|The Burgess Animal Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|To answer Peter Rabbit’s questions about his relatives, Old Mother Nature holds a school for the animals every day at sun-up for a month. Encouraging the animals to notice the differences between them and to offer their observa-tions of animal behavior, Old Mother Nature helps them all gain a greater understanding of the mammals of North America. Starting with the animals close to home, the school moves in ever-widening circles to encompass the animals of the far west and the extreme north, as well. A fine introduction to mammals for students in the primary grades. Ages 6-9 |
THE MAMMALS OF THE SEA
 IT was the last day of Old Mother Nature's school in the Green Forest,
and when jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun had climbed high enough in the
blue, blue sky to peep down through the trees, he found not one missing
of the little people who had been learning so much about themselves,
their relatives, neighbors and all the other animals in every part of
this great country. You see, not for anything in the world would one
of them willingly have missed that last lesson.
"I told you yesterday," began Old Mother Nature, "that the land is
surrounded by water, salt water, sometimes called the ocean and
sometimes the sea. In this live the largest animals in all the
Great World and many others, some of which sometimes come on land,
and others which never do.
"One of those which come on land is first cousin to Little Joe
Otter and is named the Sea Otter.
 He lives in
the cold waters of the western ocean of the Far North.
He much resembles Little Joe Otter, whom you all know, but has finer,
handsomer fur. In fact, so handsome is his fur that he has been
hunted for it until now. He is among the shyest and rarest of all
animals, and has taken to living in the water practically all the
time, rarely visiting land. He lies on his back in the water and
gets his food from the bottom of the sea. It is chiefly clams and
other shellfish. He rests on floating masses of sea plants. He is
very playful and delights to toss pieces of seaweed from paw to paw
as he lies floating on his back. Of course he is a wonderful swimmer
and diver. Otherwise he couldn't live in the sea.
"Another who comes on land, but only for a very short distance from
the water, is called the Walrus. He belongs to an order called
Finnipedia, which means fin-footed. Instead of having legs and
feet for walking, members of this order have limbs designed for
swimming; these are more like fins or paddles than anything else
and are called flippers. The Walrus is so big that I can give
you no idea how big he is, excepting to say that he will weigh
two thousand pounds. He is simply a great mass of living flesh
covered with a rough, very thick skin without hair. From his
upper jaw two immense ivory tusks hang straight down,
 and with
these he digs up shellfish at the bottom of the sea. It is a
terrible effort for him to move on shore, and so he is content to
stay within a few feet of the water. He also lives in the cold
waters of the Far North amidst floating ice. On this he often
climbs out to lie for hours. His voice is a deep grunt or
bellowing roar. The young are born on land close to the water.
"The Sea Lions belong to this same fin-footed order. The best
known of these are the California Sea Lion and the Fur Seal, which
is not a true Seal. The California Sea Lion is also called the
Barking Sea Lion because of its habit of barking, and is the best
known of the family. It is frequently seen on the rocks along the
shore and on the islands off the western coast. These Sea Lions
are sleek animals, exceedingly graceful in the water. They have
long necks and carry their heads high. They are covered with short
coarse hair and have small, sharp-pointed ears. Their front flippers
have neither hair nor claws, but their hind flippers have webbed
toes. They are able to move about on land surprisingly well for
animals lacking regular legs and feet, and can climb on and over
rocks rapidly. Naturally they are splendid swimmers.
"The largest member of the family is the Steller Sea Lion, who
sometimes grows to be almost as
 big as a Walrus. He is not sleek
and graceful like his smaller cousin, but has an enormously thick
neck and heavy shoulders. His voice is a roar rather than a bark.
The head of an old Sea Lion is so much like that of a true Lion
that the name Sea Lion has been given this family.
"The most valuable member of the family, so far as man is concerned,
is the Fur Seal, also called Sea Bear. It is very nearly the size
and form of the California Sea Lion, but under the coarse outer hair,
which is gray in color, is a wonderful soft, fine, brown fur and for
this the Fur Seal has been hunted so persistently that there was real
danger that soon the very last one would be killed. Now wise and
needed laws protect the Fur Seals on their breeding grounds, which
are certain islands in the Far North. The young of all members of
this family are born on shore, but soon take to the water. The Fur
Seal migrates just as the birds do, but always returns to the place
of its birth. Man and the Polar Bear are its enemies on land and
ice, and the Killer Whale in the water. Mr. Fur Seal always has many
wives and this is true of the other members of the Sea Lion family
and of the Walrus. The males are three or four times the size of
the females. Among themselves the males are fierce fighters.
"The true Seals are short-necked, thick-bodied,
 and have rather
round heads with no visible ears. The Walrus and Sea Lions can
turn their hind flippers forward to use as feet on land, but this
the true Seals cannot do. Therefore they are more clumsy out of
water. Their front flippers are covered with hair.
"The one best known is the Harbor or Leopard Seal. It is found
along both coasts, often swimming far up big rivers. It is one
of the smallest members of the family. Sometimes it is
yellowish-gray spotted with black and sometimes dark brown with light spots.
"The Ringed Seal is about the same size or a little smaller than
the Harbor Seal and is found as far north as it can find breathing
holes in the ice. You know all these animals breathe air just as
land animals do. This Seal looks much like the Harbor Seal, but
is a little more slender.
"Another member of the family is the Harp, Saddle-back or Greenland
Seal. He is larger than the other two and has a black head and gray
body with a large black ring on the back. The female is not so
handsome, being merely spotted.
"The handsomest Seal is the Ribbon Seal. He is about the size of
his cousin the Harbor Seal. He is also called the Harlequin Seal.
Sometimes his coat is blackish-brown and sometimes yellowish-gray,
but always he has a band of
yellowish-  white, like a broad ribbon,
from his throat around over the top of his head, and another band
which starts on his chest and goes over his shoulder, curves down
and finally goes around his body not far above the hind flippers.
Only the male is so marked. This Seal is rather rare. Like most
of the others it lives in the cold waters of the Far North.
"The largest of the Seals is the Elephant Seal, once numerous, but
killed by man until now there are few members of this branch of the
family. He is a tremendous fellow and has a movable nose which hangs
several inches below his mouth.
"The queerest-looking member of the family is the Hooded Seal. Mr.
Seal of this branch of the family is rather large, and on top of
his nose he carries a large bag of skin which he can fill with air
until he looks as if he were wearing a queer hood or bonnet.
"The Seals complete the list of animals which live mostly in the
water but come out on land or ice at times. Now I will tell you
of a true mammal, warm-blooded, just as you are, and air-breathing,
but which never comes on land. This is the Manatee or Sea Cow. It
lives in the warm waters of the Sunny South, coming up from the sea
in the big rivers. It is a very large animal, sometimes growing as
big as a medium-sized Walrus. The
 head is round, somewhat like that
of a Seal. The lips are thick and big, the upper one split in the
middle. The eyes are small. It has but two flippers, and these are
set in at the shoulders. Instead of hind flippers, such as the Seals
and Sea Lions have, the Manatee has a broad, flattened and rounded
tail which is used as a propeller, just as fish use their tails.
The neck is short and large. In the water the Manatee looks black.
The skin is almost hairless.
"This curious animal lives on water plants. Sometimes it will come
close to a river bank and with head and shoulders out of water feed
on the grasses which hang down from the bank. The babies are, of
course, born in the water, as the Manatee never comes on shore.
Now I think this will end to-day's lesson and the school."
Peter Rabbit hopped up excitedly. "You said that the largest
animals in the world live in the sea, and you haven't told us what
they are," he cried.
"True enough, Peter," replied Old Mother Nature pleasantly. "The
largest living animal is a Whale, a true mammal and not a fish at
all, as some people appear to think. There are several kinds of
Whales, some of them comparatively small and some the largest
animals in the world, so large that I cannot give you any idea of
 big they are. Beside one of these, the biggest Walrus would
look like a baby. But the Whales do not belong just to this
country, so I think we will not include them.
"Now we will close school. I hope you have enjoyed learning as
much as I have enjoyed teaching, and I hope that what you have
learned will be of use to you as long as you live. The more
knowledge you possess the better fitted for your part in the work
of the Great World you will be. Don't forget that, and never miss
a chance to learn."
And so ended Old Mother Nature's school in the Green Forest. One
by one her little pupils thanked her for all she had taught them,
and then started for home. Peter Rabbit was the last.
"I know ever and ever so much more than I did when I first came to
you, but I guess that after all I know very little of all there is
to know," said he shyly, which shows that Peter really had learned
a great deal. Then he started for the dear Old Briar-patch,
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics