their journey's end in the
precincts of the village. As this is fully eleven miles from
their point of departure, and the rate of progression is only
about two miles in the twenty-four hours, whereas the fur
seal can be driven at three times that speed, some idea may
be formed of the time and trouble employed in these drives.
Should the weather be wet and cold, as is generally the
case, five or six 'days is sufficient; but should it be dry and
warm three weeks or even longer will often elapse before
their destination is reached.
Curiously enough, between North-East Point and the
native village are a number of small fresh water lakes, the
largest of which is nearly two miles in length, through all of
which successively the long drawn-out line of sea lions is
driven, without any attempt at escape. 102
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
The track is covered with the bones of the sea lions
which have perished during the many drives ; for even when
very carefully driven, many, exhausted by their unaccustomed exertions, fall out and die ; while with careless
and hurried driving the mortality is very great. We were
also lucky when the fog was at its thickest in getting a fine
bull otter; it was heard mewing, like a huge cat, from the
deck, Snow and I with our men quickly dropped into
two boats, and, directed by the cries, which continued at
intervals, managed to get sight of him, when the former put
a bullet through his head, killing him instantaneously. A
fortunate haul, for had he once caught sight of us, we should
never have seen him again in such weather. Leaving the
schooner early next morning, we found the fog, though
seemingly as dense as ever, curiously patchy and cloudlike,
besides being much thinner on the immediate surface of the
water; the range of vision being more extensive from the
boats than from the deck of the vessel. Several otters were
seen, but only one secured ; the others escaping in the
gloom, which grew deeper as the day advanced.
We had not gone far on our way back, keeping touch of
the shore, when we came across a small schooner at
anchor. It proved to be the Buffandeau, of San Francisco ;
all the boats were out hunting, leaving Captain Sherry
alone on board. We went below to have a chat, and the
captain produced a jar of liquid, in colour and consistency
exactly resembling sulphuric acid, remarking hospitably, as
he tossed off his own solution, " Drink hearty, boys, drink
hearty," by way of a toast.
Now, the imperative calls of liquid hospitality, so general
in the East, which sees in a refusal to poison oneself a
studied insult, had at different times brought us face to
face, or rather face to glass, with many mysterious
productions of the still and the laboratory, such as
petroleum champagne, potato brandy, and kerosene gin;
but, having experimented with sulphuric acid in our youth,
had hitherto drawn the line at vitriolic compounds.   Indeed, Hunting the Sea  Otter.
remembrance was so vivid with regard to early experiments that, when the old fellow struck a match upon his
pants and proceeded to light a short pipe, we should have
felt little surprise had he flamed up suddenly. Even the
skipper, versed as he was in the mysteries of chain-
lightning and forty-rod whisky, looked perplexed. However, there was no escape, and, seeing no signs of volcanic
action proceeding from the good man's throat, we took
courage and "drank hearty." It was a Mexican drink—
I forget the name—prepared from the juice of the cactus,
not at all unpleasant, and, considering the rawness of the
weather, " very comforting."
Our host proved to be a genial old fellow, and informed
us that the schooner was the Buffandeau, thirty-seven tons,
and that they had been a month on the coast, and had
taken thirty skins. We spent a couple of hours in the
cabin, and left at five o'clock, when the fog began to clear
again, and after a couple of hours' row reached our own
vessel. j
At last, after eight days of white fog, the morning sun
rose clear and warm over sea and land, revealing for the
first time the beauty of our surroundings. About twenty
miles to the north-east towered a huge volcano, round
whose shoulders and base dense masses of trailing mist,
wreathed in fantastic forms, clung white and cloud-like,
slowly to dissipate under the melting rays of the rising sun.
The eastern sky, tinged with greenish hue, cast a softened
light and colouring upon its solid outlines, and, as cloud
after cloud ascended slowly, a mountain mass of dusky
heights, with Titanic features and rugged beauty, disclosed
itself to our admiring gaze. But high above all rose the
cone of the volcano, from which volumes of smoke and
steam issued continually, the vapour rivalling in whiteness
the irregular streaks of snow which marked its sides like
veins of marble. Castellated peaks and tumbled masses of
rock in every form lay sharply outlined before us. The
coast-line was composed of bold and jagged cliffs, at whose
base were huge masses of detached rock standing on end,
like giants on guard, while others lay recumbent, forming
natural monoliths of form grotesque and gigantic size.
A better day for hunting could not be desired, and, after
so long a period of inactivity, our spirits and anticipations
were equally high; the latter, however, were not to be
realised, three otters only being seen all day, every one of
which, in some incomprehensible way, managed to escape.
The mid-day sun was very powerful, producing a curious
mirage, making both sight and aim very deceptive. The
horizon looked like land in the sky, and clouds might easily Hunting the Sea  Otter.
be mistaken for mountains. Curious as this appeared, the
coastrline, as we advanced, was equally noteworthy; one
cliff would be of bright red sandstone, the next a dark
plutonic rock, a third of basaltic columns; some of these
last, scooped out by the action of weather above and wave
below, resembled enormous shells, and yet, in spite of the
accessories of light and warmth, all looked cold and
desolate as the dead embers of a fire ; it is doubtful if even
the vegetation which they lacked would have hidden the
many evidences of their volcanic origin.
After lunch, while we were having a smoke before
turning back to the ship, the boats about two yards apart,
Snow proposed a swim. Sharks of a very large size being
fairly numerous, the rest preferred to smoke, but Snow
stripped, and was swimming lazily about, when I called out
that I saw an otter; but before the former could regain his
boat it had disappeared. As the otter was quite close, the
boats separated somewhat, and we were all (Snow in pur is
naturalibus) waiting, rifle in hand, for its reappearance,
when to our horror the back fin of a huge shark appeared
above the water where our friend a minute before had been
swimming. True the shark might not have touched him,
but then it might. That the monster could pouch an otter
with greatest ease goes without saying. The shark fin
most probably had been mistaken for an otter, the dorsal
fin bearing a strong resemblance to an otter floating on its
back with, only part of its head above water. When we
left the ship early in the day an otter had been seen and
chased*till its dives became shorter and shorter, and the
boats, not a hundred yards apart, were closing in to
administer the coup de grace when it completely disappeared, and although the boats widened out again and
the sea was calm and bright as a mirror, our eager scanning
in all directions failed to see another trace of it \ but instead
there rose from the spot where it disappeared the back fin of
a shark. It may be a libel, but that shark was always
credited with having taken a meal at our cost.    As the io6
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
refraction, which would fully account for the loss of the
other otters sighted later on, had not yet set in, and
considering the state of both sea and air, there seems no
other explanation for a disagreeable incident; fortunately
for our equanimity, nothing of the kind happened again.
On our return we found the little bay full of life and
movement. The water was literally coloured with shoals
of small sand eels, from three to four inches in length,
swimming about in it; more than a dozen large whales
were blowing and diving all round us, while albatrosses,
gulls, puffins, guillemots, auks, shags, tern, and dusky
petrels in their thousands found a rich banquet close to
their homes.
After a hearty dinner of cod chowder, prepared by Baker
(who had caught the fish) against our return, we lighted
our pipes and went on deck to clean rifles and watch the
glorious sunset flooding the waters with its golden light.
No one could accuse us of being " sick with hating the
sun' or insensible to its cheering influence, so little did we
generally see of it. But before the purple darkness fell
upon the scene an ominous flush of green and orange rose
slowly upwards from the horizon and cast a lurid light
around, while through the gloomy silence of the night a
distant moaning sound floated over the waters till, as it
came nearer, it fairly broke into a mournful wail.   A glance
'J o
at the barometer hanging in the cabin skylight showed us,
by the rapid falling of the mercury, what we were to expect.
The boats were turned over and securely lashed in their
places, the storm jib sent forward, the halliards manned,
the jib, a medium-sized one and new, unstopped, and
everything made ready for putting to sea at a moment's
notice should the wind come from any quarter but the north
or east; if it came from the north we should be under shelter
of the land, if from the east we were protected by Gull
Island and it sislets. Fortunately it chose the latter quarter,
or our experiences would in all probability have been
similar to those of the preceding week.    Comparatively
■M Hunting the Sea  Otter.
sheltered as we were, the wind yet seized the crests of the
waves and scattered them in fine spindrift upon the deck.
To go below was impossible, as the least shift of wind to
the southward would have left no option but to put to sea;
so, resigning ourselves to oilskins and our fate, we prepared
to pass an uncomfortable night.
The table subjoined gives the meteorological readings
during that night and part of the next day :—
10 P.M.     ..
.       50°       ...
E. by N
12    ,,
•       50°       ...
I   A.M.     ..
■       50°       ...
2     „
50°       -
6    >>
49°       •••
4        »
8    „       ...
47°       ...
10    „
11    „
12    „
470       -
At seven o'clock next morning, while still blowing as
hard as ever, and accompanied now with heavy rain, the
Flying Mist, less fortunate than ourselves in having been
compelled to put to sea on the commencement of the gale,
ran in and anchored abreast of us. As evening drew near,
the wind moderated somewhat, but still steadily from the
east, continued blowing all night. Towards morning it
shifted suddenly to the north, rapidly rising to a gale,
followed by a heavy fall of temperature; the rain changed
to a dense mist, and so cold did it become that our hands
were soon half numbed.
In the afternoon a little sloop called the Dolphin ran in
and anchored alongside of us. This little craft, only thirty
feet in length and nine feet beam, had made an adventurous
voyage across the Pacific from San Francisco to Honolulu,
and thence up the Japanese coast to her present anchorage.
Three rough, grizzled old backwoodsmen comprised her
crew, and so small was the accommodation on board, that, •If
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
while two slept, the third steered with one half his body out
of the scuttle which answered also for cockpit.
Although splendid shots, their measure of success could
not but be of the smallest, being only supplied with one
small dinghy. Poor fellows, they were very sanguine, for
they fully expected to be able to shoot otters from the rocks,
either by waiting for or stalking them; a very delusive hope,
as such opportunities, apart from pelagic habits of the sea
otter, were rendered almost impossible on account of the
bold and unindented nature of the coast. Their fate was a
sad one, though scarcely to be wondered at, for only a short
time afterwards the Dolphin was found bottom upmost,
capsized in some sudden squall. With their bodies immured
in the little cabin, the nether limbs of two of the hardy old
backwoodsmen could be seen beneath swaying to and fro in
the clear water.
In the evening both wind and sea went down, so the
skipper and I put off to pay a visit to the Flying Mist,
making a detour on our way on the chance of getting some
eggs on Gull Island, in which we were fairly successful.
The wind, which for the last two days had swung us
clear of the reef frequented by the cod and made all our
fishing abortive, had, as we found, quite a contrary effect
upon our neighbours, although anchored so near, for they
had been having grand sport all day.
. We spent an agreeable couple of hours aboard, as the
captain and hunters were fine, manly fellows, and gave us
much interesting information concerning the sealing on the
Island of St. Paul, an occupation in which all at different
times had taken part.
The gist of the information received from them has
already been given in the more condensed form copied
from the U.S. Government Report on the Fur Seal.
With a blue sky overhead and a bright sun shining, the
mist still hung tenaciously to the surface of the water,
making the air cold and raw as we hove up the anchor,
and, under the influence of a gentle breeze, we turned Hunting the Sea  Otter.
southwards and bid good-bye to the scene for a time. On
our course we met the schooner, Lizzie, coming in with
sixty-six skins.
Owing to the strength of the current and the lightness
of the wind we made little progress, and that night we
anchored in a tiny bay off some very curious rocks of
basaltic character. As the water was shallow, only seven
fathoms, with a sandy bottom, we baited for fish; but, in
spite of the allurements of fat pork, no fish were caught,
though the lines were out almost before the anchor was
down. In response to a fine six-knot breeze, next morning
saw us early under way, but the wind only lasted an hour-
and-a-half when the constantly recurring calm, fog, and
rain came on till sunset; and when it cleared up we found
ourselves, thanks to the current, only a couple of miles
south of our previous night's anchorage. Night came on
resplendent, with a feeling of frost in the air; the stars
glittered with " wintry sharpness." What little moon there
was sufficed to set off the stupendous cliffs that heaved
their crests high above us in all their rugged wildness ;
their serrated ridges seemed fashioned into the likeness
of a mighty fortress, beneath whose frowning walls and
pointed turrets piles of massive boulders, cleft into grotesque shapes, lay prone and shattered, and from the water
in front of them rose, unvanquished still, gigantic towers
of solid rock, worn smooth by the wild fury of the ever
restless ocean. Like giant sentinels they stood, but that
night at least their watch seemed over, for nothing broke
the sad silence of the gloomy solitude.
Next morning, invigorated by a comfortable sleep, we
breakfasted at dawn; and by four o'clock the boats had been
lowered and* we had left the vessel which was to precede us
to Jap Bay. The day proved warm and pleasant, there was
no wind to ruffle the mirror-like surface of the water, though
farther out we could see the schooner slipping along; but
both sea and sky presented that mirage-like appearance
which renders shooting so difficult. J
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
Before long it became evident that however calm it might
be inshore, a good stiff gale was blowing outside, for a
heavy sea of huge rollers began to heave the waters into
great oily swells, putting an end to the surrounding silence
as they dashed with su&en fury on the rocks. Otters were
more plentiful than usual, though their chance of escape
was much favoured by the heavy sea. Lying in a patch of
kelp off the great green bluff that forms the eastern boundary
of Jap Bay, and just beyond the foam of the breakers, we
came upon a large school of about a hundred. The
scattering of such a number produced a great deal of
desultory firing; the bullet-like heads popping up on all
sides presented marks difficult to resist, though, as usual
under such circumstances, without result. So we soon settled
down to the chase of a single animal; and when, tired and
hungry, we boarded the schooner at ten that night, we had
five otters in the boat. Eighteen hours in the boats was a
good spell, and by the time the skinning, rifle-cleaning, and
dining were over it was with a feeling of no small thankfulness that we turned in for the night.
Next morning at six we were in the boats again, beating
the same ground. When we started, the day was everything to be desired, but we had not been out a couple of
hours when the wind began to blow strong from the southeast, raising a nasty sea upon the tops and sides of the
immense rollers—a sea within a sea—a complication which
rendered hunting almost impossible. We stood it as long
as possible, until, becoming dangerous for our small boats,
we were forced to return early in the afternoon with only
one otter, which we had fortunately secured before the gale
came on. That same afternoon we had a narrow escape of
losing another man by drowning. He was stepping in to
hook the tackles into the last boat to be hoisted on deck,
when he slipped overboard, owing to a sudden sheer.
Fortunately, he was a good swimmer, for by the time he was
picked up he had been carried both by wind and tide a good
three hundred yards astern of the vessel. Hunting the Sea  Otter.
i 11
It blew hard from the S.E. all night and next day, when
it shifted to the south, bringing up with it a wet mist that
increased to a dense fog in the afternoon. All the morning
we had been busy repairing the jaws of the main gaff, which
had sprung, but in the afternoon we got out the boats and
went ashore to get water and wash clothes. As I thought
it probable that there might be some trout in the stream we
were making for, I took a small fly rod in the boat with me,
and was so far successful that in an hour's time I had
landed thirty small trout or parr; the greater number were
undoubtedly the latter, the produce of large shoals of
salmon, known among the otter hunters as " bull trout,"
which during September frequent the coast for the purpose
of spawning in the small streams which flow from the
The wind went down towards evening, but next day the
sea was still too rough for hunting, so we all went ashore
again. I took my rod, by special request, the fried fish at
breakfast having been pronounced excellent, and was
rewarded with forty-two fish in a very short time.
While thus busy, we were interrupted by the presence of
two Yakonins, officials from the settlement on the other
side of the island. They examined the men, putting many
questions, but were very friendly. They were both young
men, and at our invitation accompanied us on board the
schooner, where they partook largely of port wine, a
beverage evidently much to their taste, judging by the
manner in which they smacked their lips. The wine,
brought for such occasions as the present, had naturally
been subjected to an amount of shaking up which imparted
a good body to it, but this seemed to detract nothing from
its virtues in the eyes of our guests. The great object of
wonder, however, was a large mirror, placed at one end of
the cabin : they were never tired of admiring themselves
in it. I remember being much amused in a similar
way when aboard a large vessel off the coast of Borneo.
While  we  were at  breakfast  one   morning a  European >lj
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
superintendent of police, accompanied by one of his men, a
peon belonging to the Ceylon Rifles, entered the cabin for
the purpose of identifying some of the officers of the ship,
who were supposed to have taken part in a disturbance on
the preceding night on shore; after picking out the delinquents, the peon, pointing to a large mirror, proceeded
gravely to identify two others, sitting in what he thought
was an adjoining cabin.
The Yakonins informed us that they had no objection to
our taking at any time what wood and water we required,
at the same time requesting that this should not be
mentioned at Hakodate. We promised so much, and as
they were getting a little mixed—for, like Cassio, they
have poor, unhappy brains for drinking—we put them
ashore much pleased with their visit. There are two
things, and only two so far as I could discover, that will
make a Japanese blush: one is an extra allowance of
alcohol in the shape of saki, a rather pleasant, sherry-like
drink, prepared from rice and drunk hot; the other is a
shell-fish, a kind of clam, and a favourite food amongst the
Having been warned, I never tasted the latter myself,
but was with a man once who did, to his cost; for he
speedily broke out into an irritating eruption, with feverish
symptoms. A Japanese has, consequently, a very admirable
excuse to offer for the apparent results of a too-convivial
evening—" It was the shell-fish that did it."
In the afternoon, though the fog was still as thick as
ever, both wind and sea had abated considerably; so,
despairing of better weather, we put off in the boats, and
while groping our way about fell in with an otter, which
was, fortunately, shot before it had time to disappear in
the fog. Though next morning found us stirring as early
as usual, it was past eight before the clammy, vaporous
wreaths that clung so broodingly over the dark surface of
the water began to dissipate. Scarcely had we left the
vessel's side, with all the pleasant anticipations of sport, Hunting the Sea Otter.
which waiting only served to enhance, than a strong breeze
set in from the south-east, making hunting as difficult as it
was disagreeable. Fortunately the wind did not increase,
and at six o'clock, when we returned, we had three otters
in the boats. As dinner would not be ready for a couple
of hours, I went ashore to fish, taking some of the men with
me to get more wood, and succeeded in getting a score of
trout, a very pleasant addition to the salt horse that usually
graced our table. I     CHAPTER X.
Leaving the schooner at five o'clock in the morning, an
otter was at once sighted and gave us an exciting chase for
over an hour, when, as usual, a dense fog rolled up and
under cover of this he made his escape. Our want of luck
was very discouraging, nor was it compensated by any
success during the day. Several otters were seen, but none
secured, for the lumpy sea and saturated atmosphere made
good shooting very difficult. The risk of shooting each other
also was very great; so, after several rather narrow "shaves "
from bullets uncomfortably close, we gave it up and
returned to the schooner. That evening we completed our
cargo of wood and water—a great advantage, as we were
now independent of an anchorage. At eight it was blowing
•a gale, but under lee of the low-lying point we lay in
comparative quiet, and slept soundly after our exertions,
Hinmindful of the wind that alternately howled and shrieked
through the rigging. Next day no change in the weather,
or prospect of it, so the men were sent on shore to wash
clothes, while I fished. At three the fog cleared off,
and having caught fifty-seven small trout out of one pool we
returned to the schooner and got under way. With all sail
set and a steady breeze, we soon tacked out of the bay.
But no further progress was to be made that day, for
the wind dropped> to give place to fog again, this time
accompanied with a fine wetting rain; and we were once
more reduced to helplessness. We anchored at midnight,
after as nearly as possible going ashore while making short
tacks under the influence of fitful breezes.    Whether we
were out of the bay or inside it, we knew not; in fact, the
f/it Hunting the Sea Otter.
fog was so thick that, until we caught a glimpse of the land
into which we had been so gaily running, it was an open
question whether we had not drifted out to sea.
The greater part of the next two days found us still
uncertain as to our whereabouts. The wind had shifted to
the opposite quarter, and now blew strong from the northwest, and nothing could be seen beyond a few yards from the
side ot the vessel. The feeling of ennui created by this
enforced idleness was relieved by the fact of our having hit
upon a fisherman's paradise; the lines.generally relegated
to the watch were in constant request, bringing up fine
specimens of kelp fish, so called from always being found in
the neighbourhood of that long-stemmed, streamer-like
weed. The colours of these fish are very beautiful, blue,
red, and yellow predominating; weighing generally from
three to four pounds, they would doubtless have proved an
agreeable variety on table, but cod being equally plentiful,
their uncanny appearance caused them to be consigned to
the fo'castle. They were probably a species of wrasse.
The greatest sport we had was with halibut of huge size,
some weighing not less than three hundredweight, and this
was not an extraordinary size in these waters. Special
tackle had to be improvised for these monsters, as we soon
found to our cost. Spare log and lead lines were, therefore, rigged, and the fun began. The bait used, in all
cases, was a piece of fat pork. Even with the largest of
these fish, a considerable time would elapse from the first
seizure to the actual swallowing of the bait; so it was
allowed to remain on the ground till we felt certain of our
prize. The continual vibration of the line made it an easy
matter to tell when one was biting, though he might seem
undecided for some time, and, through impatience, many
were lost at first by striking too soon. The boldness of
the play, however, made up for the timidity of the bite.
As long as the head was kept up, it was an easy matter to
pull them to the surface ; otherwise, nothing would hold
them, and it became a question of either letting go or being
I 2 u6
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
dragged overboard. Our gaff consisted of a three-quarter
inch iron hook, securely lashed to one of the boat's masts;
a stout rope, reeved through the eye of hook, gave an
additional purchase for all hands. The body, being considered too rank, was cut up and salted for the crew ;
another barrel being filled with the heads, tails, and side
fins for our own use; and very good we found them,
though decidedly oily.
Towards the afternoon of the second day the fog cleared
sufficiently to show us our position, in the centre of
Hitokatpu Bay, and so close to the shore as to be very
dangerous in the event of a heavy sea setting in. Sail was
accordingly made, and we were soon tearing out of the
bay before half a gale of wind from the north-west. The
strictly local character of the winds on this coast was
curiously exemplified as we got outside, for a small sloop,
which we sighted about a couple of miles off, was running
for the bay with a southerly breeze behind her. Presently
there was a dead calm, so we at once put off in the boats,,
and succeeded in securing two full-grown otters and a pup.
We made the schooner at eight o'clock, as she was
dropping anchor in a small sandy bay to the north of
Green Bluff.
A pause in the narrative must be made here to place on
record the extraordinary affection of the sea otter for her
young. It is very seldom that she will desert it, as she
almost invariably clings to it with the truest maternal-
devotion to the last. Impeded with the object of her
ceaseless care, the long, bold dives for freedom are no
longer possible. Hampered with a charge whose plaintive
cries strike deeper, deadlier than the hunter's bullet, her
sole, unselfish anxiety is centred in her offspring. Sometimes, during the extreme crisis of the chase, the little
fluffy ball would be left to its own resources, but none who
saw could doubt that this was but the choice of a lesser
evil. Warned by the hushed plaint and catching breath,
she knows that but a few more dives beneath the protecting Hunting the Sea  Otter.
element and the life of what she loved so well would be
taken. And now she is free, at liberty to test her speed
against the hunter's skill: but one short mile, only three
powerful dives, between her and security. The breeze that
brings yon fog-bank down, moving over the waters like a
wall of snow, bears to her ear the tide-rip's roar, within
the range of whose tumultuous waves experience tells her
there is refuge sure. Such might be a temptation of selfish
humanity, but her instincts are of nobler order. Hanging
on the outskirts of the boats, she seeks, with a boldness
foreign to her nature, to lure the hunters from her young;
and when at length she deems her ruse successful, back she
dives with caution to her nursling's side. The exigencies
of our situation and the excitement of the chase might
check for a time those feelings of pity which would otherwise have been uppermost, but such unselfish devotion
could not but raise within us the strongest admiration.
The night closed in with a clear, bright air and red
sunset, the almost certain harbinger of coming fine
weather; and the prognostications were not belied when
morning broke. As we left the vessel's side a little before
four, air and sky were cheering ; indeed, we had never been
so favoured since our cruise began.
The outlines of the coast were bold but less regular than
usual, being broken with deep ravines and rugged gorges;
but very different from the aspect of a month ago,
when, unrelieved by any trace Of vegetation, save the
gnarled and twisted branches of dwarf oak, birch, and
alder, the mountain slopes, furrowed by dark fissures and
gloomy chasms, looked cold and lifeless: now from a carpet
of greenery sprang bush and tree, one mass of leaf,
forming a charming setting to the dark mountain background.
About midday we witnessed an exciting spectacle—the
attack of several " killers" (Orca Gladiator) upon a whale.
The sea being perfectly still and the air clear, we had a
capital view of the unequal combat.   Some of the "killers," n8
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
of which there might be four, were evidently attacking
their victim from beneath, for the whale, a small one,
seemed quite unable to dive far, being continually driven
to the surface of the water. But no sooner did this happen
than sometimes one, sometimes two, of the assailants
would spring high into the air, descending upon the whale
with the object of striking it with their powerful tails, with
a loud thud that might be heard afar; while the sea around
the active group was churned into foam. This encounter
we now looked upon for the first time, though the unmistakable sounds of such strife were not unfrequently heard.
When we arrived upon the scene, we found the whale to be
a white one {Balasna albicans), the only one we met with
during our stay on the coast. A large white albatross,
which was already perched upon its back in anticipation of
a feed, flew off lazily as we approached. The whale
(whether dead or only stunned we were unable to tell)
appeared to be about twenty feet long, without a dorsal fin,
skin a pure, shining white. There were no wounds to be
seen, nor any sign of blood, although the " killers" are
credited with rending their prey in pieces with their
powerful teeth; so we drew back a little, and Snow sent a
bullet into it, when it sank gradually out of sight without
showing the least sign of life.
The beluga, as it is called in Russian, is circumpolar, and
it is common in the Arctic Ocean, frequenting the bays on
the west coast of Spitzbergen during the summer months
in great numbers. It is also found on the north coasts of
North America, and on the north and north-east coasts of
Siberia in plenty. Many are taken by the natives in the
estuaries of the large rivers by placing large, strong nets
across the tideways, and then spearing or harpooning
The "killer" (Delphinus orca) stands isolated in the
order of cetaceans, forming a peculiar group or family
among the toothed whales, and, though doubts were
expressed  by both  Scoresby  and   Bennett   as   to  their Hunting the Sea  Otter,
attacking marine mammalia, later observation has established their carnivorous habits. In a paper read before the
Royal Danish Society in 1864, Professor Escricht gave an
account of his own examination of one of these animals,1
which had been found floating off the coast of Jutland, in
the stomach of which, in a more or less digested state,
were found no fewer than thirteen common porpoises and
fourteen seals; all of the latter were flayed, nor was there
any sign of the skins in the stomach, but hanging from the
teeth was one completely turned inside out.
It is, therefore, evident that the ; prey, after being,
swallowed, is stripped of its skin by the powerful action of
the walls of the stomach during the process of digestion;'
through the rent produced at their capture, and thus the
skin is disgorged, like that of the mouse by the owl. , This
rejection of the skin by the "killers" was observed by
Pliny, though his interpretation of the fact was incorrectj
For he tells us (Lib. V., caps. 5, 6) that the "orca" which
was shut up in the harbour of Istia, where it was attacked
and killed by the Emperor Claudius, had been tempted into
that part of the sea by the wreck of a vessel laden with
hides, on which it had been feeding for several days.
What Pliny saw during the incarceration of the animal in
the clear water was nothing more than the result of the
" killer's " usual habit, and the great naturalist had invented
a cause to account for the phenomenon, after the ancient
method of deduction.
It is probable that the mistake so frequently met with of
confounding the swordfish with the orca in such attacks
upon the whale originated with Martens, who was surgeon
aboard a whaler in 1671; for he mentions having witnessed,
during a storm near the Shetlands, a violent struggle
between a whale and some "killers" (Schwertfsche).
The same writer also states that he was informed by the
whalers that they sometimes fell in with many swordfish
engaged with a whale; that they waited until it had
succumbed to its enemies, when they took possession of FT
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
its   dead   body,   of   which   the  swordfish  only  devoured
the tongue.
Now, by the name " schwertfische," the Germans express
both the swordfish [Xiphias gladius) and the killer
(Delphinus orca), while the corresponding Dutch word,
" swaardfisch," as well as the Danish and Swedish " svard-
fisk," have these two misleading significations. Hence
Martens' mistake. The swordfish is neither gregarious nor
carnivorous, nor could it devour a whale's tongue. However the mistake arose, it has been perpetuated to the
present day, even by Yarrell (Vol. I., p. 144). The
antagonism of the " killer" to the whale was well known in
early times. Pliny tells us (Lib. X., cap. 15) that when the
whales (Balasna) seek shelter in the bays to bring forth
their young, the orcas, a species of animal inimical to the
whale, chase them on to the shores or kill them in the
narrow seas. In the celebrated Icelandic Konigspiegel
(the mirror of royalty), written in the twelfth century, the
only writings of the Middle Ages in which the cetaceans
are alluded to, they are thus described :—" In their cruelty
against other cetaceans they are like dogs against other
animals, herding together and attacking great whales ; and
where there is only one great whale they bite and weary it
out until it gets its death thereof."
The difficulties attending the identification of ocean life,
other than that in the capture of which we were engaged,
were very great; the strong currents, the generally-
inapproachable nature of the shores on which anything
might be cast, the frequent fogs and storms, and the
continual state of watchfulness necessary for self-preservation gave little scope for such observations. The shore,
shrouded in misty vapour, gave no indication of its
proximity, a sudden change of the wind would sometimes
deceive the ear by deadening in some degree the loud
thunder of the surf, and it was only when heaved high
upon the crest of some giant roller, whose arching crest
and thin green sides told of its approaching dissolution,   Hunting the Sea  Otter.
that the peril of our situation would be realised. Sometimes a wave more mountainous than the rest broke
seaward of us in a mass of foam, barely giving time to
seek the friendly shelter of a kelp bed, or avoid inevitable
destruction by a rapid move. At other times there was no
kelp, nor could the swallows' rapid flight have cleared in
time the extremity of the foamy wall which stretched its
snow-white line across the horizon. At such a time there
was a period of uncertainty, When the keenest observation
was necessary. Balanced upon one of the thwarts, the
hunter, with set lips and eager eye, would scan the
approaching line, to mark the dark breaks where safety
lies, and where the proud wave, exhausted in its strength,
fell with its tall crest into the more level expanse to rise
no more.
Under such circumstances, it will be readily understood
that, presuming the ability, which I am far from claiming,
to describe with any pretence to scientific accuracy the
different species of cetacea encountered in our cruise
would be impossible. I give, therefore, only for what they
are worth, such extracts from notes taken on the spot and
having reference to such characteristics of these animals
as may tend to identification, and which at the time
impressed themselves on the mind with sufficient clearness
as to be distinctive without my being able to give such
detail as would lead to classification. Moreover, the difficulty
is enhanced by the difference in nomenclature adopted by
naturalists, no two seeming to agree. Unfortunately, this
love of change is not confined to naturalists. Poor old
Cicero has become Kikero; and even that holiest of holies,
the Latin grammar, has been invaded; while even the
pronunciation of technical terms finds different exponents
in the same classroom.
I shall, therefore, spare the reader as many technical
terms as possible, considering that no two treatises as a rule
are in agreement upon this point.
The principal whales seen around the coast were the *~
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
humpback, sulphur-bottom, fin-back, and grey whales.
They were mostly distinguishable to us, apart from the
difference in size, by the height and position of the dorsal
fin. But it was the "killers" or orca that interested us most.
The length of the smaller species would be from twelve to
fifteen feet. From four to eight of them in a gang would
sometimes dash in among the half-submerged rocks,
evidently on the look out for seals or otters; they would at
times surround the boats without showing the least symptom of fear, and almost graze against them. Wonderfully
quick and active in their movements, they disappear as
suddenly as they present themselves to view, leaving the
observer with a sense of relief that he is not the object of
their pursuit. We never molested them, though frequently
tempted to do so; and, from what I have since heard of
their pugnacity, perhaps, as a canny Scot, with true northern politeness, remarked to a friend of mine who apologised
for having pushed against him, " It was just as weel."
The second- species would be about sixteen to twenty
feet in length, with a dorsal fin of from eighteen inches to
two feet in height. These animals sometimes overhauled
the schooner, ranging themselves on either side, after
passing round and underneath it, watching our appearance
and movements so carefully as to leave a strong impression
that their intentions were by no means peaceable, and that
they quite meditated an attack upon what they had, in all
probability, taken for a whale. They were symmetrically
built with a great deal of white on the belly and sides, and
were generally in twos or fours. We were always glad
when they left us without giving us much anxiety, for
their examination .was soon over and they quickly came
to the conclusion that our vessel was not the game they
The third species were about thirty feet long and had
a dorsal fin of about three feet in height. They were
generally met with in pairs; their slower and steadier
movements, as they regularly hunted the bays, seemed to Hunting the Sea  Otter.
favour the opinion that they essentially differed from the
two species already described. They were perfectly
indifferent to the boats, under which they sometimes dived
so close as to cause considerable apprehension, for the
stake-like fin threatened to shiver our timbers. Whether
these whales have a patch of white behind the head, or
whether they swim sometimes belly uppermost, it was
impossible to say, but a large patch of white could be
distinctly seen as they passed underneath the boats. Four
of these animals, with twice that number of " humpbacks,"
were swimming backwards and forwards in the little bay at
Gull Island on June 14th, when it was full of sand-eels.
There was then no sign of fear on the part of the " humpbacks," and no sign of aggression on that of the others.
As these " humpbacks " have not been mentioned before, it
may be stated that they are of great size, from forty-five to
fifty feet in length, and that their name, Longimana
(long-handed), has been given to them from the unusual
size of the pectoral fin, which, in a full-grown specimen,
measures fourteen feet.
The fourth species is a much larger animal than any
other of the orcas, how much larger it would be difficult to
say, but, taking as a criterion of length the extent of body
uncovered as it rolled over the surface and comparing it
with other whales whose length we know under similar
conditions, it could not have been less than forty feet long;
its dorsal fin is quite eight or even ten feet high. On a
clear, calm day, to see the huge, spiky fin of one of these
creatures describe a complete semicircle against the horizon
was a curious sight, and one not easily to be forgotten.
With wind and weather, sea and sky all favourable, and
last, but by no means least, otters fairly plentiful, it is not
to be wondered at that we secured six full-grown otters
and a pup ; the last was skinned without delay when we
got on board, and made into a very appetising curry.
Tender as a spring chicken, the only drawback to a delicate
stomach being the remembrance of a strong and  rather m
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
fetid odour exhaled by its larger relations, with the hot sun
shining upon them in the boats.
Pup skins, after the long dirty-white hairs have been
pulled out, make very good caps, the pelt beneath being
very thick and soft. I have heard this long hair described
as coarse, but this is not the case, examination proving it
to be both fine and soft, with a very slight tendency
to curl.
Two fine days in succession would have been too much
to expect on such a coast, where fog reigns almost supreme ;
and, even when clear, wind and sea are often adverse to
the hunter, so that we were not surprised to hear the wind
whistling shrilly through the rigging long before daylight,
while the cold, damp air that shot down the companion
told the usual tale of mist and rain. But yesterday, what
the Portuguese would call a " furious calm," to-day a cold,
wet drizzle, accompanied by a fog as thick as a feather-bed.
So we spent the morning in dressing skins, and in the
afternoon amused ourselves catching albatrosses (Diomedea
fuliginosa). We began by throwing overboard pieces of
bread and biscuit until we had several of them congregated
right astern; the hook, baited with a piece of fat pork, was
laid on a small piece of board and floated down among
them. A long fishing-line attached gave the sportsman
above command of this novel floating fly. There was a
rush at this delicious morsel as soon as it was seen, when
the sharp point of the hook, catching in one or the other
of their strong mandibles, enabled us to drag them on
board without injury to anything but their dignity. So
tame were these birds, that, by hauling the first few
captured quietly along, the rest followed without suspicion
until they were right under the counter, so that at last the
bait would be seized before it had time to reach the water,
and the floating board was no longer needed. When once
on deck, like the rest of their kind, they were quite unable
to fly, or, indeed, to stand upright for any length of time;
and they seemed to be thoroughly aware of their inability Hunting the Sea  Otter.
to do so, but went stumbling and waddling about the deck
in a ludicrous manner, snapping their great bills with a
loud clack at Rover, who danced around them barking
furiously. After watching for some time their ungainly
movements, we launched them carefully overboard, where
they appeared to much more advantage. Some sailed off
in evident indignation and disgust, showing that it was
only ignorance that made them so bold, and that it needed
only a slightly-extended acquaintance with man to make
them as shy as the rest of their tribe; others took their
places, grabbing at anything that was thrown to them.
Several beautiful boatswain birds, both with and without
the handsome swallow-like tail feathers, were flying about,
but, as usual, very shy; in fact, so invariably was this the
case, that, although anxious to obtain a specimen, they
never gave us the chance of coming within gunshot. At six
in the evening we shoved off in the boats, and hunted till
ten, when we returned with one fine yellow-headed old bull
otter. By the time dinner was over and rifles cleaned,
boats on deck and everything snug, the cold north-east
wind had sighed away its last breath, and the hush of an
unbroken calm spread around us. A curious sort of blue
film covered the sea, deadening the bright reflected rays of
a gorgeous full moon, and raising the horizon till it melted
in the sky. Dense banks of cloudy fog flecked the mountain sides and crept across their jagged shoulders in
wreaths, jostling against each other as they spread upwards
and downwards, till in a woolly white compact body of
vapour they capped the outline of the summits in a canopy
of snow, and melted the black shadows of rock and ravine,
gorge and precipice, into an unbroken scene of wintry
white. Below, in strong relief, stood out the jagged coast,
with its abrupt cliffs thrown up in rifted pinnacles, or lofty
embattled walls and bastions, like some giant fortalice of
feudal times, and, still more to heighten the effect, a lunar
rainbow stretched its huge arc of coloured light.
Thus ended the month of June, with its twenty days of 126
Hunting the Sea   Otter.
mist and fog, and ten of clear weather; and, of the latter,
two were so stormy that hunting was impossible. During
the eight remaining we had shot thirty-seven otters, our
best day's sport yielding eight. From the foregoing it will
be seen how much the elements were against us.
July began with no change in the weather—cold, wet,
and fog still prevailing. In the afternoon of the first we
put off in the boats, and succeeded in getting an otter with
her pup. We returned before dark, and, while skinning
our victim, were boarded by one of the crew of a small
sloop anchored at a short distance, but which, on account
of the fog, we had not observed. He was anxious to obtain
a spare anchor and chain to replace one which had been
lost a few days previously. After a short time, our visitor
left, under promise that his request should receive consideration, and, if possible, we would oblige them. We
made up our minds to do so, as, altogether, we had three,
when it was discovered that a new knife, which had
officiously been taken out of the boatswain's hand to assist
in skinning the large otter, had disappeared. The skipper,
consequently, went on board the sloop; but, to his inquiries
about the knife, all declared that it had not been brought
away; he then stated that we could not supply them
with chain or anchor. So much for dishonesty. It need
scarcely be said that the crew were not Americans; they
were composed of the flotsam and jetsam of Yokohama.
Next day the boats put off at dawn, the weather having
slightly improved; that is to say, the fOg had thinned from
the consistency of a feather-bed to the density of buttermilk. But, as will be seen from the brief summary of
last month, to go out only on clear days would have
reduced our hunting to a minimum. Moreover, the sea
otters seemed inclined to keep close inshore during thick
weather, so that there was an increased probability of
coming across them, without going out to sea, where our
own position would be more precarious. So the oars were
discarded   for   the   more  noiseless  paddle;   and,   moving
•Ssm Hunting the Sea  Otter.
stealthily, we managed to capture three otters as we groped
our silent way along the coast. But, all too soon, the
atmosphere thickened again, making even this kind of
work impossible, and no other course was left but to return.
On our way we fell in with and boarded a small schooner,
the Flying Eagle, which had run over from the coast of
Alaska, and in fifteen months had only taken fourteen otters.
The ship's company were certainly labouring under great
disadvantages, numbering, all told, only five hands, barely
sufficient to work a couple of boats, and quite inadequate
to give any chance of success. Some little time afterwards,
when speaking of these adventurers to other otter hunters,
we learned that one of them was a celebrated shot, it being
a common thing for him to be rowed about San Francisco
Bay to shoot divers with his rifle, a feat he accomplished
with wonderful success. As these birds swim with only
the head and part of the neck exposed, some idea may be
formed by the reader as to the justice of his claim to be
considered one of the best shots on the Pacific coast.
About noon the fog showed signs of clearing, so we put
off again. Every minute the air grew lighter, but the
reason was soon explained by a series of heavy gusts
"woollying" down the mountain sides, and great masses of
leaden-coloured clouds rose behind them, with a lookout so
threatening that prudence counselled return without further
delay. From our constant record of the changes in these
latitudes it may be inferred what a variable climate we had
to encounter. By tea-time the wind had gone down, the
clouds had retreated, and a beautiful calm evening again
tempted us into the boats to visit a small bed of kelp that
lay off the rocks, but nothing living was to be seen. We
landed at the mouth of a little stream born of fog and. snow,
that tinkled like a silver bell through the thick growth, to
discharge its icy water into the sea. We divided and
walked along the shore in either direction in the hope of
seeing a bear, tracks being numerous, but never a bruin
did we meet    An undergrowth of rhubarb-leaved plants, Tlr"
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
seven feet high, covered the ground of the forest and
extended outside it; to penetrate this was impossible. A
few pigeons only were to be seen.
An examination of the pigeons shot proved them to be
the variety  so  common  throughout  Japan.    These  birds
roost at night in the bamboo groves that usually surround
the temple shrines, and very good sport may be obtained
during autumn  and winter by taking up- a position  near
them, about three  or four in the afternoon, and shooting
the birds as they return to their quarters.    If the priest
raises an objection, one has, in common courtesy, to leave;
but, as a rule, he is most kind and polite.-   We used to
declare that the pigeons and prawns were  the  greatest
dainties in Japan, the latter grow to a very large size, a
length of eight inches not being uncommon (Palcemon).    I
once watched an old woman  catching these crustaceans
in one of  the creeks  in Yokohama  by a  method quite
new to me and worthy of description.     There had been
a very low tide, leaving the creek a mass of mud, interspersed here and there with small pools of water.|| After
scraping  away the  soft  mud  about  a  couple  of  inches
with a shell, so as to make a circle round her to keep
out  the water,  and  exposing  the  harder  sand   beneath,
she drew my  attention  (for  I  had  taken   off  my shoes
and  stockings  to  join   her)   to  several  small   spouts   of
water issuing from holes in the sand.    These she widened
with  her fingers ;   and,  plunging  her  hands   into  a  bag
suspended from her waist, drew them out with a prawn
in each, firmly held by the tail between finger and thumb.
These she put over two of the holes, where they immediately
sank out of sight.    Her  object was   now  evident.    The
prawn, whose doimcile was thus unceremoniously invaded,
at once advanced to  the attack, and in a moment was
locked in the deadly embrace of  the intruder.    The old
lady,   knowing   from   experience   that  the   moment   had
come, withdrew her decoys  together with their victims,
which were  quickly shaken into  the bag, and the same Hunting the Sea Otter.
performance was gone through with the next two holes—
certainly a unique method of prawn fishing.
That morning I had an extraordinarily narrow escape
from shooting myself with a muzzle-loading Swiss match-
rifle that formed a portion of our miscellaneous armament.
I had been busy in several odd moments fitting a new
silver foresight to it, as the elaborate affair with which it
was supplied made it quite useless, requiring as it did an
amount of manipulation and adjustment only suitable for
match-shooting. I had finished my labours and was proceeding to try its shooting from the deck when, for the
second time -that day, the boats were manned only to
return, on account of the weather, and the rifle was hastily
put aside loaded.
When the third call came to man the boats, quite forgetting it was loaded, I seized it in my left hand by the
barrel, and, grasping the two other rifles the same way
with the right, the strap of the ammunition bag being
slung over one shoulder, proceeded to gain the deck.
With both hands full and the schooner rolling heavily, the
only way was to press the rifles close to the body and jam
oneself  in the  narrow companion, and wriggle upwards.
When about half way up, the thought suddenly struck
me that the heavy Swiss rifle was loaded, that the muzzle
was just under my chin, and if the hammer-head caught in
the steps something disagreeable might happen.
The boy was just scrambling over the top of the hatch
with the skipper's rifles ; so, waiting a moment until he
was clear, I threw back my head and eased the rifle back
with my wrist. Sure enough the premonition was correct;
for the moment the rifle moved the bullet whizzed past my
head and scorched my cheek.
Next morning we were early afloat; a gentle breeze was
blowing very languidly, as if loth to ruffle the still waters
that shone like quicksilver beneath the rising sun. Everything gave promise of a good day's hunting. Still, many
a day had dawned as fair, only to change with startling
K 130
Hunting the Sea Otter.
^abruptness; dense, cold fogs seeming to rise from the
surface of the water, as if touched by the wand of some
malignant spirit, wrapping everything in their cloud-like
folds. Before we had been out an hour, what looked
suspiciously like the smoke of a steamer made it advisable
to return to our vessel and get under way as quickly as
possible. This we accordingly did, having no wish to be
caught at anchor within the three-mile limit, after the
bother we had had during the preceding month. We
stood out to sea for awhile; and, seeing no signs of a vessel,
we put off in the boats again at eight o'clock, and pulled
down the coast. We found otters fairly plentiful, and had
shot four, when it suddenly came on to blow, compelling us
to take shelter in a tiny basin, hollowed out of a large rock,
that stood some hundreds of yards from the shore. The
view from the top was very beautiful, the air being clear
and bright. In the distance the lofty blue mountains,
scarred and seamed with ridge and ravine, towered here
and there in volcanic cones, whose lofty shafts were
embroidered with a lacework of snow; while over some a
cap of steaming vapour, sign of activity, hung cloud-like
and motionless in the still air. The wind, though strong,
was unmistakably local. At our feet the sea was studded
with half-submerged rocks and boulders of every shape and
colour; and these stretched in unbroken confusion till lost
in the dark background of gorge and precipice. Over all a
death-like silence reigned supreme, scarcely broken by the
moaning of the wind as it swept past the storm-riven faces
of the scorched and blackened rocks.
Amidst such a scene of desolation, the summit of the
rock where we were standing was carpeted with the
cranberry, above which rose clusters of large red flowers,
poppy-like, but with smooth-edged, elliptical leaves; other
plants, too, with long, spear-shaped leaves—both were new
to us. But stranger than these seemed the two lovely
swallow-tailed butterflies (P. machaon) that flitted more
languidly than is their wont from flower to flower. Hunting the Sea Otter.
Although the sun had by this time attained his zenith,
there was a crispness in the air suggestive of fog,
accompanied by an increase of cold ; and the wind gathered
force with a steadiness which promised greater weight
presently. Even the butterflies, whose graceful flutterings
were watched with childish delight, though sheltered from
the wind by a natural parapet, seemed to feel the influence
of the damper air. It was time to leave the friendly shelter
of the rock, its flowers and butterflies; so, turning our
boats homeward, we found the schooner anchored at her
old moorings. In a couple of hours after our return,
the hazy vapour had cleared off, the wind dropped, the
barometer stood as steady as a church, and we were out in
the boats once more.
It was ten before we reached the ship, all very tired, but
with four more otters—our best day as yet. It was after
midnight before dinner was over, as we performed the
necessary work of skinning before sitting down to it. The
night was warm; almost like a summer's night in more
favoured latitudes. A splendid comet, bearing north by
west, was sleepily admired; but all hands, except the
anchor watch, were soon in their hammocks.
Invigorated by repose, we breakfasted early off porridge
and molasses, satisfying if not appetising, followed by some
good coffee and a drop of grog. Without delay, the boats
put off again at five; sea calm and weather fine. Ere
eleven a.m. we had shot four more otters, and were already
congratulating ourselves on the prospect of equalling, if
not surpassing, the sport of the preceding day when a
heavy sea set in suddenly from the south-east, quickly
followed by a stiff southerly breeze, which effectually put a
stop to all further hunting. We could see Baker lost no
time in getting sail on the schooner, her unsheltered position
being no longer tenable, for in it she would have to encounter the whole fury of the broad ocean. We ourselves
were far out at sea and only caught an occasional glimpse
of the white sails standing out in relief against the black cliffs
K 2 132
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
as we were borne aloft on the crest of an immense roller.
Every minute the wind grew more violent; with sail close
reefed we scudded before it for a time, but were soon
compelled to keep head to the heavy sea. Presently the
wind increased to half a gale, swept off the foaming ridges
of a multitude of waves that crested the giant surges, and
whelmed us in flying spume. Deep down in the watery
valleys, it was a wonderful sight to look upwards from the
frail boat that rode so merrily between the dark blue masses
that shut us in on either side. There all was calm, but in
a moment we rose again aloft upon a sea of troubled waters,
to face the gale amidst clouds of spindrift—like life itself
from cradle to grave; a rapid alternation of calm and
storm, peace and trouble. It was a couple of hours before
the schooner beat up to us; and glad enough we were to get
on board, change our clothes, hoist and lash the boats, and
make everything snug for whatever might come. In the
meantime the schooner continued to beat down coast.
Towards evening the weather moderated, and we anchored
for the night in twelve fathoms off Snowdrop Bay, some
distance to the south of Hitokatpu Bay.
It blew hard all next day, so we up anchor at eight
o'clock and continued in the same direction for two days,
temperature and wind varying, till we felt in our bunks
that it was blowing from the north, by a sudden fall of the
thermometer from summer warmth to wintry crispness„
sharp and invigorating. From this quarter it blew great
guns for a whole day, and lightly as the little vessel rose
and fell amidst the great seas, the deck was fogged with
froth and spray, caught up in blinding clouds by the
furious blast. Seaward, as seen between the angry gusts,
an ocean lashed into foam, whilst under our lee huge surges
dashed in sheets of spray over the black rocks, or rolling
into snow, broke in sullen thunder on the strand. When
the moon rose the wind began to moderate, and the sea fell
as rapidly; so that, by the time we turned in for the night,
the wild shriek of the tempest had dwindled to a lullaby as Hunting the Sea  Otter.
it moaned through the rigging, and the splash of the waves
a pleasing murmur as they swept gurgling past the sides;
bright promise of undisturbed sleep in the present and
sport on the morrow.
Early in the morning the Buffandeau ran in and dropped
anchor astern of us,
It must have breezed up somewhat during the early
morning, for the sea was sufficiently lumpy to make it
advisable to have breakfast comfortably before putting off
with the boats. By the time we had finished the wind had
languished to a breeze, the air was clear though cold, and
the sea considerably quieter. Passing Otter Island with its
screaming seabirds, without seeing the objects of our quest;
we rowed silently down the coast of Roku Bay, the home,
par excellence, for chronic fog and tempest. The heavy
tide-rip roared a couple of miles outside of us. In any
other place a feeling of security would have been present,
for the day as it advanced grew more and more enjoyable;
the sun shone brightly from an almost cloudless sky,
warming the air and flashing on the expanse of mirror-like
water, left scarcely ruffled by the capricious breeze, while
the scenery, if bleak and desolate, was magnificent. The
whole of the south-eastern part of the island is composed
of an immense mountain mass, unbroken and unapproachable, terminating in a long line of abrupt, black cliffs of
great height. Here and there a margin of sand covers
their feet with a patch of colour, but more frequently the
quietest sea ripples and splashes against the solid rock,
with no line of contrast between the dark water and its
frowning barrier. Exposed to the full fury of the broad
ocean, the columnar rocks so common on these coasts were
here wanting, as if they, even, had yielded to the furious
beating of the surge. In such a scene it required the
stimulus of excitement in the howling, tempest, the
rushing, seething sound of foam, the sullen thunder of
giant surfs, hurling themselves against the solid wall, and
embroidering the black rock with a tracery of froth, to 134
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
banish from the mind that feeling of depression brought
on by the contemplation of elements at once so grand in
their conflict, so stern in their resistance, so implacable in
their persistent onslaught. Long ere their chief descent
had been accomplished, such little streams as leapt from
the cliffs were dissolved into thin, misty vapours that hung
about the bare surface, swaying to and fro under the
changing influence of air-currents, and throwing out soft
rainbow colours, as though intent on toning down the grim
blackness of the fireborn rock.
Fortunately there was no scarcity of otters; indeed,
they generally herded here, probably because the atrocious
weather secures them from the hunters' attacks. They
were well acquainted with their human foes, as they
invariably made for the tide-rip as soon as they became
aware of our presence. The first one sighted fairly beat
us; and although a number of bullets fired at long range
splashed around him whenever he rose to take breath, we
never once succeeded in turning him or arresting his
headlong flight. We lost him in the tide-rip, from which
we were only too glad to emerge wet and disappointed.
The other otters we chased were either not so strong or so
knowing, though most of them adopted the same tactics ;
but by keeping a couple of the boats well outside, and all
far apart, and by being careful not to close in too soon,
before their diving powers became somewhat exhausted,
we had six full-grown otters in the boats by three in the
afternoon. There was every prospect of getting another
half-dozen, for the sky was still cloudless, and the sun,
which had long ago dried our wet clothes and restored us
to comparative comfort, was still shining as bright and as
cheerful as ever.
Such signs as in other parts would have lulled to rest the
apprehensions of the most weather-beaten mariner were
no trustworthy prognostic in Roku Bay. This inhospitable
roadstead had little ways of its own, and a reputation—a
very bad one—to keep up. Hunting the Sea  Otter.
We were about a mile from the land; the last otter had
just been taken on board, and a hurried mouthful of food
was being taken—for, up to this time, we had been too
busy to lunch—when a low, moaning sound swept over
the waters.
Prepared as we were for anything on such a treacherous
coast, the boats were quickly cast adrift, and in another
minute we were pulling for dear life, with the double object
of seeking shelter under the cliffs and of giving as wide a
berth as possible to the ever-present dangers of the tide-rip.
Already the moan of the wind had swelled into a roar, as
it swept down the mountain side, churning the sea into
foam and veiling the dark coastline in a cloud of spray.
Already we had entered into the vaporous mist raised by
the excessive violence of the wind, and encountered the
full fury of the blast. The air at once became icy cold,
and our faces, burnt up by the powerful sun but just now,
were smarting and tingling under a hail of spindrift.
Progress was almost out of the question. All our energies
were directed to keeping the boat's head on to the wind;
but the roar of the tide-rip, rising at intervals between the
howling gusts, was a keen stimulus to exertion, and, after
a terrible and exhausting pull, the shore loomed up a short
distance before us. Then, for the first time, we became
acquainted with a peculiarity of these storms, which, though
frequently the subject of conversation among otter hunters,
we had not yet experienced.
A few more strokes, and we should be under the lee of
the high land: but great was our dismay to find that, when
but a few yards from the huge wall of rock that towered
hundreds of feet above us, the violence of the gusts was as
great as when half a mile off. In fact, the wind must have
come perpendicularly down the face of the rock. It was
particularly noticeable on the little sandy stretches, where
the waves broke not a couple of yards out, that the water
was caught up and thrown over us in showers. And when
at length we turned homewards, still keeping close to the 136
Hunting the Sea Otter.
shore, the boats were frequently in danger of being overturned by the mad fury of the intermittent blast.
Urup has a pre-eminent and unenviable reputation for
this sort of thing, but Roku Bay cannot be far behind it.
It was seven o'clock when we reached Otter Island,
where we anchored in the kelp, with every prospect of a
night to be spent in the boats. But towards midnight the
wind went down; and, after an hour's rowing, we reached
the schooner, wet, tired, and half-famished. CHAPTER   XL
By the time we had dined, cleaned our rifles, and skinned
the otters, but a short time remained for sleep. That which
we had was of the soundest; nevertheless, five o'clock saw
us again in the boats, pulling up the coast, though the
breeze was a trifle strong and the sea consequently nasty.
It was not long before an otter was sighted and, after
a short, sharp chase, hauled on board, a bullet from Snow's
long Kentucky catching him at long range as he topped a
wave. Unfortunately, wind and sea began to get worse
instead of better, and we were soon forced to take shelter
under the lee of a mass of rocks, from the centre of which
rose a lofty pinnacle partially covered with bent grass and
other coarse vegetation. The base, in extent about a couple
of acres, was quite bare even of seaweed, being completely
swept by violent seas. | A narrow, shallow passage, that
afforded a landing, separated the rock from the mainland,
which as usual consisted of water-beaten cliffs, shutting off
all communication with what lay beyond. To the north
several columnar rocks rose tall and grim, and gave a
suitable name to the locality—The Pinnacle Rocks.
On this barren spot we passed that and the following
night. The boats, carried to the lee side of the big rock
and covered with their sails, afforded some shelter from
the cold and fog. The days were spent in trying our rifles,
climbing, and running to keep ourselves warm. There was
no wood to make a fire, or we might have cooked some
portion of the old bull otter, however nauseous it might
be. Such few gulls as had nests were unapproachable, and
our only food consisted of wild onions, a fair supply of
which we discovered. 13*
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
On the morning of the second day the sea had moderated sufficiently to enable us to launch the boats, andr
once afloat, we shaped our^course to the schooner. As we
passed a small wooded gully that descended to the shore
we came abreast of a couple of bears—an old one and a.
half-grown cub. The latter was the first to notice us, and
set off with that ridiculous shambling gallop, peculiar to-
his species, as hard as he could go. After several unsuccessful shots, a bullet from my short Snider caught him:
through the loins, brought him up with a turn round, and a
bullet through the head finished him. In the meantime
the old one had succumbed to a combined fusillade of
SnowT and the skipper, the jerking of the boats making it
very difficult to shoot with accurate aim. The old bear
had a good deal of white on the breast and shoulders, but
the cub was as much white—dirty white—as brown. We
wasted more than an hour trying to land, but the sea was
too rough. As it was, one of the boats was almost stove in,,
so we were forced to leave the carcases, hoping to return
next day and remove the skins. This, as the sequel
proved, we were unable to do; for so favoured were we by
circumstances that the bears were quite forgotten until too
late to save the skins.
Considering that we had left the schooner in the early
morning of the eighth, and it was now afternoon on the
tenth, and that we had been living all that time on onions
and tobacco, with scarcely a cupful of water apiece, that we
were wet through and had had little sleep, it may be easily
imagined how eagerly we clambered on board, put on dry
clothes, and attacked a substantial meal. Baker had begun
to feel anxious about us, and had naturally many questions
to put, but had to defer the gratification of his curiosity till
we had stowed away large quantities of food, to which
mixed pickles and Worcester sauce added a zest hardly
required by "the hungry edge of appetite." Then at length
the skipper heaved a deep sigh and treckoned he felt
kinder stiffened up.
» Hunting the Sea Otter.
Between this heavy repast and turning in for the night
there was no long interval. Wind and sea were both
dropping fast; but it is doubtful whether all the accumulated
noises of a labouring vessel, with its creaking bulkheads and
straining timbers, would have prevented us enjoying that
dreamless, health-giving sleep of the weary.
Morning dawned on a magnificent hunting day, with blue
sky and warm, clear air. The whole prospect looked more
hopeful and settled than we had been hitherto. accustomed
to expect, and it seemed at last possible to anticipate that
summer, real summer, was upon us, to vary with its warmth
the never-ending fog and storm that had been our invariable
lot—that is, if ever there was summer on this inhospitable
coast—a matter on which we had become rather sceptical.
A gentle rolling swell moved over the oily-looking sea
which already flashed and sparkled under a glowing sun.
We left the Snowdrop very early, and, keeping pretty
well inshore, pulled steadily up the coast. A hoisted paddle
in one of the boats soon gladdened our eyes. With everything in our favour the otter had but a poor chance, and was
soon lying at the bottom of the boat. Off the mouth of a
small shallow bay, dotted with rocky islets, we observed
on one of them the remains of a hut, evidently used by the
natives of Hitokatpu Bay during the salmon-fishing. Here
we came across several otters together. This was rather
an unusual occurrence, for, except when a " school," consisting of fifty or more, is met with, they are generally
found singly. Our own experience led to the conclusion
that the sea otter is strictly solitary in its habits. Even
the "schools' are always found in the beds of kelp,
immediately following or during the prevalence of very
thick or stormy weather. The long, ribbon-like fronds of
this species of the algae act like oil on the troubled waters,
and afford the only shelter on this rugged and tempestuous
coast. To infer gregarious habits from the fact of finding
several together, even during fine weather, would be as
unfair as to assign a like habit to the woodcock because a 140
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
number may be flushed from the same cover. Moreover, when disturbed, though they invariably made for
the sea, their movements were always disconnected and
Blest with the finest of weather, well-trained crews, and
good shooting, the sport was as successful as exciting ; and
by one o'clock nine splendid full-grown otters lay stretched
across the bottom boards of the boats. The chase had led
us many miles to sea, and we were apprehensive of the
effects of the hot sun upon our cargo, which, strong
smelling with a low temperature, was now becoming
offensive. So, after a brief lunch, we made for the shore
in the direction of the schooner, and boarded at five o'clock
without seeing on our way anything worthy of notice, if we
except a couple of huge sea lions progressing, with slow,
porpoise-like movements, steadily to the southwards.
After filling our water-bottles and tobacco-pouches, we
put off again, and killed our tenth otter, the only one
viewed, at a short distance from the vessel. Eventually
we had to grope our way back through a dense fog, and
climbed up the side as the clock struck nine.
This was the best day's hunting we ever had, and will
give some idea how remunerative a sport it might be, if
the weather were only more frequently favourable ; but
over their habitat the storm-king reigns supreme, and
guards the " Kahlan," in no half-hearted way, from a too
ruthless pursuit. Nor is a more extended open time to be
desired, for, under circumstances more in favour of man,
the result would be the extinction of an animal as
interesting as it is valuable. There are already too many
instances on record where the lust of slaughter, as indiscriminate as wasteful, has robbed the prairie and the
forest of their most useful and harmless denizens.
It was a cheering day for us, though a fatiguing One,
and we had worked hard to secure our prizes. We had
been sixteen hours in the boats, with a pause barely sufficient for a scanty lunch.    For most of the time we had Hunting the Sea  Otter.
been under the strong excitement of the chase; then,
again, we had scarcely recovered from the hunger and
exposure of the few preceding days. But the satisfaction
of success atoned for all, and, with anticipations of a good
time of it, we turned into our bunks, not in vain, to seek
I Nature's sweet restorer," a dreamless sleep.
With such a record day the week ended brightly, in
more senses than one, for not only had we done well, but
at last the promise of summer was with us—and surely this
was a foretaste of the sport we might confidently expect.
Such were our thoughts, that seemed to find their echo in
the soothing lap and gurgling ripple of water which, raised
by the night breeze, warbled against the outside timbers of
our bunks, ere the drowsy god translated us to the land of
rest, where neither sun could scorch nor cold winds chill.
Such anticipations, alas, how often are they cheated of
fruition! Solomon was not the first who had experienced
the uncertainty of to-morrow. The promise of the eve
was belied by the dirty weather that hung around us as we
performed the by-no-means pleasant but necessary duty of
preparing skins. And, when this was over, the skipper and
I set off in one of the boats to Otter Island, in the hope of
getting gulls' eggs ; leaving Snow hard at work in the cabin
fitting a new sight to one of his rifles. By keeping touch
of the shore, with the peculiarities of which we were by
this time well acquainted, we groped our way through the
fog to our destination, which lay about a couple of miles
due south of our anchorage.
Otter Island, standing about half a mile from the shore,
is, composed of a mass of Plutonic recks, rising to a height
of nearly one hundred feet sheer out of the sea. Judging
by the lines of fracture (originally one), the action of
water, or more probably, considering the abundant evidence
of volcanic agency in these parts and the burnt appearance
presented, some seismic disturbance had first rent and then
removed two large masses frqm the parent rock on the
south and east sides, leaving narrow channels strewn here 142
Hunting the Sea Otter.
and there with half-submerged rocks, amongst which the
never-quiet sea rushed with sullen roar and relentless force.
The two smaller rocks were quite inaccessible, but the
larger or parent mass, about seventy yards long by fifty
wide, seemed equally so, with the exception of one
place, which we eventually chose for the attempt after
rowing round the rock unsuccessfully. The heavy surges,
dangerous alike to ourselves and our craft, rendered our
efforts abortive, till backing carefully on the top of a wave
we sprang out and clambered on to the rock before the
boat receded from under us. But our work had only
just begun, for the prospect of getting higher was not
encouraging. Scrambling along the black ledge for some
distance, we discovered a tiny gully sufficient to wedge the
body into; and, by taking advantage of this, and hanging
on to the strong bent grass which grew in greater
profusion the higher we ascended, we managed to reach
a less precarious position ; our movement upwards was
easier, and it became possible to look around us. The
ground under us was of a soft, loamy character, covered
with long coarse grass, interspersed with a herbaceous
plant with leaves like a peony. We found ourselves surrounded with puffins; indeed, the soil was literally honeycombed with their holes, out of which they either suddenly
flew, or sat sullenly and defiantly eyeing us as our faces
reached the level of their nests. We sank ankle-deep in
the undermined soil at every step. At some places, where
the ascent was steep, we received knocks on the head
from the wings of the startled birds ; our hats had long
before been swept off and picked up by the boat's crew
beneath. We could feel them struggling under our
feet as we would be poking away at some obstinate
old sitter, in the attempt to get from under her the one
dirty-white egg she was carefully guarding. To thrust in
the hand and pull out both together might be the simplest
way, but he who has once been made acquainted with the
strength of a puffin's bill and the sharpness of her claws
* Hunting the Sea  Otter.
will be remarkably chary of repeating the experiment.
One I had winged only a short time before drew blood
from the whole boat's crew before we got him aboard the
schooner, and then managed not only to beat off Rover,
nay, actually assumed the offensive, and hung on beak and
•claws to anyone who came within reach. After all, the
few eggs we did get were hard-set. While searching the
lower rocks and ledges we came upon a solitary puffin
sitting on her equally solitary egg, in a crevice. After
about half an hour's hard work, during which she defied
all our stratagems to dislodge her, we succeeded, by dint
of sticks, ramrods, string, and handkerchiefs, in securing
both her and the object of her solicitude. Amongst the
numerous things we raked out of her nest, if such it might
be called, was an empty copper cartridge shell of a Henry
rifle, and marked "T. and K." I gave it some time afterwards to the chief hunter of the Buffandeau, as belonging
to his rifle, and as a curiosity on account of the place
where it was found. This man had never landed on this
islet, but had repeatedly shot all round it. The puffin must
therefore have dived in two fathoms of wrater to obtain it.
Whether carried to her nest as a drinking-cup or a
curiosity, " deponent sayeth not." Possibly she wished to
test the truth of the adage—" Keep a thing for seven
years and you will find a use for it." The skipper inclined
to the latter view, having heard of an American who, by
wearing the same hat for twenty-one years, had been
seven times in the fashion.
This visit to Otter Island was made on July 12th, when
the greater part of the eggs were hard-set, but we saw
no young ones. On the 20th of the same month I found
a young one in its hole, beneath a boulder, on one of
the Pinnacle Rocks, off the south end of Sandy Bay. It
was covered with black hair, with a beak more like that of
a duck than a puffin, only higher at the culmen. We had
on the former occasion brought away four specimens,
the   examination   of which was to  enable us to   write  a 144
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
1 if
description. Our observations over and notes being taken,,
three of them were released, the one detained being
destined for the scalpel. The length of wing in this case
was fourteen inches, expanse of wing twenty-four, length,
of beak one and seven-eighths ; colour, jet black, with the
exception of cheeks, face, and chin, these of pure white
From the top of the head, which was black and velvety,
sprang two plumes of golden-hued feathers, from two to
two and a half inches in length. They were on either side,
immediately over the eyes; the delicate, hair-like feathers,,
being of varying lengths, gave a gradual taper to these
plumes, which drooped gracefully downwards, and were
capable of partial erection when the bird was irritated.
These plumes seem to be common both to male and female,
as, amongst the hundreds seen almost daily, we never
noticed any without them. The legs and feet—the latter
armed with three sharp claws—were of a bright scarlet
colour, rivalling in richness of hue those of the Greenland
dove [Cephus grylla) shot at Nemoro. Their usual cry
was a hoarse croak, seldom repeated, and their speed
when on the wing was almost the same as that of the
guillemot (Uria troila).
During the next few days time hung somewhat heavily
on our hands, fog without rain and fog with rain alternating
persistently. One good day we certainly had, in spite of
the fog, which was not so thick as usual. Close to one of
the boats rose the first otter, a large bull. His skin, when
pegged out, measured sixty-three inches from nose to root
of tail. It took us three hours before it was hauled into
the boat, the fog baffling us considerably. The air did not
clear till seven o'clock, when we got an hour-and-a-half of
successful hunting before returning to the vessel, and, as
we had bagged in all six otters and a dog seal, we were
well content.
One day we went on board the Buffandeau for a chat
and a drink of the mysterious Mexican firewater. A
hunter belonging to this vessel, who had spent two years Hunting the Sea  Otter.
and a half on one of the Aleutian Islands, informed us that
the natives declared the otter to breed at twelve months
old. This certainly did not agree with our own observation, for in no case did we see an otter with a pup which
was not full grown, though we killed several half-grown
ones, about the size of the river otter.
Moreover, we sometimes came across a half-grown pup
in company with a cow otter that had a new-born pup
between her paws. It is, therefore, probable that the pup
remains under its mother's care until it is about half-
The frequent mention in these pages of bull and cow
otters and pups must seem to the general reader, as well
as the naturalist, an incongruous nomenclature. But as
these are the terms universal among hunters engaged in
this wild and strange pursuit, it is as well, perhaps, to
ignore the inconsistency, remembering only that those who
have bestowed them are, as a rule, as rugged and untamed
as the coasts they frequent.
We worked our way gradually up the coast, anchoring
here and there, as weather and surroundings permitted, fog
and light winds continuing most of the time. Sometimes
we left the schooner under fairly promising conditions, but
were glad to be picked up half an hour later, to avoid
being sunk by one of those local storms which, as fierce
as they are sudden, came woollying with terrific roar
down the mountain gullies. Independent of the almost
everlasting fogs, these sudden storms were, considering
the peculiarly shelterless nature of the coast, a constant
source of anxiety, coming, as they did, without a moment's
On one side the ocean, with its intervening tide-rips,
risky enough to our small boats in a calm; on the other,
sandy stretches, cliffs, or boulders, all equally inaccessible.
For rare, indeed, was the day when the mountainous rollers,
raised by some distant storm, the veriest fringe of whose
disturbance scarcely sufficed to fan our drooping sails to
L 146
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
life, would fail to end their turbulence with thunderous roar
upon the coast.
To be blown off the coast in our small hunting boats was
a constant danger, although impossible to avoid. But our
merry little Japs were as sensible of the peril as ourselves,
and encouraged each other with weird cries as they bent
their backs and put their staunch little hearts into the oars.
The third day after leaving Otter Island we reached
Jap Bay, about noon. As soon as the anchor was down
we started in the boats, the fog appearing less dense than
it was outside. We sighted several otters, of which we
shot a couple, both full grown, with fine pelts.
Crossing the bay, we skirted the base of Green Bluff; and
in a small patch of kelp came upon a school of about fifty.
But they sighted us at once, and, startled at our proximity,
dived and disappeared in a moment. The few shots fired
were without effect, and hunting had to be abandoned, for
the fog was getting thicker every minute. So keeping
close together, we groped our way back, and were glad
when an answering shout told us the whereabouts of
the schooner. The following day was devoted to getting
wood and water, the chase being impossible on account
of our usual obstacle. All hands had a busy morning, but
after tiffin the skipper and I went off to try and get a
shot at a bear, the tracks of which were plentiful at the
watering place.
It was quite a treat to get on shore again; July was
drawing to a close, and such flowers and plants as wasted
their sweetness on this foggy land should now be at their
brightest and best.
The air was warm and genial, and as we left the sea it
became clearer and less charged with moisture. We soon
emerged from the scanty grass which bordered the stream,
and entered a thicket of stunted birch and alder which
extended almost to the water's edge. Tall grass, hemlock,
and wild rhubarb, with leaves  like  umbrellas, spreading
L 2 i48
Hunting the Sea  Otter,
higher than our heads, rendered our progress difficult and
disagreeable, and soon drove us back to the stream, a
veritable mountain brook, up whose bed we slowly climbed
or waded. Here and there were treacherous pools covering
quicksands in spits and banks, deposited by the water
running in narrow courses, and, but for mutual assistance,
we might have come to grief several times.
The bears also seem to have chosen the stream for their
highway, judging by the numerous tracks we came across,
for at least two she-bears and their cubs had preceded us
only a short time before. One must have been a large
specimen, for the narrowest part of her fore print was nine
inches wide. We kept a sharp look out; for a she-bear
with cubs is an awkward customer at any time, but especially
in a high-banked stream among quicksands and boulders.
As we got higher up the mountain side, we left the fog
behind us, and an occasional break in the leafy arcade gave
us a glimpse of the sun shining brightly overhead. The
trees, mostly silver birch and alder, were festooned with
long beards of delicate moss of a yellowish white, looking
prematurely old, though scarcely past their youth. There
was a monotonous sameness in the size of the trees, nor was
the reason far to seek. Prostrate trunks that bridged the
stream at intervals, and cast a darkening shade upon the
waters, were always those with greater girth, whose very
vitality had proved their ruin. Existence in a leaden,
socialistic equality was just possible where the rudest wind
could only sway the topmost branches; but the vigour
which sought a higher level served but to court the full
fury of the storm. Unfitted to their environment, those
trees which were ambitious to domineer over the humbler
sort paid the penalty by a heavier crash. The mountain
ash, or witch tree, wiser perhaps in its occult knowledge,
bent its gorgeous clusters of white flowers more humbly
over the stream. The wild vine and honeysuckle grew
profusely, twining themselves round the trunks, or drooping
gracefully from the branches; while the homely polypodium Hunting the Sea  Otter.
nestled, half moss-hidden, among the roots. Quantities of
salmon parr inhabited each pool; and on our return we shot
sufficient for a fry by bringing them to the surface with
a bit of biscuit. The natives during September catch
large quantities of salmon in the bay, where they evidently
come in search of the mountain streams for the purpose of
breeding. Though we saw little water running then, large
bunches of dry grasses and sticks far above our heads
showed how great must be the rush of the torrent at
certain seasons.- Few birds were either seen or heard
after we left the shore, where the uproar kept up by the
gulls was continuous. We noticed, however, a red-
breasted thrush, looking like an enlarged edition of the
robin, which eyed us askance before flitting away to pour
out his sweet song from the recesses of the thicket. A
bird, probably of the cuckoo species, amused us with its
incessant tu-tu, possibly as near an imitation of the correct
note as the damp coldness of the climate would allow. A
tiny wren, like our golden-crested variety, was busily at
work among the topmost branches of a birch tree. Two
ravens, perched upon the highest sprays of a dead cedar,
eyed us suspiciously; and if we mention a small bird like
the white-throat, our list is complete. On our return to
the boats, large numbers of pigeons, almost exactly resembling our stock dove and similar to those common throughout Japan, were busily feeding upon the larvae of the sand
hopper, amidst the sand and seaweed of the high-water
The following day being too foggy for hunting, we went
ashore in the morning to shoot pigeons, which we found an
agreeable change from salt-horse and tinned provisions.
In the afternoon, Baker and I landed with our rifles to look
for bears; but only saw one half-grown, and this took to
flight from some cause we were unable to discover, for we
approached very cautiously. We came upon the eyrie of
a pair of white-tailed eagles (H. Albicillus), but the nest
was as usual inaccessible.    The old birds circled round and i5o
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
round us, screaming loudly, but generally keeping at a
respectful distance.
By hiding under the overhanging ledge of a detached
rock, while Baker withdrew for a short distance, I got a
steady shot at the male bird as he sailed overhead on
outstretched wings, and sent a bullet through its breast.
We had some difficulty in finding the body in the long
grass, which grew in rank luxuriousness as high as our
shoulders, until Rover came to our assistance and soon
showed us where he was. I could see little, if any, difference between it and our Scottish white-tailed eagle.
Returning we made up a large bunch of flowers, which
brightened up the cabin for some days. Sweet peas,
sweetly-scented wild roses, yellow lilies, and iris composed
our bouquet. There were also some tall flowering plants,
six feet high, in full blossom, resembling the balsams so
common in every little English greenhouse.
In passing Onabetzu, as the fisherman's house at Jap
Bay is called, we found several Japanese fishermen drinking
saki, and decidedly hilarious. Some were dancing, a bad
sign, if Cicero is correct that " no sane man dances unless
he is drunk." They were very hospitable, and insisted upon
us joining them until our boat arrived from the schooner.
But drunkenness, even when hilarious, is repulsive, especially
in such a wild and desolate scene, so we were glad to
divert their attention by putting up a mark and firing at it
with their primitive matchlocks.
We made fairly good shooting at close range; but their
powder was execrably bad, and the bullets none too spherical.
Baker literally brought down the house when, with a bullet
from his own rifle, he doubled up a seagull sitting about a
hundred and fifty yards off upon the shore. We embarked
amidst a chorus of admiration and applause.
For five long days we were compelled to stick to our
anchorage, without the slightest chance of hunting; for there
was not a breath of wind, land and sea being literally
blanketed in fog.     And right glad we were when a good o
fa m Hunting the Sea  Otter.
southerly breeze sprung up, which changed into a strong
north-easterly wind before we could get the anchor up. So
strongly did it blow at times that it took the greater part of
the day beating out of the bay, and it was only late in the
evening when we ran down the coast, anchoring in eighteen
fathoms in Sandy Bay.
The following day, although still foggy, we got five full-
grown otters, and during the next two days six more.
Most of our successes were owing to Snow's good shooting,
as, using our paddles, we noiselessly stole upon the otters
in the fog, and shot them before they could take alarm and
dive out of sight, chasing with such an atmosphere being
an impossibility.
But at last there dawned one of those rare and much-
longed-for days when the fog was only intermittent, and
the sun blazed down upon us with almost tropical violence.
The sea was like glass, and a more beautiful hunting
morning could not have been desired.
We left the schooner at six o'clock and did not get back
until after nine that night. Otters were plentiful, especially
in the kelp bed off the westerly point of Hitokatpu Bay.
The boats of the Myrtle were hunting there also, but we
were all too busy to speak to each other. Many of the
chases were long and fatiguing; and when we returned it
was with seven otters and a pup, not to mention sun-
scorched faces and arms, and good appetites. How gladly
would we have turned in to our bunks ; but rifles had to
be cleaned and otters skinned, so that we did not get a
chance of dinner until midnight.
A few more days like this, sunny and fogless, with a
calm sea, and what sport might have been ours ! But in that
case the otters would either have deserted the coast or been
almost exterminated.
Many seals were seen, both " hair " and lt spotted " ; one
of the latter, a leopard seal, spotted like a Dalmatian dog,
was shot, but unfortunately sank before we could get
up to it.    Many were the lamentations amongst our men, 152
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
especially old Junkey, who had been licking his lips in
anticipation of a square meal; but it was a great relief to
ourselves, for the smell of roasting seal throughout the
vessel was a thing to be felt. Of course, after such a day,
the two following ones were densely foggy; and, though we
groped about aimlessly in the boats, only one otter was
seen, though not bagged.
Thus ended July, with its twenty-five days of storm or
fog, the boats being only able to hunt at all during twenty
of those days, often only for a few hours, on account of
stress of weather; while the sole three clear days, when
almost continuous hunting was possible, produced respectively eight, ten, and eight otters.
The coming of August had been eagerly looked forward
to as the best month for hunting; for surely in the height
of summer—if, indeed, there were such a season on this
desolate coast—some slight cessation of dense fog and
cold rain might be expected. But we soon found that
such few flowers and fruits as were able to exist amidst
such a bleak and humid atmosphere seemed only to bloom
and ripen as Nature's protest against the surrounding
gloom, instead of being, as we thought, the signs of
The continuous struggle between the Arctic waters that
swept the coast with endless force and the warmer currents
from the Okhotsk, or further south, which were hurrying
with equal persistence and energy to the north, flowing at
times past each other in deceptive silence, at others
seeking conflict with angry crests upheaved in the roar
and struggle of the tide-rip, could scarcely be conducive to
anything like stability in the atmospheric conditions. Add
to these the colder and warmer strata of air they carried
with them on their surfaces, and supplement all by the
hot fumes of boiling springs and volcanic blasts that used
to sweep over the boats at certain parts of the coast like
breaths from a furnace, and it can easily be understood
how small was the chance of  even the most elementary
« Hunting the Sea  Otter.
of summers asserting itself. Such conditions of continual
conflict could only be productive of fog, rain, and sudden
On August ist we left the schooner very early in the
morning, having deserted our last anchorage a couple of
days before, beating slowly up the coast amidst fog and
light airs from the north and anchoring beyond Hitokatpu
Bay, in what we called Hot Spring Bay, on account of a
number of hot springs that bubbled up out of the sea some
distance from the shore, which they enveloped in steam. A
lucky shot bagged an otter not a couple of hundred yards
from the vessel; but we failed to see another, and, as the
fog grew denser, we landed at noon for a couple of hours
beneath the great bluff that guards the eastern extremity of
Hitokatpu Bay.
So steep was the mountain side as it rose from the sea
that it was only by using our sheath knives that we were
able to climb for a short distance to pick some of the cranberries and flowers that grew in profusion on its side :
pinks—not sea pinks—yellow lilies of two kinds, bluebells,
and yellow iris.
As the fog cleared a little we started again on our return,
and were successful in shooting three more otters before we
reached the schooner at seven o'clock.
Weighing anchor next morning, we sailed and drifted
up the coast under slight and intermittent breezes, and
brought up for the night not far from Gull Island, but did
not leave the schooner, as the fog was very dense and wre
were anxious to get further north if possible.
After a quiet night we got off early next morning, but
did not leave the vessel until later, when we were opposite
the curious basaltic rocks which had excited our curiosity so
much when we had first seen them nearly two months
before. We rowed a long distance down the coast, but
•only saw two otters, one of which we shot. The day turned
out better than we expected, as the fog grew thinner
towards midday, and there was scarcely a breath of wind. 154
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
As no otters were to be seen near the shore we sought
the rougher water a few miles out, but the tide-rip was very
dangerous, besides making accurate shooting very difficult.
Standing up on the thwart of a little cockle-shell of a boat
which was pitching and tossing in all directions is not
exactly conducive to good shooting, especially as the otter
when hard pressed or much hunted invariably made for the
most turbulent water he could find.
We got back at five o'clock to find the schooner, although
unanchored, in almost exactly the place where we had left
This was fortunate, as the fog had by this time settled
like a pall upon us. In thirty fathoms of water, with the
roar of the tide-rip on one quarter and the thunder of the
great Pacific rollers on the other, our position was not a
pleasant one. While the senst; of helplessness so characteristic of these dense, opaque fogs accentuated the feeling
of insecurity. Fortunately, before it got dark a slight breeze
sprang up, sufficient to enable us to run in close to the big
hollow rock and anchor in seventeen fathoms.
It was nine o'clock next day before the boats got away,
and, taking an easterly course, we rowed about half-way up
to Gull Island. We saw eleven otters altogether; but, on
account of the thick atmosphere, were never able to see
more than fifty yards ahead. Nor, of course, could we see
each other, but being a dead calm could occasionally hear
the sound of the oars. We managed to get two otters and
a pup.
We spent the next two days under a pall of dense fogr
cleaning and airing the skins already stretched, " leaning'
others, and overhauling ropes and rigging, it being quite
impossible to leave the schooner.
But August 6th was to be a red-letter day, being bright
and clear from almost dawn to dark—one of those days
we were always hoping and praying for, but which came
so seldom.
We left the ship at six, after a hurried breakfast. The
dense mist that had enveloped us for the past two days
was disappearing fast, and the sun, clear and bright, shone
through the cloud-like vapour with ever-increasing force.
The depressing effects of living for days and weeks
enshrouded in gloom, sometimes without a sound except
the weird cry of a sea bird, often ignorant of our position
or proximity to the scarred and rugged rocks that
sentinelled a coast as storm-beaten as themselves, was
dissipated in a moment, as soon as Sol turned his warm
and almost forgotten old face upon land and water.
When at mid-day we drew the boats together to have
our lunch of biscuit and good old salt-horse, we had got
six full-grown otters, most of which had led us a merry
dance over the glittering water. Our arms and faces,
which had begun to lose their tan, were smarting with the
reflection from the glassy water.
Before we were finished we were joined by the six boats
of the Flying Mist and Otsego. Both were manned by
nice-looking Kanaka boys, which they had picked up at
Honolulu on their way from California. Our own little
Japs looked small beside them, except old Junkey, with his
hard-weather face, who towered above them. But their
little bodies had strong arms and legs, while their never-
failing good humour, tireless energy, and amenableness to am
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
control had long ago endeared them to us all. Behind
the merry faces lay a fund of dogged determination and
absence of fear or panic; no wonder they make the best
and pluckiest pearl-divers in the world. What men for a
navy! And what a supply, when half the population on
the great coast line spend their lives as fishermen upon the
great waters. Kind and gentle to women and children,
rarely quarrelling amongst themselves—we ourselves never
had a sign of a row during our cruise—where every coolie
is a gentleman in his manners, and yet a sturdy, warlike
race—surely they will go far in this Britain of the East.
Both the Flying Mist and Otsego had been hunting off
the Island of Urup for a short time, but without much
success, having only got twenty-six pelts between them.
Dense fog and fierce wind storms, worse even than we had
experienced, were of almost daily occurrence. They had
also noticed, like ourselves, in the difficulty in attempting
to land for shelter during those fierce and sudden blasts,
that woolly down gorge and mountain sides, the curiously
unsheltering nature of the coast.
The storm-tossed coaster, with every stitch he can carry,
does his best to work up under the shelter of some
embattled cliff, knowing well that under its protecting lee
lies quiet water and a tempered gale, But in these seas
his efforts would have been valueless, for he might as
easily have had his sails split within biscuit-throw of the
land as if he had encountered the full fury of the storm in
more open water.
When the crew of the little Geordie brig, consisting of
skipper, mate, and boy, were drinking the usual Saturday
night's toast of f Wives and sweethearts," in much perturbation of mind (for they had temporarily lost sight of
land), the mate remarked, sadly,—
H I wonder if they know where we are to-night ?'
The skipper replied, tersely,—
" I wish to God we knew ourselves, Bill."
It is  probable  that  the north-country  skipper, in our
HI Hunting the Sea  Otter.
position  and   with  our  experience,   would   not   look  as
longingly landwards as he is said to do.
It seemed as if the screaming blasts tearing down the
hillsides met some denser and almost rigid stratum of air
which deflected its fury and hurled it downwards along the
face of the cliff, until it struck the waves beating against
the shore and whirled their broken crests into a cloud of
foam and spindrift.
Up to this time the Flying Mist had obtained eighty-
seven skins, and the Otsego forty, against our one hundred
and thirty-three.
The day was too good to be lost, so after a hasty lunch
we parted from our companions and recommenced our
We got back to the schooner at about nine that night
with ten full-grown otters in the boats—with smarting,
sunburnt faces and arms, but in good spirits.
A tired crew—ten otters to skin, three rifles each to
clean, as well as ourselves, and dinner to take, kept us
busy until past midnight. Thus ended one of our three
.red-letter days upon this coast, which had been really clear
and bright from sunrise to sunset. Such a day is instruc-
tive as showing what sport might have been obtained had
the weather only been favourable more frequently. On
the other hand, what is good for the hunter is seldom
so to the hunted. Man is a strenuous creature, meeting
dangers and difficulties only to overcome them, while they
add to the joy and fascination of the sport. But on those
occasions when, unable to reach the vessel, we had to
spend cold and uncomfortable nights coiled up on the
bottom boards of the boats, wet and hungry, sometimes
even without the solace of tobacco—for it is just at such
times that the supply gives out—one could not help thinking that a few such nights went a long way, and the more
seldom they came the better. "Rocked in the cradle of the
Deep," especially if heard from the recesses of a comfortable
armchair, is a soothing melody, implying virtually a good -i*8
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
deal of the feather-bed business; but sheltering in a bed of
kelp, and fastened to the long frond-like leaves, which
floated for a hundred feet over the surface, where they
acted like oil upon the waters, breaking up the waves and
preventing our being swamped, was a different sort of
rocking altogether. Crouching behind the low gunwales of
the boats, to seek what shelter we could from the driving
mist and icy rain, we sought to learn during the long watches
of the night the great virtue of patience. Beetle-browed
cliffs might rear their black crests inviting us to shelter
.and security, but their allurements had too often been tried
and found wanting, even if we could have effected a
Sometimes, when the weather was fine and only fog or
distance prevented our finding the schooner, we sampled
beds scooped out of the sand for a change. Dry sand feels
soft and yielding to the foot, but as a mattress it will be
found to differ very little from cast-iron.
Two consecutive days of warmth and brightness was too
much to expect in this place of fog and storm, so that
little surprise was felt when we turned up next morning to
find ourselves blanketed in the usual fashion. Before we
bad finished our early breakfast, however, the fog began
to lift in places, as a gentle air, stealing up from the
southward, wove it into strange and fantastic shapes, only
to be swallowed up and obliterated by cloudlike masses of
descending vapour.
We got off in the boats by five o'clock, finding it clearer
near the water than it appeared from the deck. As the
day advanced, the fog lifted more frequently, disclosing
lanes and patches of light, which looked like widening and
extending into larger areas. About nine o'clock we were
-cheered by seeing an elevated paddle in the leading boat,
showing that an otter had been sighted. Then began a
long and exciting chase, rendered more so by the attenuated
banks of fog which still clung to the water in smoke-like
wreaths; and these the otter seemed to seek, as if knowing Hunting the Sea  Otter.
that they would baffle pursuit, and afford a shelter which
his native element denied him; sometimes with long,
exhausting dives, generally seawards, then breaching like
a porpoise two seconds under water and one out, the
leading boat watching his course by the string of air
bubbles and pulling for all it was worth, the other two
boats on either quarter ready to spread out to circumvent
any sudden deviation from his course, and greet his
appearance with a bullet. With undiminished strength,
doubling under water, with long dives and short ones,
now in one direction, now in another, and still unwounded,
the chase had already lasted without intermission for
two hours. But at length the dives became shorter, the
boats could draw nearer, and it was only a question of a
few more minutes before a well-placed bullet would end
the contest, when, without a moment's warning, probably
on account of our absorption in the hunt, down dropped
the thin mist from above, while the surrounding wreaths
and clouds that lay brooding over the still water swept
over us like some gigantic bird, and, folding its great
white wings, shut out sight and sound in its cold silence.
The wind rose quickly, bringing with it more fog, and drove
in our faces with wet and chilling breath that told of icefloes in the frozen north.
Twenty miles from land, whose direction we only knew
from the compass, our otter lost in the mist, the little frail
boats already dancing on the quick-rising sea, and the
increasing roar of a tide-rip, in what direction we could not
tell, there was nothing for it but to turn the boats landward,
trusting to luck and the chapter of accidents. So, hoisting
our sails, with frequent bailings, we skimmed over and
through the disordered waves of the tide-rip. The wind died
away as suddenly as it came, and, taking to the oars, we
sought in silence the protection of the land.
It was well on in the afternoon before we struck it.
Fortunately, the sea was quite calm, and we were thus able
to coast along within fifty yards until there should loom wm
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
out of the fog some familiar rock or landmark which gave
us our course so as to reach the schooner. Fortune,
however, had not quite deserted us; for, before we sighted
the land, we bagged a couple of otters which had been
sleeping on the water, and, raising their heads in alarm at
the sound of our oars, received their quietus ere they could
overcome their curiosity and escape. Nor was our luck
quite finished, for we wrere to have that evening the unique
experience of seeing and shooting one of these purely
pelagic creatures for the first and only time upon land.
With the boats hugging the shore here, fortunately free
of outstanding rock, the coast line dimly visible through
the fog, we rounded a tall, bluff, and rocky point; we
turned inwards and came upon a stretch of sandy beach
backed by a small plain or meadow of grass and stunted
timber. Perched upon the white limb of a withered tree,
with drooping wings and hunched up body, a very picture
of sulky depression, sat a large sea eagle. I, who was in
the leading boat, stole quietly upon it, hoping to get a shot;
but, dejected as it might appear, the great, restless, searching
eyes had already detected us, and, before the rifle could be
raised, with a flap of its broad wings it disappeared into
the mist.
Just as the rifle had been laid down, one of the men,
pointing eagerly to the port quarter, whispered: " Racco,
donnah, racco "—" Sea otter, master, sea otter." And there,
sure enough, about a couple of yards from the water's edge,
lay a dark, fur-clad creature with a yellowish head, which
showed almost white against the dark background of rock,
watching us intently. Seen for the first time on land,
stretched at full length upon a little patch of sand amongst
the rocks, it had little appearance of an otter, but some
strange creation of this weird and uncanny coast. I
snatched up my rifle and fired quickly, just as an intervening
boulder hid it from sight and prevented me from seeing the
result of the shot. Motioning the men to pull a stroke,
the next moment they caught sight of it crawling slowly to
—I Hunting the Sea  Otter.
the water, and, holding up my hand to stop the rowing and
steady the boat, I took a steady aim and put a bullet
through its head.
The boat was sharply backed to the edge of the beach,
where a small stream emptied itself into the sea, and,
jumping into the surf, I made my way as quickly as
possible back over the rocks, just in time to lay hold of a
large sea otter, for such it was that the waves were rapidly
bearing off. This was doubly fortunate, for once it had
reached the water alive it would inevitably have been lost
in the dense fog, while if the sea had once got possession,
it is doubtful, considering the great depth of water within a
few yards of the shore, whether we should ever have seen
it again. For although, unlike the seal, the sea otter rarely
sinks when shot, we had already experienced one or two
occasions in which they did so. When shot dead, the
head drops at once, retaining what air there was in the
lungs and body, while those we lost was after a long chase,
the head being last to disappear.
Though differing somewhat in detail, we found all of the
hunters practically unanimous in their opinion as to the
strictly pelagic character and habits of the sea otter ; some
declaring that they never, under any circumstances, were
found out of the water; others that they sometimes were,
but very rarely; and others, again, that it was only when
dying or very seriously injured that they sought the land.
The correctness of this is borne out to some extent by
the structure of the animal, neither the hind, seal-like
flippers nor the small, short fore-feet being adapted for the
land. Upon examination of the body that night, when
skinning it, we were inclined to the last belief, for we found
the body, which was that of a full-grown female, or cow
as they called it, dreadfully emaciated, having literally no
flesh at all, while one shoulder and one hind flipper were
broken. How the poor creature had got into such a state
it was impossible to conjecture. But she had evidently
swum to the shore and been left by the receding tide, and
M Hunting the Sea  Otter.
that but a very short time before our arrival upon the
scene, for the sand around her was marked with fox or
bear tracks. One of the latter was so fresh that, after
getting the otter into one of the boats, we all then started
off after it, late as it was. The footprints were enormous,
and evidently belonged to a bear of great size; but, after
following for some distance, the tracks crossed the stream
where it was too deep to ford, and, as the night was
drawing on, we were compelled to return.
The bed of this stream, the water of which was as clear
as crystal, and in whose depths hundreds of small trout or
parr were disporting, looked like white sand, but which
we found to be pumice-stone, several lumps of which we
picked up on the margin and took aboard with us.
When we regained the shore, and before re-embarking,
we found several deposits of black metallic sand, which
looked exactly like Curtis & Harvey's glazed gunpowder.
A sound chocolate tin, which we found opportunely jammed
amongst the rocks, was filled with it and taken with us. It
was found to be magnetic iron ore. After rowing some
little distance, we fired a shot, and were answered from
the schooner, which we soon found anchored not far from
where we were. We were all tired and hungry after our
long day, but well pleased, as we had managed to get three
otters, in spite of the fog and our early ill-luck.
The little bay off which we were lying was made out by
the skipper to be about i\ miles long, lat. 450 8', long,
about 1480, and the third bay east of the large rock (Arch
Rock) shown in sketch of anchorage of June 17th. A
hole or cave extends right through Arch Rock, but it is
only visible when approached from the south, and in the
illustration lies behind the schooner's mainsail. CHAPTER  XIV.
The vivid contrast between the weather of the two preceding days might well have exhausted the meteorological
vagaries of even this inhospitable coast, but when we
turned out next morning we found another phase of its
eccentricities in store for us.
All signs of fog had vanished and the sun shone out
brightly from a clear blue sky; but it was blowing half a
gale from the north-west, which gradually increased as the
day advanced. Hunting was, of course, an impossibility. We
saw the Flying Mist and Otsego, anchored in deeper water
than ourselves, clear out of what we called Cygnet Harbour—
doubtless on the lucus a non lucendo principle, as there was
not the sign of a harbour or anything like it—and run down
the coast. At about four in the afternoon we followed
their example, but could make nothing of the weather, and
at half-past nine we had to bring up in such anchorage as
we could obtain a few miles south of our last position.
A heavy swell set in during the night, during which we
spent an anxious time, for the short season was already far
advanced, and to be blown out to sea and lose touch of the
coast might mean days before we regained it. But our
anchor held. The wind woollied down the mountain sides
with terrific violence, lulling somewhat at times, but only to
gain additional strength with each blast, as if intent to hurl
us seaward.
One might have thought that the spirit legions of departed
Samurai, far from their sunny southern shores, had found
at once a fitting purgatory for their lives in this inhospitable
land of mist and tempest, and their expiation in its defence.
M 2 164
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
As the wind alternately whistled or screeched through
the rigging one could almost hear the swish of the great
two-handed swords, as with many a long forgotten war-cry
they hurled their shadowy hosts upon the invaders who
dared to violate the forbidden land with their presence.
The roaring of the wind as it rose and fell between the
blasts was the sounding of a thousand war gongs; while,
above all, the deep rolling thunder of the great Pacific
surges, as, curling their mountainous crests, they dashed
themselves to pieces on rock and sand, was a fitting music
for their onslaught.
The shelterless, harbourless nature of the coast, with its
sudden and frequent storms, warring currents, and almost
continual fog, together with the great depth of water and
rocky bottom, was enough to banish all feeling of security
during our anchorage ; while the giant rollers—sometimes
the precursors of a storm, or more often the effects of some
disturbance far beyond our ken—would frequently set in
without a moment's warning, during even the calmest
In the early morning the wind dropped as quickly as it
had come, leaving a big rolling sea, with a dense fog
which lasted all day. The boats left at five in the morning
and did not get back until after six that night. We only
succeeded in getting one otter, and that one rather curiously.
It was about three parts grown and one of the most active
we had yet come across. It tried every device to throw us
off, turning and doubling under water, always rising in some
unexpected direction, giving little time for a shot, howevei
hasty. Fortunately for us the dives were always short, for
it was very foggy, and a fairly long dive would inevitably
have shaken us off. As it was he kept us continually on the
qui vive for an hour. At length, he came up near one of the
boats, which he did not at once perceive, and, receiving a shot,
dived quickly, and came up the next moment quite dead.
I, who claimed the shot, was much disgusted, when, on
skinning it that night, we failed to discover any sign of a Hunting the Sea Otter.
bullet; in fact, it was quite untouched. Rupture of some
of the principal blood vessels was evidently the cause of
death, for the whole of the inside of the skin was a mass
of extravasated blood, which considerably added to the
disagreeableness of skinning and "leaning"—at no time a
pleasant occupation. The rough opinion of the other
hunters to whom we afterwards mentioned the circumstance
was that, in its strenuous efforts to escape, it had broken or
ruptured its heart—a similar instance being cited by one of
the crew of the Caroline as having happened to him the
preceding year.
It blew hard during the night, the heavy swell rolling us
about uneasily, the dawn bringing with it a cold, heavy rain
which continued without intermission all day, with a good
deal of fog, but not quite so dense as it usually was.
Towards mid-day the wind shifted to the east and blew more
heavily than ever, so that we had to get underweigh and run
for shelter to Jap Bay. We passed the Flying Mist,
brought up off Sandy Bay, and at eight o'clock that night
dropped anchor under shelter of the big bluff which bounds
the north-east extremity of the bay.
August nth.—The knowledge that this was to be our
last day's hunting, and almost the last of our stay upon the
coast, was still on the knees of the gods as we left the
schooner that morning. Both wind and sea had dropped
sufficiently by ten o'clock to admit of our hunting, but before
we had been out half an hour the wind, which had fallen
almost to a calm, commenced to blow great guns from the
north-west. As the schooner was in no danger we rowed
round the base of the bluff and found shelter from the wind.
It was easy to see now how it was that all the great granite
rocks that covered the shore were so beautifully rounded, for
the great Pacific combers, travelling with racehorse speed,
wrere sweeping over them tons of green water with a
swiftness and violence that would have ground anything of
less solid nature to powder.
In the small bed of  kelp which lay off the point we 166
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
came upon a school of about fifty otters. Now was our
chance, had the weather only been more propitious; but,
with the very few exceptions already mentioned, this was
never the case. It only required one short dive seawards,
and in a moment they were lost to sight amidst the stormy
waters, already lashed into foam by the violence of the
gale; and even the ardour of pursuit was damped by
the certainty of being blown out to sea to perish miserably.
With one eye upon the stormy water outside and the other
upon the mountainous billows that broke like thunder upon
the shore, rifle shooting was certainly at a disadvantage.
But, in spite of everything, we managed to get a fine, full-
grown couple, whose curiosity, being greater than their
timidity, proved their undoing.
In reading the early accounts of the discovery of the
sea otter and its haunts by Europeans, and in view of the
large numbers of them found together in immense schools,
the natural inference is that they are gregarious in their
habits. But our own experience, and that of other hunters
with whom we came in contact, many of whom had
followed this occupation for years upon the American
coast, was quite opposed to this. The presence of any
number of them in such quantity as to constitute a small
or large school, as it is called, of from twenty to one
hundred and upwards, was our experience only during or
immediately after the prevalence of bad weather, and at
such times they were resting or sheltering in the beds of
kelp which, though but sparsely scattered along the coast
and of comparatively small extent, were larger and more
frequent along the American coast line.
Although large quantities of those molluscs and Crustacea
which form the principal food of the sea otter would
naturally find harbourage around the roots and stems of
these submarine forests, such pasturage would soon become
exhausted; while their active habits and great natatory
powers show conclusively how great are their wanderings
in search of food. Hunting the Sea  Otter.
In such tempestuous waters, subject to almost continuous
storms, as sudden as they are violent, with even the
calmest sea quickly lashed to fury by the strife of conflicting tides and currents, not even the sea otter, in his
native home and element, could struggle for any length of
time without exhaustion against the flying foam and
buffeting waves incidental to such surroundings.
With a fathomless sea behind, a surf-beaten coast in
front, where was shelter or rest to be obtained ?
Even if the structure of this curious animal had
assimilated more to that of the land or river otter, from
which it is as structurally different as it is from the seal,
the protection of the land was impossible, if only on
account of its inaccessibility. A fathom of green water
fretted itself into foam against the base of grey-black cliffs
that towered sullen and majestic above its petty strife, or
broke in derisive showers of spray over such outlying
boulders as were yet unconquered. Here and there some
stretch of sandy beach broke the stern grandeur of the
coast, appealing with strange wistful restfulness to the tired
eye. But over this the great Pacific rollers, after a
hundred miles of placid travel, were concentrating all
reserve of weight and fury to dash themselves, reckless
and impotent, upon the yielding sand.
But here, amidst the ocean forest of kelp that threw up
its long elastic stems through thirty fathoms of blue water
and floated its long narrow leaves hundreds of feet in length
upon the surface, the sea that raged around was subdued
and restful—the foaming crests subdued into an oily roll.
Every now and again some keener gust lifted the edges of
the great brown fronds, showing dark and solid like some
submerged rock against the white background. It was to
such oases as these, the only refuge from storm-swept sea or
wave-girt coast that Nature could provide in such a tempestuous region for the hunted or the hunter. Here, singly,
or in twos and threes, came the sea otter when driven from
his feeding grounds by the inclemency of the weather. i68
Hunting the Sea Otter.
We were glad to row round the bluff and obtain such
shelter as was possible from the violence of the wind.
With the boats lashed together and anchored to some
kelp leaves, we had our lunch and waited, with such patience
as we could command, the abatement of the gale. But the
afternoon was well advanced ere we could venture to
return. To keep a grip of the shore, our only guide, yet
avoid being swamped by the great rollers that we could
hear breaking unexpectedly into masses of seething foam
and water long before they reached us, and through which
no ship—much less our frail boats—could live, kept eyes
and nerves upon the stretch. And rowing and paddling
with all our strength in the face of the wind, with the ever-
present pall of fog—now grown less dense, fortunately—
hanging over us, it took us four hours of incessant labour
and battling before the schooner loomed out of the mist,
much to our satisfaction.
Just as we had hauled the boats on deck and made
everything snug for the night—a necessary precaution which
we always observed, however late we might return—we
noticed a large three-masted steamer bring up at our usual
anchorage on the other side of the bay. This had for us
rather an ominous appearance, suggesting further developments between Russia and Japan—probably an answer to
some aggressive movement on the part of the former, whom
we already knew had made something in the shape of a
claim to the Kuriles. And although our sympathies were
altogether with the Japanese, considering as we did that
these islands were indubitably part of the Japanese chain,
as far at least as Saghalien, the fact remained that, in any
diplomatic affair, small people like ourselves were apt to
find themselves between the proverbial millstones, with a
good prospect of pulverisation. Moreover, we had already
been warned that if we were again discovered within the
three-mile limit, except through stress of weather or for the
purpose of obtaining water, we should be taken prisoners,
and our vessel confiscated.
SBHI Hunting the Sea  Otter.
As soon, therefore, as it was dark, which was about an
hour after we reached the schooner, we weighed anchor ;
and under foresail, jib, and staysail ran out to sea, intending
to lay-to outside—certainly beyond the three miles. But
hardly had we started when a gun was fired, and the
steamer stood out after us. As the breeze freshened we
hoisted the mainsail, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing
her port light, showing that she had either not seen us or
had abandoned the pursuit, and had turned her bows for
Hakodate. Believing everything clear with the departure
of the steamer, we put about and beat back to our former
anchorage, which we were glad to fetch in the early
morning, our last experience of losing touch with the
coast having been quite sufficient to last us for some time.
We were congratulating ourselves next morning upon
our good fortune in being left in peace, and so avoiding
further complications, when, at about nine o'clock, the fog
suddenly cleared off, disclosing to our astonishment and
disgust the steamer, which we were under the impression
that we had so cleverly avoided, lying placidly at anchor in
her old position.
It was evident, therefore, that there had been two
steamers; the one which we thought had come out after
us had in reality been anchored there, though hidden by
fog, and had left on the arrival of her consort, having in all
probability never seen us.
The presence of two steamers, probably gunboats, boded
us no good. So, full of conjecture, we waited impatiently
for developments which were sure to come. It was impossible to put to sea, as it had fallen a dead calm, with bright
sun and glassy sea; just one of those beautiful hunting days
so rarely met with and so ardently prayed for, yet impossible under the circumstances to take advantage of. In fact,
we felt very much like rats in a trap, waiting for the dogs
to take a hand in the game.
After tiffin it was decided to put a bold face on the matter
and send the skipper over to reconnoitre.    So we lowered ■w
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
a boat and he set off, intending to board the steamer, whose
nationality we were by no means certain of, as their flag at
that distance was indistinguishable. Before he was halfway across, however, he was met by a boat from the
steamer, which, after a brief parley, continued her course
towards us; the skipper turning and following them. There
was no doubt now that they were a naval crew, for the boat
pulled twelve oars double banked, and we could see the
glitter of uniforms.
All the otter skins which had been brought on deck to
dry were hastily put away, leaving a few which were still
stretched on their frames as evidence of our occupation,,
and at which the crew were busily at work cleaning and
We exhibited neither surprise nor perturbation as a.
smart little naval officer, a captain of marines, and an
interpreter stepped on board, and were shown into the
cabin. They asked the usual questions—name of vessel,
where from, etc.—also the somewhat momentous one, why
were we here ? To this we answered that we were in
search of wood and water, of which we had run short.
Where did we get water ? Out of a stream close to where
their vessel was lyings and to which we purposed coming
as soon as a breeze sprang up. After this they left us, the
naval officer having first written his name upon a piece of
paper which he gave us, to show that we had been overhauled. They were very nice and polite, and, as a good
breeze had just sprung up, we offered to take them in tow
across.    But this offer was declined.
We learned from the interpreter that the steamer was
called the Osaka, and was the Admiral's yacht; also that
her tender, a gunboat, was expected to join them that day.
As soon as they had gone we got underweigh, and
followed them to the other side; but before we had proceeded far and had opened out the bay, we saw the tender
steam round the bluff we had just left. The breeze had by
this time lost its strength, and she rapidly overhauled us, Hunting the Sea  Otter.
lowering a boat as she came up, we going about on the
other tack to meet it.
All the time the two steamers had been signalling with
almost painful rapidity. An almost continuous string
of flags might be seen ascending and descending the
respective masts in gala-like profusion. As the skipper
remarked, it was difficult to know whether they were
signalling each other or signalling themselves. The conclusion we came to was that such a chance for practice
was too good to be neglected, apart from the impression
which such a display of maritime erudition would be likely
to produce upon ourselves. Our conjecture upon this point
seemed to be correct, the results being evidently less instructive to them than amusing to ourselves; for, when the
officer boarded us, he expressed the greatest surprise on
being informed that we had already been " spoken " by the
Admiral's pinnace, and only the production of his predecessor's " chit" could convince him of the fact. He then
left us, the signalling still proceeding furiously. Altogether
we could not help being amused, though it is difficult to
laugh at a people with so many elements of greatness in
their character. A navy must have a beginning, like everything else; and, although our own was so familiar a part
of our history as to seem lost in the mists of time, we
might here see the inception of what might become as
integral a portion of Japan's future greatness as ours was,
and had been in the past. However amusing some of the
things they did might appear to us, it was impossible to
shut our eyes to the keen determination to master and
assimilate all that was best in Western progress and
civilisation that lay at the back of all their endeavours.
Not fourteen years had yet elapsed since the great
European Powers had wrested from their unwilling hands
the concession of Yokohama as a treaty port, and alrea'dy
this hitherto most isolated and conservative of nations had
thrown out tentacles in the form of bands of students into
all parts of the world. 172
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
Animated with the highest patriotic fervour, and eager
for knowledge, with the very language of their homes of
exile still unlearned or understood, Argonaut-like they set
sail on unknown seas for alien lands with eastern patience
and northern determination, calmly satisfied in their own
hearts that the end to be obtained was to be more for the
good of their country than for themselves, and thus fully
compensate for all the difficulties and drawbacks they must
encounter. Years must elapse before they could hope to
see again their sunny land; but when they should return,
these little bands of ardent spirits, they would bring with
them all that the distant west could give that was suitable
to the genius of their people.
England would yield the secrets of her maritime
supremacy and naval construction, France and Germany
their great military organisations, and, from all, their legal
codes, laws, and sciences.
And already their influences could be seen. War
colleges had been erected, staffed with picked European
teachers, and filled with eager learners ; a nucleus for the
navy of the future formed, and a mercantile marine created.
Art they already possessed in no mean form. Literature,
with its slow growth, might well be given time. The
simple music of the shamisen and the kota was drowned
in the martial strains of brass bands by performers whom
but a year before had never even conceived the possible
existence and fearsome appearance of these instruments
which the world's highest civilisation had ordained and
blessed as the most appropriate adjuncts to bloodshed and
Nor had railways been forgotten or neglected, for
already a couple of useful lines had been opened, with all
their necessary paraphernalia, and crowded with business
people and holiday makers, who had taken to the wonderful
innovation as to the manner born.
Who can afford to laugh at a people like these, or who
can say how far they shall not go ? Hunting the Sea Otter.
After the gunboat left us we continued our course across
the bay and finally anchored close beside them about
On our way we were accompanied by three of the larger
killers, or grampuses (Orca gladiator), who evidently
mistook us for some unknown species of whale, and looked
as if they meditated an attack, for they swam round about
us in a very menacing and aggressive manner. Every now
and then they would turn on their backs, showing their
white bellies in vivid contrast to the polished glossy black
of their backs.
This is the only species of whale which is habitually
carnivorous, feeding only occasionally upon fish, but
generally upon such warm-blooded animals as seals and
whales, and no doubt also upon the sea otter. In fact, it is
difficult to imagine how the latter could exist where the
killer was found in any numbers.
We had several times come across them in small packs
hunting amongst the half-submerged rocks after seals.
They were extraordinarily bold, taking no notice whatever
of the boats as they twisted and turned, regardless of our
presence, like a pack of hounds puzzling out a scent. With
its long, beautifully moulded form and broad, oval shaped
flippers, the dorsal fin high and falcate, it gives the idea of
great strength and swiftness. But, in spite of its symmetry
and beauty, it has the distinctly menacing look and predatory appearance of the born pirate, and as such does not
belie its reputation. Standing upon the deck and looking
down upon the clear water, we had an excellent opportunity
of observing their swift and graceful movements as they
almost rubbed against the sides of the schooner while
inspecting her.
The seal, white whale, and porpoise live in terror of this
cetacean, running ashore or springing out of the water to
avoid a pursuit as ruthless as it is implacable. The whaler
hates it, as its appearance is a signal for the departure of
every whale from the neighbourhood.    For, combined in *74
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
packs, they do not hesitate to attack a full-grown whale and
destroy it.
Here we have another reason for the supposed gregarious-
ness of the sea otter. Being no match for the grampus in
the water and the shore inaccessible, a retreat to the beds
of kelp weed would afford the only means of obtaining
security from the attacks of the killers.
WHEN we turned out rather later than usual next morning,
the bay presented quite a festive appearance—a striking
contrast to its usual desolation, for it was decorated with
large flags of the rising sun, the Japanese national flag—a
red sun on a white ground. These had been distributed
along the shore every few hundred yards, and denoted
something very much more than a mere official visit of
inspection. Three large tents had already been pitched
and some forty men landed.
As possession is supposed to be nine points of the law,
this was evidently the Japanese answer to Russia's claim to
sovereignty over the Kuriles, and an earnest of their
determination to uphold their rights by force of arms if
necessary. We were all delighted at their pluck, however awkward it might prove for ourselves. . As far as
we knew, war might have been already declared, for before
we left we knew that feeling already ran high at the
suggested encroachments of Russia upon the southern half
of Saghalien. Indeed, had a couple of Russian men-of-war
steamed round the bluff at any moment, we should not have
been at all surprised. This, at least, we understood, that it
was the precursor of events in the more or less immediate
future, for it stamped unmistakably the fact of rivalry in the
Far East between the ambitions of the great northern
colossus and the ardent patriotism, pluck, and determination
of an essentially warlike race.* Was this to be the meaning
of the railways, war colleges, and naval aspirations, the inner
*This was written in 1874.
mm^^m^KMM1TWmUAmuga,aa[ 176
Hunting the Sea Otter.
reason that lay deeper than commerce and peaceful enterprise? One could only guess. But it looked as if this
great awakening from the long sleep of isolation to the
comprehension of its dangers had arisen from causes that
had touched their feelings at its core. A nation whose
gentry carry a special dagger consecrated to self-immolation
sooner than they should face dishonour and disgrace, is apt
to be as sensitive as they are patriotic. Results it is not
good to prophesy. But history has an awkward way of
repeating itself; and to primitive people belong those
primitive virtues which have always made for success,
while civilisation and patriotism are by no means controvertible terms. A single faith, a God, an idea seems to
belong more essentially to primitive races than to those
possessing what is called higher civilisation, but with whom
are many gods and clashing interests.
Not in the men, but in the arms lay the great inequality
of north and east. But the most modern weapons might be
carefully selected from the world's great arsenals, purchased*
and understood with as little difficulty as their bandsmen had
mastered the technicalities of modern music. Time only
was required, and this, most elusive of all, had already been
taken by the forelock.
Was this to be the opening scene in a great drama? It
did not seem likely; most probably the farce—the drama
could wait for another twenty years.
As soon as we had finished breakfast and the boats sent
ashore for wood and water, we were visited by the naval
officer who had first boarded us on the preceding day.
From what he said, they were very anxious for us to
leave as soon as possible, and wished to know whether
we could not sail by mid-day. On our reply that it would
be necessary to overhaul sails and chafing gear, he offered
to send us their sail-maker, and, indeed, give us any
assistance required, also send us water. He also examined
and cross-examined our crew, who told us after he left
that they were desirous of impressing some of our men Hunting the Sea  Otter.
to assist them in otter hunting; but the crew would
not agree to serve willingly, being anxious to return
home. So the matter was dropped; more especially,
no doubt, as our departure was more eagerly desired
than anything else.
We also learned from our men that one of the gunboat's
men, named Yuski, had been killed by a bear, which he had
wounded and followed up alone. Baker knew the man,
who had served under him in another gunboat, and
described him as haying always been a very venturesome
fellow, and rather foolhardy.
Declining their offers of assistance, we finally promised
to leave as soon as our complement of wood and water had
been received. With this our naval friend left us, after
enjoining us on no account to return to Onabetzu, as it
would only result in the confiscation of our vessel and
We had to be content with this, as there was no appearand, as far as we could tell, they were strictly within their
We were also informed that still another gunboat was
expected; and, as it was now the middle of August, with
a season of still worse weather and heavier storms with,
perhaps, the tail end of a typhoon thrown in approaching,
besides the prospect of being harried by gunboats, the
game would scarcely be worth the candle, and we came
to the conclusion that we must consider our cruise at
an end.
So at two o'clock we weighed anchor, saluted the yacht,
and turned our backs sorrowfully upon the familiar bay,
which had grown almost home-like to us, and behind whose
arms we had so often sheltered. And yet, before little
more than a year should pass, our gallant little vessel, that
had carried us through so much, was to return, only to
have her timbers piled up on the sandy shore for ever.
