IN the order of carnivorous or flesh-eating mammals a very highly developed and specialised type of animal has been evolved. All of the carnivorous mammals are adapted for preying on their fellow creatures, for all must have flesh to live. To enable them to kill and eat meat, important modifications of the skull and teeth have taken place, the skull being ridged for the exceedingly strong muscles needed in biting and tearing meat. The canine teeth are very long and tusk-like, while the presence of ‘carnassials ‘or sharp, cutting teeth, considerably helps the process.
Not only this, but the possession of claws, long, curved and strong, gives them an added efficiency in killing. The size of the claws is usually in direct proportion to the degree to which the animal is strictly carnivorous. The senses of hearing, sight and smell are usually very keen, the sense of taste perhaps somewhat less so; but the tongue is often rough and acts like a file in scraping the flesh from bones. Their skins are loose-fitting, as a precaution against being seized by an assailant and to give them greater freedom of bodily movement.
Seals and walruses make up a division of the carnivorous
mammals called Pinnipeds—that is, ‘with feet shaped like fins.’ The seals are further divided into true seals and eared seals. The first-named have no external ears. They have short, strong limbs covered with hair. Their hind-limbs are not used in walking but on land are dragged behind. All these animals are true, air-breathing mammals, and come ashore to breed. They spend most of their lives in the water, usually the sea, for which their bodily shape is well suited.
The common seal is frequently seen round British coasts. It is only three to five feet in length, but other species are larger, and the elephant seal of the South Pacific and elsewhere reaches, in the case of the males, twenty feet in length and weighs several tons. This species takes its name from the short, trunk-like appendage of the male; when the animal is angry or excited, this is capable of being blown out into a miniature trunk.
Sea-lions have small external ears, and are fairly well able to walk on land in a shuffling sort of way. The fur seal of Alaska is a member of this group, and so is the well-known Californian sea-lion. The males of all these animals have short neck-manes, which can be seen when the skin of their bodies is in a dry condition. They all like to live in flocks, are wonderfully fine swimmers and are capable of great bodily dexterity.
Of the walruses there are two known species, the Atlantic and the Pacific walrus. They are remarkable for the immense development of the upper canine teeth into the form of tusks, from twelve to eighteen inches showing outside the jaw. Except for these tusks and the absence of external ears, walruses are most like the eared seals and can move all four limbs freely. They are large animals, attaining ten to fifteen feet in length. They live in communities, feeding for the most part on shellfish, using their tusks to dig with and to assist them in climbing about the ice floes.