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Wild Life in the West Highlands

WHEN staying during a recent summer on the shores of Loch Feochan a somewhat unusual opportunity occurred of watching at close quarters a very fine specimen of the great or grey seal, Halichaerus gryphus. Looking down from the front door, at the first bend of the loch seawards, there is a rocky reef or islet just half a mile distant, entirely submerged at high tide. One morning, happening to glance in that direction at ebb-tide, a light-coloured speck was noticed which drew attention as being unusual. This through a stalking-glass was seen at once to be a large seal. The rock on which he was lying is only some 300 yards from a projecting point of the shore, and some small bushes on it promised cover.

No time was lost in proceeding thither, when a careful stalk brought the observers to the outmost bushes, the glasses brought to bear, and a most interesting spectacle revealed. The great beast lay with his huge bulk extended on the sea-wrack, his head toward the shore, his watchful gaze ever on the look-out for possible disturbers as he slowly turned his doglike head. The powerful lenses seemed to bring him almost within touching distance, and disclosed scars and gashes on his head and neck, some seemingly but half-healed. There was no room for doubt that we saw before us a magnificent old bull of the great or grey seal, fresh from battle with his kind, as is their way at mating time.

For an hour or more this fascinating spectacle was watched. The bright light of a fine summer day shimmered on his coat, which seemed to change from silvery grey to darker grizzle as his sluggish movements now and again changed the fall of the light or the lie of his coat. Gradually the rising tide encroached until it encircled the little height on which he lay, then at length he stretched his head and neck, and with a graceful gliding motion slipped downward without splash or apparent exertion into the depths-and was seen no more.

I t would have been just as easy to have brought the Mannlicher rifle instead of the stalking-glasses; - it was a fairly easy 'chance' for the expert; - but what would have been the gain ? A useless carcase and the consciousness of the uncalled-for destruction of a rare and interesting creature, in place of a pleasant memory that will always remain.

The grey seal is regarded as a shy and retiring animal, by no means frequently to be found in what may be termed inland waters, although common enough in the outer islands and the western coast of Ireland.

What the weight of that great creature may have been one can only guess. Bell' writes of one reported to him from County Galway as having weighed 6 cwt., and of another from Connemara which was actually weighed at Dublin and found to be 31 cwt. Our guess was just about the latter weight.

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