Sealers Turned Naturalists | Polar Unbound

Sealers Turned Naturalists

As sealers continued discovering new “sealing grounds” over the next 16 years—many excursions sponsored by the British whaling firm Enderby Brothers, who enjoyed the geographical discoveries as much as the profits—the outline of the Antarctic continent began to take shape. 

One of the most prominent “sealers-turned-scientists” was James Weddell, a keen geographer, explorer and naturalist as well as a profitable sealer. Weddell goes down in history as the first Antarctic conservationist, as he noted that the lack of sustainable sealing had decimated the South Shetland fur seal breeding population whereas more responsible sealing could have produced a sustainable annual “harvest.” On Weddell’s excursions, he charted the South Orkney Islands, discovered a new seal species later known as the Weddell seal and found himself far south in the Weddell Sea. Over 80 years would pass before anyone would voyage that far south in the Weddell Sea.