National Geographic : 1976 Jan
a notable contribution to our knowledge of the harp seal through the extraordinary pho tographs accompanying this article. Day after subzero day Bill and Bora flew by helicopter far out onto the ice, where they donned div ing and photographic gear over their thermal "Unisuits" to record harp seal behavior as few before have ever seen it. Much of our knowledge of the harp seal has been gained from the study of captive animals. Under the direction of Keith Ronald at the University of Guelph, we have con ducted series of experiments with live seals in tanks, establishing basic communication be tween scientist and subject. One early study focused on harp seal hear ing. Jack Terhune taught a female to answer series of questions by pushing underwater levers with her nose. Using sound as the stim ulus, Jack taught the seal, appropriately named "Number One," to push a lever lo cated near an underwater loudspeaker. If a sound resulted, Number One pushed a second lever indicating, "Yes, I heard it," or in the case of no sound, still a third lever which meant, "I didn't hear it." One of our favorite pupils at Guelph is C-9, a female harp seal that I worked with for several years. She is now approaching her seventh birthday and by our reckoning is at work on her fourth graduate degree! In one series of experiments involving responses to a light stimulus, C-9 performed superbly. Not only did she answer correctly each time, but if anything went wrong with the equipment in mid-experiment, she gener ally spotted it before I did. Seals, like human beings, have their ge niuses and their dullards, and not every stu dent at Guelph has earned high academic honors. I recall a male and female harp seal designated respectively D-3 and D-5. Initially, both animals seemed capable and enthusias tic, but appearances can be deceptive. After a frustrating year Charles Bernholz, a psychol ogy graduate, and I gave up in despair; D-3 and D-5 simply weren't college material. Extinction of a Species Can Be Avoided As the harp seal migration season ap proaches once again, hundreds of thousands of adults will take up winter residence on the ice off Labrador and in the Gulf of St. Law rence to produce yet another generation. In large part their success or failure will de pend upon human reason and awareness of a valuable but threatened natural resource. As our census continues, we see increasing evidence that the western Atlantic harp seal population cannot survive continued harvest ing by big factory ships. Perhaps the lands men, under strict rules, may still go out on the seasonal hunts. But we must work fast to provide reliable figures to hunters and con servationists alike. The survival of the harp seal hangs in the balance. [ One that got away. A harp seal pup, almost a month old, has begun to shed the fluffy white coat that hunt ers prefer. This "ragged jacket" will soon complete its molt to mottled gray and become known as a "beater." Less sociable than older seals, the "beaters" usually swim alone, feeding on small crustaceans that sometimes crowd shoals so thickly that the water changes color. Later the young seals follow the adults north, where they may yet fall prey to hunters.