Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

the same manner, and with almost the same velocity as the Great Whale, but not to the same depth. It generally descends about two hundred fathoms, then returns to the surface, and is dispatched with a lance in a few minutes.

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]

smooth. Under the skin lies the blubber, which is from eight to twelve inches thick: this, when the animal is in health, is of a beau. tiful yellow color. The tail is broad and semilunar.

The size and bulk of these animals are generally enormous; and their muscular powers are so great, that a blow of their horizontal tail,

is at any tim e sufi. cient to upset a boat; and, when

[graphic]
[graphic]

struck upon

CARCASS OY A WHALE.

SKELETOX OF A WEALE,

the surface of the ocean, it makes the water fly, with tremendous noise. in all direc tions. They are able to eject watei

from the spiracles on

their heads, < to a great height.

This ani. mal employs the tail alone to advance itself in the water; and the force and celerity with which so enormous a body cuts its way through the ocean, a re truly astonishing A track is frequently made in the

water like what would be left by a large ship; this is called his wake, and by this the animal is often followed. The fins are only applied in turning, and giving a direction to the velocity impressed by the tail. I'he usual rate at which Whales swim, seldom, however, exceeds four miles an hour, When alarmed, their extreme velocity

[blocks in formation]

is eight or nine miles an hour, but this seldom continues more than a few minutes at a time. These animals sometimes ascend to the surface with so much velocity as to leap entirely out of the water. Sometimes they throw themselves into a perpendicular posture, with their heads downward; and, rearing their tails on high in the air, they beat the water with awful violence. In both these cases, the sea is thrown into a foam, and the air filled with vapors. Sometimes the Whale shakes its tremendous tail in the air, and makes with it a cracking noise, which is heard at the distance of two or three miles.

When a Whale retires from the surface of the water into the deep, it first lifts its head, then, plunging beneath the waves, elevates its back, like the segment of a sphere, deliberate. ly rounds it away towards the ex. tremity, throws its tail out of the water, and then disappears. These

Whales are shy and timid animals, furnished with no weapons either of offence or defence, except their tail. As soon as they perceive the approach of a boat, they generally plunge under water, and sink into the deep; but when they find themselves in danger they exhibit their great and surprising strength. In this case they break to pieces whatever comes in their way; and if they run foul of a boat, they dash it to atoms.

Whales have no voice; but, in breathing, or blowing through their spiracles, they make a very loud noise. The water which they discharge, is ejected to the height of several yards, and at a distance ap. pears like a puff of smoke. When these animals are undisturbed, they usually remain on the surface of the water about two minutes at a time, during which they breathe eight or nine times, and then descend for an interval of five or ten minutes; or, when feeding, fifteen or twenty. The depth to which they usually descend is not

[graphic]

WBALE PLUNGING.

very great; but wben struck with a harpoon, they sometimes draw out from the boats, in a perpendicular descent, as much line as would measure an English mile.

When the Whale feeds, it swims with considerable velocity below the surface of the sea, with its jaws widely extended. A stream of water consequently enters its capacious mouth, and, along with it, immense quantities of cuttle-fish, sea-blubber, shrimps, and other small marine animals. The water escapes at the sides; but the food is entangled, and, as it were sifted by the whalebone within the mouth.

From their naturally inoffensive disposition these animals have many foes; but the enemy they have most reason to dread is the Sword-fish. This animal is sufficiently active to evade the blows which its tremendous adversary makes with his tail, one of which, if it took place, must effectually destroy it. The sea, for a considerable space around, may be seen dyed with the blood, that issues in copious streams, from the wounds made in the Whale's body by the dreadful beak of his adversary. The noise made at each blow of the tail, is said to be louder than that of a cannon. The fishermen, in calm weather, fre. quently lie on their oars as spectators of the combat, till they perceive the Whale at his last gasp; they then row towards him, and, the enemy retiring at their approach, they enjoy the fruits of his victory.

