Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

It is not easy to explain in what manner these particles are detached from the water by the operation of the gills; but there seeins no doubt of the fact, nor of the redness of the gills being a consequence of the operation of the air. That redness is exactly similar to the vermilion of the blood in the veins of animals with lungs, a vermilion considerably brighter than that of the arteries.

We shall conclude this chapter with an account of a SHOWER OF FISHES.-In the Philosophical Transactions for 1698, Mr. Robert Conny gives the following account of a phenomenon of this kind.

On Wednesday before Easter, anno 1666, a pasture field at Cranstead, near Wrotham, in Kent, about two acres, which is far from any part of the sea, or branch of it, and a place where there are no fish-ponds, but a scarcity of water, was all overspread with little fishes, conceived to be rained down, there having been at that time a great tempest of thunder and rain the fishes were about the length of a man's little finger, and judged by all who saw them to be young whitings. Many of them were taken up, and shewed to several persons. The field belonged to one Ware, a yeoman, who was at that Easter sessions one of the grand inquest, and who carried some of the fish to the sessions of Maidstone, in Kent, and shewed them, among others, to Mr. Lake, a bencher of the Middle Temple, who procured one of them, and brought it to London The truth of it was averred by many that saw the fishes lie scattered all over the field. There were none in the other fields adjoining: the quantity of them was estimated to be about a bushel.

It is probable that these fishes were absorbed from the sur face of the water by the electric power of a water-spout; o brushed off by the violence of a hurricane. The phenomenon, though surprising, has occurred in various countries, and occasionally in situations far more remote from the coast than that before us.

CHAP. XVII.

CURIOSITIES RESPECTING FISHES.-(Concluded.)

The Whale Whale Fishery-The Kraken.

The whales

Toss in foam their lashing tails.
Wallowing unwieldly, enormous in their gait,
hey seem a moving land, and at their gills
Draw in, and at their trunk spout out, a sea.”

[ocr errors]

THE following account of the great Northern, or GREENLAND WHALE, was first published by Mr. W. Scoresby, jun. M.W. S in the Memoirs of the Wernerian Society, vol. I.

"The whale, when fullgrown, is from 50 to 65 feet in length, and from 30 to 40 in circumference, immediately before the fins. It is thickest a little behind the fins, and from thence gradually tapers towards the tail, and slightly towards the neck. It is cylindrical from the neck until near the jun tion of the tail and body, where it becomes rigid.

"The head has a triangular shape. The bones of the head are very porous, and full of a fine kind of oil. When the oil is drained out, the bone is so light as to swim in water. The jaw-bones, the most striking portions of the head, are from 20 to 25 feet in length, are curved, and the space between them is 9 or 10 feet, by 18 or 20. They give shape to the under part of the head, which is almost perfectly flat, and is about 20 feet in length by 12 in breadth The tongue is of great size, and yields a ton or more of oil. The lips, which are at right angles to the flat part of the base of the head, are firm and hard, and yield about two tons of oil.

"To the upper jaw is attached the substance called whalebone, which is straight in some individuals, and in others convex. The laminæ, or blades, are not all of equal length: neither are the largest exactly in the middle of the series, but somewhat nearer the throat; from this point they become gradually shorter each way. In each side of the mouth are about 200 lamine of whalebone. They are not perfectly flat; for besides the longitudinal curvature already mentioned, they are curved transversely. The largest laminæ are from ten to fourteen feet, very rarely fifteen feet, in length. The breadth of the largest, at the thick ends, or where they are attached to the jaw, is about a foot. The Greenland fishers estimate the size of the whale by the length of the whalebone: where the whalebone is six feet long, then the whale is said to be a size-fish. In suckers, or young whales still under the protection of the mo

ther, the whalebone is only a few inches long. The whale bone is immediately covered by the two under lips,the edges of which, when the mouth is shut, overlap the upper part in a squamous manner.

"On the upper part of the head there is a double opening. called the spout-holes, or blow-holes. Their external orifices are like two slits, which do not lie parallel, but form an acute angle with each other. Through these openings the animal breathes.

"The eyes are very small, not larger than those of an ox; yet the whale appears to be quick of sight. They are situated about a foot above where the upper and under lip join.

"In the whale, the sense of hearing seems to be rather obtuse. "The throat is so narrow as scarcely to admit a hen's egg. "The fins are from four to five feet broad, and eight to ten feet long, and seem only to be used in bearing off their young, in turning, and giving a direction to the velocity produced by the tail.

"The tail is horizontal, from 20 to 30 feet in breadth, in dented in the middle, and the two lobes pointed and turned outwards. In it lies the whole strength of the animal. By means of the tail, the whale advances itself in the water with greater or less rapidity; if the motion is slow, the tail cuts the water obliquely, like forcing a boat forward by the operation of sculling; but if the motion is very rapid, it is effected by an undulating motion of the rump.

"The skin in some whales is smooth and shining; in others, it is furrowed, like the water-lines in laid paper, but coarser.

