‘Crocodile Tears and Fur Seals’: Consumption, Conservation and Cruelty in the Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, c.1870-1914

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


The Pacific fur seal was hunted throughout the nineteenth century for its thick fur coat. Every year, thousands of seals were culled on the Pribilof Islands in the Behring Sea. Their skins were shipped to London, where they were converted into shawls, pelisses, gloves and jackets.

This paper explores the fur seal industry in the period c.1870-1914 and assesses its ecological impact. Once prevalent around the Pacific rim, the fur seal had already been wiped out in the southern Pacific Ocean through indiscriminate culling. Anxious to prevent its extinction in the Bering Sea, the US Government looked for ways to limit the slaughter, introducing quotas for the number of seals that could be killed each year, sending teams of scientists to study the breeding habits of the fur seal and prohibiting ‘pelagic sealing’ (the hunting of seals in the sea). The paper considers the wider diplomatic clashes that resulted from the decline of the fur seal population and the challenges of protecting a marine animal that crossed territorial boundaries. It also discusses humanitarian critiques of the sealskin industry, which focused on the welfare of individual seals; one female consumer was so upset by ‘the dreadful cruelties’ committed by the sealing industry that she refused to purchase any sealskin jackets, ‘so grieved’ was she ‘at the thought of the butchery performed to procure them’.
Period6 Mar 2024
Held atBoise State University, United States
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • fur seals, sealing, conservation, animal welfare, Bering Sea, fur trade, animal commodities