The fidelity of the male and female to each other, exceeds that of most animals. Some fishermen, as Anderson, in his History of Greenland, informs us, having struck one of two Whales, a male and female, that were in company together, the wounded animal made a long and terrible resistance; with a single blow of its tail it upset a boat containing three men, by which all went to the bottom. The other still attended its companion, and lent it every assistance, till, at last, the animal that was struck sank under the number of its wounds, while its faithful associate, disdaining to survive the loss, stretched itself upon the dead Whale, and shared its fate.

To the Greenlanders, as well as to the natives of southern climates, the Whale is an animal of essential importance; and these people spend much time in fishing for it. When they set out on their Whale-catching expeditions, they dress themselves in their best apparel, fancying, ihat if they are not cleanly and neatly clad, the Whale, which detests a slovenly and dirty garb, would immediately avoid them. In this manner about fifty persons, men and women, set out together in one of their large boats. The women carry along with them their needles and other implements, to mend their husbands' clothes, in case they should be torn, and to repair the boat, if it happen to receive any damage. When the men discover a Whale, they strike it with their harpoons, to which are fastened lines or straps two or three fathoms long, made of Seal-skin, having at the end a bag of a whole scal-skin, blown up. The huge animal, by means of the inflated bag, is in some degree compelled to keep near the surface of the water. When he is fatigued and rises, the men attack him with their spears till he is' killed, Thy now put on their spring jackets, (made, all in one piece, of a dres ed Se:i's skin.) with their boots,

THE WHALE-FISHERY:

441.

gloves, and caps, which are laced so tightly to each other, that no water can penetrate them. In this garb they plunge into the sea, and begin to slice off the fet all round the animal's body, even from those parts that are under water; for, their jackets being full of air, the men do not sink, and they have means of keeping themselves upright in the sea. They have sometimes been known so daring as, while the Whale was still alive, to mnount on his back and kill him from thence

The period of gestation in the female is supposed to be nine or ten months, and she generally produces but one at a birth. When she suckles it she throws herself on one side, on the surface of the water, and in this position the young one attaches itself to the teat. She is extremely careful of her offspring, carrying it with her wherever she goes; and, when hardest pursued supporting it between her fins. Even when wounded she is said still to clasp it; and, if she plunge to avoid danger, she takes it with her to the bottom; but in this case she always rises sooner than she otherwise would, for the purpose of giving it breath. The young.ones continue with the dam for nearly twelve months; during this time they are called by the sailors Short. heads. They are then extremely fat, and will yield each above fifty barrels of blubber. At two years old they have the name of Stunts, from not thriving much immediately after quitting the breast; at this age they will scarcely yield more than twenty barrels of blubber. From the age of two years they are denominated Skull-fish.

The flesh of the Whale is very dry and insipid, except about the tail, which is more juicy, but still very tasteless. The horny laminæ in the upper jaw, called whalebone, are very valuable as an article of commerce: but these animals are principally pursued for their oil or blubber.

The seas that are principally inhabited by the Great Whales, are those in about the seventieth degree of north latitude, near Spitzbergen and Greenland. These animals are likewise found in the seas of the high southern latitudes, and are said sometimes to visit the shores even of the countries near the torrid zone. They have been observed in the Mediterranean, and occasionally in the neighborhood of the British coasts. Willoughby speaks of one that was stranded near Tinmouth in Northumberland. In the year 1652, a great Whale, eighty feet in length, was cast ashore in the Frith of Forth; and, about thirty years afterwards, another, somewhat more than seventy feet in length, near Peterhead, in Scotland.

THE WHALE-FISHERY.

In a commercial view the animals of the Whale tribe are of great importance to mankind; supplying us with those two valuable arti. cles, oil and whalebone, and likewise with spermaceti. They are chiefly taken in the northern seas.

The English send out with every ship six or seven boats: each of these has one harpooner, one man at the rudder one to manage the

« PreviousContinue »