"The colour is black, gray, and white, and a tinge of yellow about the lower parts of the head. The back, upper part of the head, most of the belly, the fins, tail, and part of the under jaw, are deep black. The fore part of the under jaw, and a little of the belly, are white, and the junction of the tail with the body gray. Such are the common colours of the adult whale. I have seen piebald whales. Such whales as are below size are almost entirely of a bluish black colour. The skin of suckers is of a pale bluish colour The cuticle, or scarfskin, is no thicker than parchment; the true skin is from three-fourths to an inch in thickness all over the body.

"Immediately beneath the skin lies the blubber, or fat, from 10 to 20 inches in thickness, varying in different parts of the body, as well as in different individuals. The colour, also, is not always the same, being white, red, and yellow; and it also varies in denseness. It is principally for the blubber that the Greenland fishery is carried on. It is cut from the body in large lumps, and carried on board the ship, and then cut into smaller pieces. The fleshy parts, and skin connected with the blubber, are next separated from it, and it is again cut

into such pieces as will admit of its being passed into casks by the bung-hole, which is only three or four inches in diameter. In these casks it is conveyed home, where it is boiled in vessels capable of containing from three to six tons, for the purpose of extracting the oil from the fritters, which are tendinous fibres, running in various directions, and containing the oil or rather connecting together the cellular substance which contains it. These fibres are finest next the skin, thinnest in the middîe, and coarsest near the flesh.

66

'The whales, according to their size, produce from two to twenty tons of oil. The flesh of the young whale is of a fine red colour; that of the old approaches to black, and is coarse, like that of a bull, and is said to be dry and lean when boiled, because there is little fat intermixed with the flesh.

"The food of the whale is generally supposed to consist of different kinds of sepiæ, medusa, or the clio limacina of Linnæus; but I have great reason to believe, that it is chiefly, if not altogether, of the squill or shrimp tribe; for, on examining the stomach of one of large size, nothing else was found in it; they were about half an inch long, semi-transparent, and of a pale red colour. I also found a great quantity in the mouth of another, having been apparently vomited by it. When the whale feeds, it swims with considerable velocity under water, with its mouth wide open; the water enters by the forepart, but is poured out again at the sides, and the food is entangled and sifted as it were by the whalebone, which does not suffer any thing to escape.

66

'It seldom remains longer below the surface than twenty to thirty minutes; when it comes up again to blow, it will perhaps remain ten, twenty, or thirty minutes at the surface of the water, when nothing disturbs it. In calm weather, it sometimes sleeps in this situation. It sometimes ascends with so much force, as to leap entirely out of the water; when swimming at its greatest velocity, it moves at the rate of seven to nine miles an hour.

66

Its maternal affection deserves notice. The young one is frequently struck for the sake of its mother, which will soon come up close by it, encourage it to swim off, assist it by taking it under its fin, and seldom deserts it while life remains. It is then very dangerous to approach, as she loses all regard for her own safety in anxiety for the preservation of her cub, dashing about most violently, and not dreading to rise even amidst the boats. Except, however, when the whale has young to protect, the male is in general more active and dangerous than the female, especially males of about nine feet bone."

To the above account of Mr. Scoresby's, we shall add the following particulars:

[ocr errors]

The fidelity of whales to each other exceeds whatever we are told even of the constancy of birds. Some fishers, as Anderson informs us, having struck one of two whales, a male and a female, that were in company together, the wounded fish made a long and terrible resistance; it struck down a boat with three men in it, with a single blow of its tail, by which all went to the bottom. The other still attended its companion and lent it every assistance; till, at last, the fish that was struck sunk under the number of its wounds; while its faithful associate, disdaining to survive the loss, with great bel lowing stretched itself upon the dead fish, and shared its

fate.

Inoffensive as the whale is, it is not without enemies. There is a small animal, of the shell-fish kind, called the whalelouse, that sticks to its body, as we see shells sticking to the foul bottom of a ship. This insinuates itself chiefly under the fins; and whatever efforts the great animal makes, it still keeps its hold, and lives upon the fat, which it is provided with instruments to arrive at.

The sword-fish is, however, the whale's most terrible enemy At the sight of this little animal, the whale seems agitated in an extraordinary manner, leaping from the water as it with affright, whenever it appears; the whale perceives it at a distance, and flies from it in the opposite direction. The whale has no instrument of defence except the tail; with that it endeavours to strike the enemy, and a single blow taking place would effectually destroy its adversary; but the swordfish is as active as the other is strong, and easily avoids the stroke; then bounding into the air, it falls upon its enemy, and endeavours not to pierce with its pointed beak, but to cut with its toothed edges. The sea all about is soon dyed with blood, proceeding from the wounds of the whale; while the enormous animal vainly endeavours to reach its invader, and strikes with its tail against the surface of the water with impotent fury, making a report at each blow louder than the noise of a cannon.

There is still another powerful enemy of this fish, which is called the oria, or killer. A number of these are said to surround the whale in the same manner as dogs get round a bull. Some attack it with their teeth behind; others attempt it before; until, at last, the great animal is torn down, and its tongue is said to be the only part they devour, when they have made it their prey.

But of all the enemies of these enormous fishes, man is the greatest and most formidable; he alone destroys more in a year than the rest in an age, and actually has thinned their numbers in that. part of the world where they are chiefl sought

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »