Animal Biography

Animal Biography:


color picture of Spermaceti Whale, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 184:
Spermaceti Whale


The Cete, consisting of four tribes of animals, which live altogether in water,⁕1 constitute Linnæus’s seventh order of Mammalia. They inhabit chiefly the seas of the polar regions, and many of the species are of huge size. From their external shape, and habits, they seem nearly allied to the fish, yet they arrange with great propriety as an appendix to the four-footed animals. It is true that they reside in the same element with the scaly tribes, and are, like them, endowed with progressive powers of motion in that element, yet in their internal structure they entirely agree with the quadrupeds.

Like the land animals they breathe air by means of lungs: this compels them frequently to rise to the surface of the water to respire; and on this account it is that they always sleep on the surface. Their nostrils are open, and situated on the summit of the head, which enables them to draw in the air without raising the mouth, and consequently the head out of water. These nostrils also serve them in expelling the superfluous water which they take in at the mouth every time they attempt to swallow their prey. They have also warm red blood; and they produce and suckle their young in the same manner as the land animals. Their flesh is red, and bears a great resemblance to that of the Horse; some of it II.130 is very firm; and about the breast and belly it is mixed with tendon. They likewise resemble the quadrupeds in having moveable eye-lids, and true bones; and in their power of uttering loud and bellowing sounds, a faculty altogether denied to the scaly tribes.

The Cetaceous animals have a smooth skin, not covered with hair. Their feet are very short; those in the fore part of the body being formed like fins, and the hinder ones united into an horizontal tail. The substance of the latter is so firm and compact that the vessels will retain their dilated state even when cut across.

The fat of this order of animals is what we generally term blubber:⁕2 this is afterwards, by boiling, manufactured into oil. It does not coagulate in our atmosphere, and is probably the most fluid of all animal fats. It is found principally on the outside of the muscles, immediately under the skin, and is in considerable quantity. The blubber appears principally to be of use in poising their bodies: it also keeps off the immediate contact of the water with the flesh, the continued cold of which might chill the blood; and in this respect it serves a purpose similar to that of clothing to the human race.

The blunt-nosed Cachalot⁕3 has a kind of fat unknown in any other animal, called spermaceti. This is found in every part of the body in small portions, mixed with the common fat. In the head, II.131 however, it is found in great quantity; and from its situation in what, on a slight view, would appear to be the cavity of the skull, it has occasionally been mistaken for the brain. The largest animals yield from twenty to twenty-five tons of this substance.

It is probable that the Cete swallow all their food whole, since they are not furnished with instruments capable either of dividing or masticating it. The mouth in most of the species is well adapted for catching their prey, from the jaws spreading out on each side as they are drawn back. In the place of teeth, which serve only to retain it, the mouth in some of the species is supplied with laminæ of horn called whalebone.

The whalebone, which is situated on the inside of the mouth, and is attached to the upper-jaw, is extremely elastic, and consists of thin plates of very considerable length and breadth, placed in several rows, encompassing the outer skirts of the upper-jaw, like the teeth in other animals. The laminæ are parallel to each other, having one edge towards the circumference of the mouth, and the other towards the centre or cavity. The outer row is composed of the longest plates, some being fourteen or fifteen feet long, and twelve or fifteen inches broad: but towards the anterior and posterior parts of the mouth they gradually become very short. They rise for half a foot or more, nearly of equal breadths, and afterwards shelve off from their inner side till they come almost to a point at the outer. The exterior of the inner rows are the longest, corresponding with the termination of the declivity of the outer one, and II.132 they become shorter and shorter till they scarcely rise above the gum.—The whalebone is continually wearing down, and renewing in the same proportion. It is supposed to be principally of use in the retention of food till swallowed: for, as the fish, and other marine animals, which the Cete catch, are very minute when compared with the size of their mouth, a sufficient quantity, without some such guard, could scarcely be retained.

From these animals being resident entirely in the waters, and generally far from the haunts of man, we cannot be supposed to have acquired any very correct knowledge of their manners or habits of life: their species even are but imperfectly known. The short account of them that I have been able to collect will, I hope, be at least found correct.

⁕1 Whale, Narwal, Cachalot, and Dolphin.

⁕2 Except the spermaceti. See below.

⁕3 Physeter macrocephalus of Linnæus.

Notes and Corrections: Cetaceous Animals

skip to next section

In some classifications, Cetaceans and Artiodactyla (the even-toed ungulates of the previous section) form the superorder Cetartio­dactyla. This means that whales are more closely related to cows than to either pinnipeds or manatees—and, conversely, that cows are more closely related to whales than to horses. Within Cetacea, the great divide is between baleen whales and toothed whales; the latter group includes dolphins and porpoises.

George Shaw and his successors seem to have liked whales; I found three in the Miscellany, along with several dolphins. The Rostrated Whale, Shaw’s Balaena rostrata, is not—as you might expect from its name—a beaked whale, but the common minke whale, now Balaenoptera acutorostrata.

The Cete, consisting of four tribes of animals
[Expected Cetæ, but the word is used more than once with this spellilng.]

the hinder [feet] united into an horizontal tail
[I tend to doubt that Linnaeus believed this.]

[Footnote] Whale, Narwal, Cachalot, and Dolphin
[“Whale” means baleen whale; “Cachalot” is the sperm whale, genus Physeter, family Physeteridae.]

[Footnote] Physeter macrocephalus of Linnæus
[Sources disagree on whether the species is now P. macro­cephalus or P. catodon. Bingley’s sources appear not to have noticed that the sperm whale does have teeth—at least in the lower jaw, hence the catodon (“bottom teeth”).]

color picture of Rostrated Whale, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 304:
Rostrated Whale


Most of the species of this tribe are sixty feet and upwards in length, and none of them under twenty. Their skin is in general black, or brown; very thick, and altogether without hair: it is often observed to have marine plants and shell-fish adhering to it. Some of the Whales inhabit the northern, and some the southern ocean; and one or two of the species are found in both. They prey on various kinds of fish, particularly Herrings, in the shoals of which they commit great devastation: they also feed on shell-fish, and the Medusæ or Sea-blubber. The females generally produce but one young one at a time.


The Whales have no teeth either in the under or upper-jaw; but in the place of these, the upper-jaw is furnished with the horny laminæ called whalebone. On the top of the head there is a tubular opening or spiracle, with a double external orifice.

Notes and Corrections: The Whale Tribe

Thanks to the division into Baleen Whales and Toothed Whales, many whales—by that name—are more closely related to dolphins and porpoises than they are to blue whales.

color picture of Mysticetus or Great Northern Whale, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 133:
Mysticetus or Great Northern Whale


This, which is believed to be the largest of all animals, inhabits the seas towards the Arctic Pole. It usually measures from fifty to a hundred feet in length, and some individuals have been taken of even considerably greater length than this. The head, which constitutes nearly a third of the whole bulk, is flattish above. The mouth is exceedingly large, stretching almost as far back as the eyes. The tongue is very soft, being composed almost entirely of fat, and it adheres by its under surface to the lower-jaw. The gullet scarcely exceeds four inches in width. The eyes, which are not larger than those of the Ox, are placed at a great distance from each other, on the sides of the head, in the most convenient situation possible for the animals seeing around them. The skin is about an inch thick, and the outer or scarf skin about the thickness of parchment, and very 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 beautiful yellow colour.


The tail is broad and semilunar, and its blow is sometimes tremendous. The animal uses the tail alone to advance itself in the water; and the force and celerity with which so enormous a body cuts through the ocean, is very 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.⁕1—The fins are only applied in turning and giving a direction to the velocity impressed by the tail. The female indeed sometimes uses them, when pursued, to bear off her young, for she places these on her back, supporting them from falling by the fins on each side.

engraving of “Great Mysticete”, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. II plate 226:
Great Mysticete

These Whales are shy and timid animals, furnished with no weapons either of offence or defence, except their tail, which they sometimes use against great objects. 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 surprizing 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.⁕2

Their principal food consists of some species of Crabs and Medusæ, or Sea-blubber.—From their naturally inoffensive disposition they have many enemies: among these is a species of Lepas or Bernacle that adheres to their body, chiefly under the fins, in the same manner as others of the same genus are seen sticking to the foul bottoms of ships. But the II.135 enemy they have most to dread is the Sword-fish.⁕3 Whenever this appears the Whale immediately exerts all his powers to escape its attack, which is always unavoidable if they meet. The Sword-fish is sufficiently active to evade the blows that he 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, frequently 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 its victory.

The fidelity of the male and female to each other exceeds that of most other 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; 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 one that was struck sunk under the number of its wounds, while its faithful associate, disdaining to survive the loss, with great bellowing, stretched itself upon the dead animal, and shared its fate.


To the Greenlanders, as well as to the natives of more 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 that if they are not cleanly and neatly clad, the Whale, who 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 mend 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 Seal’s 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. They now put on their spring jackets (made all in one piece of a dressed Seal’s skin), with their boots, 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 fat 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 II.137 alive, to mount on his back and kill him from thence.⁕4

The female is supposed to go nine or ten months with young, and generally produces but one at a time. 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 plunges 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 only of giving it breath.—The young ones continue with the dams for neat 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, is very valuable as an article of commerce: but these animals are principally pursued for their oil or blubber.⁕5

Synonyms. Balæna mysticetus. Linn.—Wallfish. Mart. Spitzb.—Common Whale. Penn.—Great Mysticete. Shaw.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. ii. tab. 226.

⁕1 Egede, p. 71.

⁕2 Ibid.

⁕3 Xiphias Platypterus of Linnæus.

⁕4 Egede, 102.

⁕5 For an account of the Whale-fishery the reader is referred to the end of the present order.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Whale

skip to next section

Balæna mysticetus gave its species name to suborder Mysticeti, baleen whales, and its genus name to the Balaenidae family. In English, its everyday name is bowhead whale.

believed to be the largest of all animals
[The bowhead is only the second-largest of all animals. Largest of all is the blue whale, next door in the Balaenoptera family.]

The women carry along with them their needles and other implements to mend their husbands clothes
[That explains why the women had to come along. In traditional Inuit society, mending clothes was at the extreme end of the Women’s Work vs. Men’s Work divide. (Incidentally, I would expect an apostrophe somewhere—either husband’s or husbands’, to taste—but there wasn’t one.)]

The female is supposed to go nine or ten months with young
[Probably 13-14 months, with a considerable range either way.]

[Footnote] Xiphias Platypterus
[The Swordfish is described in the Fish section of Volume III.]


engraving of Gangetic Dolphin, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 634:
Gangetic Dolphin


These animals inhabit various seas, being occasionally found both in hot and cold climates. They are much smaller than the Whales, the largest species, which is the Grampus, seldom exceeding twenty or five and twenty feet in length. The colour of three of the species is black on the upper, and white on the under parts; that of the remaining one is entirely white. They are often seen in shoals of from five or six, to twenty and upwards, gamboling about the ocean. Their food consists almost wholly of fish, and principally of Mackerel and Herrings.

They have teeth in both their jaws; and their spiracle or breathing hole is on the anterior and upper part of the head.—Their tails, as in the other animals of this order, are horizontal, contrary to the position of the tails of fish which are always upright.

Notes and Corrections: The Dolphin Tribe

The pictured dolphin, then Delphinus gangeticus, is now Platanista gangetica. The Toothed Whale suborder includes three families of dolphins and a fourth of porpoises. One of the dolphin families is Platanistidae, Indian river dolphins; there is a separate family for non-Indian river dolphins. Marine dolphins, meanwhile, share family Delphinidae with killer whales and pilot whales.

engraving of “Ventricose Dolphin” (Porpoise), no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 1028:
Ventricose Dolphin


The Porpesse is well known in all the European seas. In its general form it very much resembles the Dolphin; it is, however, somewhat less in size, and has a snout both much broader and shorter. It is generally from six to seven feet in length; thick in the fore-parts, and gradually tapering towards the tail. The colour is either a bluish black, or a very dark brown above, and nearly white beneath.


These animals live chiefly on the smaller Fish, such as Mackerel and Herrings, which they pursue with much eagerness. They also root about the shores with their snout, in quest of food, in the manner of the Hog; and Mr. Ray says that in the stomach of one that he dissected he found several sand-eels.⁕1 They are often seen to gambol on the surface of the ocean, which is always looked upon as a sure sign of foul weather. They occasionally congregate in vast numbers.

In the river St. Lawrence, in Canada, these animals are very numerous; and, as they generally frequent the shoal water there, in search of prey, the natives adopt the following method of catching them. When the fishing season arrives, the people collect together a great number of sallow twigs, or slender branches of other trees, and stick them pretty firmly into the sand-banks of the river, which at low water are left dry: this is done on the side towards the river, forming a long line of twigs at moderate distances, which at the upper end is connected with the shore, an opening being left at the lower end that they may enter. As the tide rises, it covers the twigs, so as to keep them out of sight; the Porpesse, in quest of his prey, gets within the line, where he continues his chace till he finds, by the ebbing of the tide, that it is time to retire into deeper water. He now makes towards the river, but the twigs being then in part above water, and all agitated by the current, he no sooner sees them II.140 shaking about than he takes fright, and retreats backwards as far as he can from this tremendous rampart. The tide still continuing to ebb he returns time after time; but, never being able to overcome his dread of these terrific twigs, he rolls about until he is deserted entirely by the water; when those who placed the snare rush out in numbers, properly armed, and in this defenceless state overpower him with ease. In this manner more than a hundred of these huge creatures (one of which will yield about a hogshead of oil) have been killed at one tide.

The Porpesse was once considered as a sumptuous article of food, and is said to have been occasionally introduced at the tables of the old English nobility. It was eaten with a sauce composed of sugar, vinegar, and crumbs of fine bread. It is, however, now generally neglected even by the sailors.

In America the skin of this animal is tanned and dressed with considerable care. At first it is extremely tender and near an inch thick, but it is shaved down till it becomes somewhat transparent. It is made into waistcoats and breeches by the inhabitants; and is said also to make an excellent covering for carriages.

Synonyms.—Delphinus Phocœna. Linn.—Porpoise. Kerr.—Porpess. Penn.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. ii. tab. 229.

⁕1 Ammodytes tobianus of Linnæus.

Notes and Corrections: The Porpesse

Delphinus phocœna is now genus Phocoena with several species, including P. phocoena. Together with a few other porpoise genera it makes up family Phocoenidae.

Although Shaw’s Miscellany labels the animal Ventricose Dolphin and calls it a species of Grampus (killer whale), its binomial Delphinus ventricosa is now considered a synonym of Phocoena phocoena.

engraving of Dolphin and Porpoise, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. II plate 229:
Porpesse (bottom); Dolphin (top)


The body of the Dolphin is oblong and roundish, and the snout narrow and sharp-pointed, with a II.141 broad transverse band, or projection of the skin on its upper part. It is longer and more slender than the Porpesse, measuring nine or ten feet in length, and about two in diameter. The body is black above and white below. The mouth is very wide, reaching almost to the thorax, and contains forty teeth; twenty-one in the upper, and nineteen in the under-jaw: when the mouth is shut, the teeth lock into each other.

This animal inhabits the European and Pacific Oceans, where it swims with great velocity, and preys on Fish; and it is sometimes seen adhering to Whales when they leap out of the water. A shoal of Dolphins will frequently attend the course of a ship for the scraps that are thrown overboard, or the bernacles adhering to their sides. Sir Hans Sloane was informed by some who had sailed in the Guinea ships, that the same shoal of Dolphins has attended them for many hundred leagues, between the coast of Guinea and Barbadoes. And Sir Richard Hawkins had them follow his ships above a thousand leagues; he knew them to be the same by the marks in their bodies made by being struck with irons from the vessels.⁕1—Their motion, when they swim behind or alongside of a ship, is not very quick, affording frequent opportunities of being struck with harpoons. Some of them are caught by means of a line and hook baited with pieces of fish or garbage. They are fond of swimming round casks or logs of wood that they find driving in the sea.⁕2—In the II.142 sailing of the French fleet to Egypt, in the year 1798, several Dolphins were occasionally observed under the bows of the vessels. Their motions, says M. Denon, somewhat resembled the undulating motion a ship. They sprang forward in this manner sometimes to the distance of twenty feet and upwards.⁕3

The Dolphin was in great repute among the ancients, and both philosophers and historians seem to have contended who should relate the greatest absurdities concerning it. It was consecrated to the Gods, was celebrated for its love to the human race, and was honoured with the title of the Sacred Fish.

Kind gen’rous Dolphins love the rocky shore,

Where broken waves with fruitless anger roar.

But though to sounding shores they curious come,

Yet Dolphins count the boundless sea their home.

Nay should these favorites forsake the main,

Neptune would grieve his melancholy reign.

The calmest, stillest seas, when left by them,

Would rueful frown, and all unjoyous seem.

But when the darlings frisk in wanton play,

The waters smile, and ev’ry wave looks gay.

In all cases of shipwreck the Dolphin was believed to be in waiting to rescue and carry on shore the unfortunate mariners.—Arion, the musician, when thrown overboard by the pirates, is said to have been indebted for his life to this animal.

But, past belief, a Dolphin’s arched back,

Preserved Arion from his destined wrack;

Secure he sits, and with harmonious strains,

Requites the bearer for his friendly pains⁕4


How these absurd tales originated it is impossible even to conjecture, for the Dolphins certainly exhibit no marks of peculiar attachment to mankind. If they attend on the vessels navigating the ocean it is in expectation of plunder, and not of rendering assistance in cases of distress. By the seamen of the present day they are held rather in abhorrence than esteem, for their frolics on the surface of the water are almost the sure signs of an approaching gale.

The painters both of ancient and modern times have invariably depicted the Dolphin with its back greatly incurvated. This crooked form, however, is never assumed by the animals, except in the act of leaping out of the water.—Dolphins are said to change their colour before they die, and again after they are dead.

Their flesh was formerly held in great esteem; it is, however, very dry and insipid: the best parts are these near the head. It is seldom eaten now but when the animals that are taken happen to be young and tender.

Synonyms.—Delphinus Delphis. Linn.—True Dolphin. Kerr.—Delphin. Anderson.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. ii. tab. 229.

⁕1 Sloane, i. 21.

⁕2 Kalm, i. 19.

⁕3 Denon, i. 10.

⁕4 Transl. from Ovid. Fasti, lib. ii. 113.

Notes and Corrections: The Dolphin

skip to next section

Delphinus delphis is formally the short-beaked saddleback dolphin, “common dolphin” for short.

Kind gen’rous Dolphins love the rocky shore
[Oppian’s Halieutica makes another appearance. We previously met it under the Lion, and will meet it many more times when we get to Fish in the third volume. In the translation, it is lines 620-629.]

[Footnote] Transl. from Ovid. Fasti, lib. ii. 113.
[The translation is cribbed from Pennant’s British Zoology, which also gives the Latin (Fasti II.113-116):

inde (fide maius) tergo delphina recurvo

se memorant oneri supposuisse novo;

ille sedens citharamque tenet pretiumque vehendi

cantat et aequoreas carmine mulcet aquas,

If Pennant in turn cribbed from someone else, he doesn’t say.]

engraving of “Grampus” and Beluga, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. II plate 232:
Grampus (bottom); Beluga (top)


The Grampus is from twenty to twenty-five feet in length, of a very ferocious disposition, and feeds on the larger Fishes, and even on the Dolphin and Porpesse. It is said also to attack other Whales, and to devour Seals, which it occasionally finds sleeping on the rocks; dislodging them by means of its back II.144 fin, and precipitating them into the water.—In its general form and colour it resembles the rest of its tribe; but the lower-jaw is much wider than the upper, and the body in proportion somewhat broader and more deep. The back-fin sometimes measures six feet in length. It is found in the Mediterranean sea, as well as in both the northern and southern oceans.

