Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Seal Hunting in the Town of Pelham???

An easterly wind blew stiffly across Pelham and the waters off its shores on the bitterly-cold morning of Thursday, February 20, 1879.  Pelham was in the grip of a lengthy and brutal cold spell that had iced portions of Long Island Sound and sent ice floes sailing into Long Island Sound and many of the bays that dotted the mainland shores overlooking the Sound.

That morning, Joseph E. Rogers was tucked warmly inside his Pelham home along today's Shore Road overlooking LeRoy Bay, the stretch of water from today's Shore Park to Pelham Neck.  The map detail immediately below shows where that home once was located, overlooking LeRoy Bay and Hunter's Island.

Detail from 1881 Bromley Map Showing Location of Joseph E. Rogers
Estate Overlooking LeRoy Bay and Hunter's Island. Source: "Town of
Walter S. Bromley, 1881)" in Atlas of Westchester County, New York,
From Actual Surveys and Official Records by G. W. Bromley & Co., Civil
Engineers, pp. 56-57 (NY, NY: Geo. W. & Walter S. Bromley, 1881).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

As Rogers looked across LeRoy Bay from his home, he saw an ice floe sailing along the waters of LeRoy Bay, being pushed by the easterly winds.  On the ice was some sort of living being, perched for a brisk ride in the brutal cold.

Rogers ran outside, grabbed a boat and an unidentified friend.  The two men shoved off from shore with a loaded shotgun in pursuit of the floating ice with the strange beast aboard.

Others in the Rogers household peered from the windows of the home to watch as the two men in the boat struggled to approach the ice floe.  Though it took some time, as the men neared the beast they could see that it was either a seal or a sea lion "of large proportions, weighing apparently about two hundred pounds."

As the boat drew near the ice cake, the beast delivered a "loud bark" and plunged into the icy waters of the bay.  For a moment, it disappeared.  Soon, it emerged partially at the water's surface swimming briskly, headlong toward its pursuers.  One of the men raised the shotgun, pointing it directly at the head of the beast. . . .

At that moment, the swimming creature showed "rare sagacity," turned abruptly putting "a wall of water between the weapon and his glossy sides," and plunged underwater passing beneath the boat.

Shortly the beast climbed out of the water onto another ice floe far to the windward of the little boat.  Rogers and his friend turned and began the pursuit anew as the occupants of the Rogers home watched excitedly.    

Rogers and his friend battled the wind, the icy waters, and the cold to pursue the floating beast for nearly an hour.  Once or twice them pair approached closely enough "to observe the creature's form and color" but they could not get close enough to take a shot with their shotgun.  Finally, heavy snow began and obscured the view at a distance.  The men lost sight of the ice cake and its occupant.  

The two men continued their search for another hour in the heavy snow.  Occasionally they came upon ice floes where the creature clearly had been as it moved around LeRoy Bay.  "From an examination of the impressions left in the snow on several cakes of ice, the seal was estimated to be something more than five feet in length."

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, today "only true seals" -- not sea lions or walruses -- "are found in New York."  Harbor seals are the most common and, today, are the most common of the five principal species of seals that frequent Long Island Sound.  Less common are Grey seals, and certain "arctic" species including Harp, Hooded, and Ringed seals.  

We may never know what Rogers and his friend saw that day that they seemed to consider so unusual.  Most likely it was a Harbor seal that, thankfully, showed "rare sagacity" and avoided a gruesome death at the hands of the two curious Pelhamites and their shotgun.

Spotted Seal on an Ice Floe.
Source:  NOAA.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Galapagos Sea Lion Sketched from Life by Blake A. Bell.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *


On looking from his residence at Pelham, on Leroy Bay, last Thursday forenoon, Mr. Joseph E. Rogers discovered a living object perched on the floating ice, some distance from shore, and sailing rapidly along before an east wind.  A boat was quickly procured, and, accompanied by a friend, Mr. Rogers started in pursuit of the strange beast, which proved to be a seal, or sea lion, of large proportions, weighing apparently about two hundred pounds.  A loud bark was followed by a plunge, and for a moment the beast disappeared, but, partially emerging, faced his pursuers and swam toward them.  A shotgun was pointed at his head, and, with rare sagacity, he put a wall of water between the weapon and his glossy sides.  Passing beneath the boat, another cake of ice some distance to windward was reached and mounted at a bound.  An hour was spent in the chase, but though the huntsmen got near enough once or twice to observe the creature's form and color, the distance was too great to warrant the hazarding of a shot.  Finally a flurry of snow concealed the game, and after another hour of search the boat was headed for the shore.  From an examination of the impressions left in the snow on several cakes of ice, the seal was estimated to be something more than five feet in length.  It is supposed that the seal was carried into the Sound by the strong easterly winds which had prevailed for the previous two days.  His pursuit and escape were witnessed by the occupants of Mr. Rogers' house."

Source:  SEAL HUNTING ON THE SOUND, N.Y. Herald, Feb. 23, 1879, p. 11, p. 4.

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