The story of her loss may be briefly stated here. Snow,
with another crew and companions, came up to hunt in
N 178
Hunting the Sea  Otter,
the year following, and had anchored for the night in seven
fathoms of water about the middle of the bay, when a
tremendous sea set in suddenly, followed by a gale of
wind, and, before the frozen sails could be unloosened, the
great Pacific rollers had got her in their grip and had
pitched her like a cork upon the shore. No lives were
lost, fortunately, but they spent a miserable six months in
the little fishing settlement on the other side of the island
until rescued by a cruiser and taken to Hakodate.•
We carried.a good breeze with us for a short time only
before it fell a dead calm, which continued with the usual
dense fog until the following afternoon, when it cleared up
a bit, when we found ourselves beyond Otter Island and
close to the southern extremity of Yetorup. We drifted
about in a cold, wet fog and rain all that night, with
occasional light breezes springing up and dying away as
suddenly as they came. A school of enormous fin-back
whales or rorquals passed slowly close alongside of us,
dwarfing our seventy odd feet of length with their grand
proportions. The night was lighted up with a grand display
of sheet lightning; but we got little rest as we were tossed
and tumbled about, until we thought we should roll our
masts out, in the grip of a tide-rip which seems always to be
running off either end of the island. Morning found us
abreast of the island of Shikotan, a gentle two-knot breeze
fanning us along all day on our southerly course.
The fog got lighter as we left our inhospitable hunting
ground farther astern, enabling us to see the varied bird
life that peopled the waters. Flocks of dusky petrels,
boatswain birds—with and without their long tail feathers
—and Mother Carey's chickens, besides gonies, while
albatrosses and many others surrounded us on all sides.
A large sword fish jumped high out of the water five or
six times close beside us, no doubt in the endeavour to
escape those cruel hooked teeth of a grampus which was
hunting it with all the persistency and relentless ferocity of
its kind.   During the night our starboard quarter was struck Hunting the Sea Otter.
a severe-, blow j. evidently by one of these small whales,
which made the vessel quiver; nor were we sorry that the
experience was not repeated.
With light airs and variable for the next two days, we
lighted Cape Yerimo in the evening and were abreast of it
next morning, air still very light. There is an ancient
marine story that tells how Polly of Portsmouth, cursing her
defaulting lover, and praying that his approaching voyage
should be-one of continuous storm and tempest, was corrected by the old and more experienced bumboat woman.
"Nay,, nay, my lass, wish him light winds and variable."
And she was right, for when the ship is "laid to" in a storm
Jack may go below and sleep; but with light and variable
winds his w°rk, pulling and hauling on braces and sheets,
is as exhausting as it is unending. ._
Cape Yerimo ends in a reef of giant boulders and pinnacled rocks, on some of which houses are built, stretching
about a couple of miles from the shore. For about eight or
ten miles inland the land is comparatively low, backed
by mountains—according to the chart some 3500 feet in
height—while these, again, were in turn overshadowed by
a range considerably higher.
We sailed slowly past two large junks laden with
passengers, amongst whom we saw many gaily dressed
women and children, and across the quiet water floated the
well-remembered strains of ashamisen or kota.
Alas ! gentlest and merriest of all womenkind. with their
beautiful manners, exquisite politeness, and kindly little
hearts, who would rather step aside than tread upon a
worm, how little did they know that life's last sunset
had been passed!
The setting sun was gilding the quiet waters with
crimson and gold, the sky a deep blue and cloudless,
and the gentle air, freshening somewhat, scarce ruffled
the surface of the sea.
But, unknown to us all, the great storm fiend, the dreaded
typhoon, already brooding over us, was gathering together i8o
Hunting the Sea   Otter.
with fell purpose all its forces of destruction, and was only
holding its hand until darkness should add to its terrors;
and we, speeding homewards under the ever freshening
breeze, should have entered the narrow straits where sharp
pointed rock and hidden reef would complete the work of
ruin that wind or sea should fail to accomplish.
Like the passengers in the junks, we too, were merry,
for was not our cruise as good as completed. Ever since
leaving Jap Bay, our progress had been exceedingly slow,
the winds being very light and baffling. Taking a straight
course from Hitokatpu Bay (Jap Bay) to Cape Yerimo, which
would be about S.W. half W., would just pass inside the
island of Shikotan and cut Nemoro, the distance is about
two hundred and eighty miles. Then W. half S. past Cape
Yesan to Cape Blunt—on chart, Siwokubi—one hundred
miles, then W. by N., twelve miles to Hakodate Head. It
wa^ now August 21st, and we had only averaged about
fifty-seven miles a day. A good deal of our progress was
no doubt owing to the favouring impulse 0/ the Oya Shiwo,
or Arctic current, which, sweeping down the Pacific side
of the Kuriles and the south-east coast of Yezo, meets
the warmer Kuro Shiwo about Inuboye Saki, where these
waters mingle. The spring temperatures north and east of
this cape being respectively 400 and 6o° F. The temperature off the Kuriles varying from 300 to 360 during
the summer.
After two o'clock the wind began to freshen steadily, and
from four to six we were bowling along with everything we
could carry, with every prospect of anchoring in Hakodate
Harbour in the course of a few hours. Six months' growth
of beard and whiskers had been shaved off and the garb of
civilisation assumed. But we did not know what was before
us. By six o'clock we were abreast of Cape Shiriya, the
eastern extremity of Niphon which marks the entrance to
the Tsugaru Straits. The wind steadily increased during
the next two hours, when it was blowing with hurricane
force, making it advisable for us to " heave to," which we   Hunting the Sea  Otter.
did under double-reefed foresail only. The barometer,
which stood at 29*80 at eight o'clock, had begun to fall
ominously. It was now evident that we were in for one of
those dreaded typhoons which, during late summer and
autumn, devastate these eastern seas. The air grew thick
with vapour, enveloping us like a fog, obscuring the sky
and everything but the white foaming water that shone out
of the black darkness of the night. With stores and water
nearly exhausted, we were very light, and our breadth of
beam and little hold of the water kept the decks comparatively dry as we danced like a cork upon the now raging
waters. But the spume and spindrift, caught up from
every wave-crest, flew over us with all the violence of a
tropical rain-storm. Every few minutes one of us would
have a look at the barometer, but only to find it still
falling. Before midnight the wind had increased so much
that we took another reef in the already double-reefed
foresail, which was all we dared carry.
Before daylight had disappeared, we were no great
distance from the dreaded Whaleback—a low, long rock,
almost awash, shaped, as its name implies, like a sleeping
whale, which lay on our port side off the Niphon shore,
upon which so many vessels had been wrecked. And,
judging by our drift and the direction of the wind, we
must be gradually nearing it. At the mercy of wind, wave,
and current, at any moment we might strike it or the
neighbouring shore. No boat could live in such a sea, so
we made no attempt to prepare them; but we had a lower
mast lashed along the port rail. This, cut loose at the
right moment, might afford some small chance if it came to
the worst; though how small that chance would be could be
seen by one glance at the seething waters. As is usual in
such cases, the crew were called aft, so that all chances
would be equal. Peril is a great leveller, and a man's
pedigree is seldom asked under such conditions- One
could scarcely help smiling at their appearance, for several
of the men, who had donned their long dressing-gown-like
B^B^^ I*2f
Hunting $he Sea  Otter.
kimonos, looked more like expectant bathers than sailors.
But, good swimmers as they all were, they knew very well
how little that would avail them in such a sea, so that dress
at such a time was a matter of little importance. Judging
by experience, death under such circumstances, or rather
its anticipation, is not so hard as it is "generally considered.
The struggle must necessarily be short, and, numbed with
cold and fatigue, the final restfulness cannot be unwelcome,
and thought is all concentrated in regrets for the sorrow
of tho?e that are left behind. Especially is such the case
where the sea does not give up her dead, and hope, often
unreasoning, keeps sorrow alive.
Shortly after midnight the rain began to descend in
torrents, but without having any influence on the wind,
while adding to our discomfort, as it cut our the
lashings of a whip. At one o'clock the foresail, which we
had been so anxiously watching, split into ribbons with the
fierceness of the wind. We then set the jib, a comparatively new sail, but it could not stand five minutes before
it also was split into rags. The mainsail, already close
reefed in readiness, we dare not set, as it was now our last
hope and could only be used at the very direst extremity.
Indeed, no canvas could have stood against such a wind, so
at. the mercy of the wind and sea we drifted bodily towards
the lee shore. Baker never left the wheel, trying to ease her
as much as possible. But he, who was by far the best sailor
amongst us, had added to our anxiety by declaring some
time previously that what he principally feared was our
being capsized, a by-no-means unlikely contingency, for the
wind and current together had raised a tremendous cross
sea that raged around us in strange, unwavelike shapes of
mounds and pyramids that tossed us up or sank beneath
us as, unbalanced on their crests, we pitched and rolled
until we thought the masts were going overboard. Every
now and then some great pyramid of water rose alongside
whose toppling summit was seized by the hurricane and
fell, flooding us with water.    At last the ever-falling glass Hunting the Sea Otter.
steadied, after having fallen from 29/80 to 29*34, and a
little later showed a tendency to rise, showing that the
greatest violence of the typhoon had passed.
By. three o'clock the dense mist-laden air had become
thinner, and the rain stopped. With eager eyes we tried to
pierce the black darkness of early morning; for, owing to
the circular nature of these storms, the wind had already
gone round half the compass, and it was impossible even to
conjecture what our position might be, although the general
trend of our drift had been towards the Niphon coast. Nor
were we far wrong, for first dimly as a cloud, but getting
plainer every minute, there rose out of the darkness,
almost towering over us, a range of black cliffs upon which
we were rapidly drifting.
The dreaded a Whaleback " could not be far distant, and
any moment we might strike it or some outlying rock. •
It was now or never, and, although the wind still blew
with hurricane force, it had certainly moderated somewhat.
The sea was, if possible, more turbulent than ever; but the
glass had ceased to fall. But it was impossible to allow
ourselves to drift any longer, and the time had come to take
our last hazard with the mainsail. If it held, we had a
chance; if not, the deluge. Close reefed, until it looked like
a woman's shawl, We got it set at last; and surely few sails
have been set as carefully or watched as anxiously as that
mainsail of ours. But it was new and good and held
famously. Before long we ventured to set the staysail
also; and, steadied and controlled, we saw the dark cliff
melt into the darkness as the schooner eat her way towards
the more open waters of the strait. But the hour that
passed before the dawning of the day showed us our
position was an anxious one. Apart from our sail holding
so well, we found that we owed our safety to the circular
nature of the storm, which, giving us a freer wind, had
enabled us; to work ourselves out of a most perilous
Long before noon both sea and wind had gone down,
m 184
Hunting the Sea Otter.
and settled into a deep calm; and we found we were in the
grip of the current which, flowing through the Tsugaru
Straits at about four or five miles an hour, was gradually
drifting us out to sea and away from our destination.
While Snow and the skipper went below for a much-
needed rest, Baker and I sewed up the jib, set it, and,
rigging a main staysail in the place of the tattered foresail,
a few ribbands of which only remained to remind us of the
night so lately passed, we strove to take advantage of
every air that offered to hold our own against the adverse
During the day we drifted by the wreck of one of the
large junks which we had passed the preceding night,
crowded with her happy family of passengers and crew.
Her great bulk, surmounted by the huge square sail,
which had towered above the quiet waters so short a time
before, had all disappeared before the fury of the typhoon.
The high-peaked stern and all her upper works had
vanished, and only the lofty prow and a few rugged
timbers rose above the'surface of the now placid sea. The
scorching sun shone pitilessly down upon the saddest
scene of a sailor's life. A gentle swell raised and lowered
the poor bruised timbers in rhythmic motion and mute
protest to the great Sun God who, hiding his face in the
black darkness of the night, had let loose the cruel wind
dogs of havoc and destruction. Not all his smiles or
glinting rays reflected from the wet timbers, so untimely
shattered, could warm them into shape, or bring back the
flush of life to the merry little faces which but a few hours
before had turned admiring eyes and uplifted hearts as
the great Sun God sank beneath the waters in his golden
setting. Verily the gods have strange and unaccountable
ways of manifesting their divine attributes to poor suffering
humanity. One could not help thinking that the chastening
process had better fallen upon ourselves, with our ruder
speech and rougher manners, than upon the gentle little
daughters of the Rising Sun. Hunting the Sea  Otter.
The inbred stoicism of these people, who have within
them so much that is great and enduring, only served to
darken the picture. Little blanched faces, a very few tears,
a little wondering at the strange decrees of Fate, and a
quiet acceptance of destiny at the hands of the gods.
All that day and night the wind blew fitfully, with
sometimes a stiff breeze, but never for long; and morning
found us little more advanced than the entrance of the
As the sun mounted higher in the heavens it glanced
and glittered on innumerable logs and timbers that
literally lined the tideway on either side. They were all
that remained of hundreds of junks and sampans that but
a few hours before had danced so merrily upon the
treacherous waters. It was impossible to witness more
terrible evidences of the destruction wrought upon the
native shipping during one of these devasting storms than
those which met our eyes on either side of the current way
as, packed in long lines within the shelter of the eddies,
they lay like long strings of rafts moored beyond the
influence of the current. Gathered by the strong stream
from the surrounding coast, they sheltered for a time, until
varying winds and restless waters should make their final
We passed another huge junk, or rather its skeleton, that
floated past us as we barely held our own against the tide.
The high prow and a few ribs was all that remained of
what was in all probability the second of the two large
passenger junks that we had sailed by before the coming of
the typhoon.
Amidst light airs, stiffening occasionally into a breeze
that urged us onward towards our destination, and intermittent calms that left us at the mercy of the strong
Tsugaru current, we barely held our own.
But we welcomed the coming night that would shroud in
more becoming gloom the sunlit waters that could flash and
glitter in such jaunty derision upon its own handiwork of
O i86
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
floating timbers and scarred ribs, the sole remains of many
a lofty junk and lowly sampan, and hide from our sight a
scene so full of sorrow and destruction.
It was two days later, or four days after the typhoon,
when we rounded Hakodate Head and found ourselves at
last beyond the power of the current. As our little craft
lay almost motionless under the midnight shadow of the
great bluff, we were much exercised in our minds by the
passage of two great men-of-war that, with all lights out,
issued like vampires out of the darkness and stole silently
past us up the harbour.
It almost seemed as if we had only avoided Scylla to
fall into Charybdis, for if they were Russian ships bent
upon a bombardment of Hakodate, our position could not
be over pleasant; while, judging by the state of affairs
when we left, and with no news for four months, it did
not seem at all unlikely that hostilities might have com-
Daylight, however, dispelled our doubts ; and later, as we
fetched our old anchorage, we found the bay gay with the
flags of two English as well as a couple of Russian men-
of-war, intent upon nothing more serious than the usual
naval courtesies. Everything was bright and peaceful as
the sparkling water of this beautiful harbour.
Amongst the shipping we found many evidences of the
violence of the typhoon from which we had so recently
escaped. One large barque, the Lizzie, from Shanghai, had
her bulwarks smashed and only her foremast standing. The
skipper, as well as the owner, who had come up for the
trip, told us afterwards that had not the crew—which, by
the way, they described as the most desperate set of
ruffians they had ever handled—worked as only British
seamen can when they choose, they would certainly have
been lost, for in the height of the storm she lay for long on
her beam ends, until the cutting away of the masts
relieved her.
Our hunting cruise was now at an end, and, leaving my Hunting the Sea  Otter.
companions with regret, as I was anxious to reach England
by Christmas, I booked a passage in the Japanese passenger
steamer Sakura. But, at the last moment, to oblige friend
Thompson, our kindly host and builder, shifted my
belongings to the Hokaido, the topsail schooner which he
had been building when we started on our cruise, and now,
rather shorthanded, there being only two Europeans on
board, skipper and mate, was just starting on her maiden
voyage to Yokohama.
It was fortunate that I did so, for, on reaching our
destination ten days later, we learned that the Sakura
had been lost with all hands in another typhoon, which,
extending as far as Hong Kong, had done an enormous
amount of mischief both there and at Yokohama. At both
these places I found the hatoba, or sea front, as if it had
been bombarded, with houses unroofed and wrecked, while
several large steamers lay piled up on the roadway.
Our own voyage in the Hokaido was sufficiently eventful,
as we experienced the full fury of the storm. Most of our
time was passed lashed to the rigging, with tackles on to
the lanyards, tightening the shrouds; which, being new,
stretched so much as to continually endanger the masts.
We had started with the deadeyes about eight feet apart,
but when our short voyage was over there was not eight
inches between them.
A few days after landing I took the train to Tokio to bid
some friends good-bye, and, when entering the station-yard,
the native pointsman cleverly shifted the lever when the
train was about half over the points. Beyond being thrown
from one end of the carriage to the other on the top of a
stout old gentleman travelling with two little boys, all the
occupants of our carriage escaped unhurt. But we had to
dig the fireman from under the tender, and the carriage in
front of ours was reduced to matchwood, the framework
alone remaining half-way down the embankment. Many
were killed and injured. Later in the day, returning in a
wagonette, as the line was still interrupted, the horses took i88
Hunting the Sea  Otter.
fright, and I was pitched out, but unhurt. Two typhoons
at sea, a railway and a carriage accident on land, in less
than a month, tempered my regret at leaving one of the
most beautiful countries, excellent sport, and a most
delightful people, with whom I had sojourned for some


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