This animal is a decided enemy to the Whales: great flocks of them attack the largest of these, fastening round them like so many Bull-dogs, making them roar out with pain, and frequently killing and devouring them.

From their vast agility they are not often caught. They seldom remain a moment above water; but their eager pursuits sometimes throw them off their guard, and allure them into the shallow waters. In this case the hungry animal continues to flounder about, till either knocked on the head by those who happen to observe it, or till the tide comes seasonably to its relief.—In one of the poems of Waller a story (founded in fact) is recorded, of the parental affection of these animals. A Grampus and her cub had got into an arm of the sea, where, by the desertion of the tide, they were inclosed on every side. The men on shore saw their situation, and ran down upon them with such weapons as they could at the moment collect. The poor animals were soon wounded in several places, so that all the immediately surrounding water was stained with their blood. They made many efforts to escape, and the old one, by superior strength, forced itself over II.145 the shallow into a deep of the ocean. But, though in safety herself, she would not leave her young one in the hands of assassins. She, therefore, again rushed in; and seemed resolved, since she could not prevent, at least to share the fate of her offspring. The story concludes with poetical justice; for the tide coming in, conveyed them both off in triumph.

Synonyms.—Delphinus orca. Linn.—Orca. Var.—Killer. Catesby. Grampus. Penn.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. ii. tab. 232.

Notes and Corrections: The Grampus

Delphinus orca isn’t exactly a dolphin—but Linnaeus was right overall, as they are in the same family, Delphinidae. The orca or killer whale is now known as Orcinus orca. (The other half of the illus­tration, the beluga, is genus Delphinapterus in an adjoining family Monodontidae, belugas and narwhals.)

The Whale-fishery.

In a commercial view the Whale tribe is of great importance to mankind; supplying us with those two valuable articles 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 line, and four seamen as rowers. In each boat there are also two or three harpoons; several lances; and six lines, each a hundred and twenty fathoms long, fastened together.

As soon as the Whale is struck with the harpoon, he darts down into the deep, carrying off the instrument in its body; and so extremely rapid is his motion, that if the line were to entangle, it would either snap like a thread, or overset the boat. One man, therefore, is stationed to attend only to the line, that it may go regularly out; and another is employed in continually wetting the place it runs against, that the wood may not take fire from the friction.—It is very wonderful that so large an animal should be II.146 able with such astonishing velocity to cut through the water, for his motion is as rapid as the flight of an Eagle.

When the Whale returns to breathe, the harpooner inflicts a fresh wound; till at length he faints from loss of blood: the men now venture the boat quite up to him, and a long steeled lance is thrust into his breast, and through the intestines, which soon puts an end to his existence.

The carcase no sooner begins to float, than holes are cut in the fins and tail; and ropes being fastened to these, it is towed to the ship, where it is lashed to the larboard side, floating with the back in the water.

The operation next to be performed, is that of taking out the blubber and whalebone. Several men get upon the animal with a sort of iron spurs (to prevent their slipping), and separate the tail, which is hoisted on deck: they then cut out square pieces of blubber, weighing two or three thousand pounds each; which, by means of the capstan, are also hoisted up. These are here cut into smaller pieces, which are thrown into the hold, and left, for three or four days, to drain. When all the blubber is cut from the belly of the fish, it is turned on one side, by means of a piece of blubber left in the middle, called the cant, or turning-piece. The men then cut out this side in large pieces, as before; and also the whale-bone, with the gums, which are preserved entire, and hoisted on deck, where the blades are cut and separated, and left till the men have time to scrape and clean them. The Whale is next turned with its II.147 back upwards, and the blubber cut out from the back and crown bone: and they conclude the whole by cutting the blubber from the other side. But previously to letting the remainder of the body float away, they cut out the two large upper jaw-bones; which being hoisted on deck, are cleansed and fastened to the shrouds, and tubs are placed under them to receive the oil which they discharge. This oil is a perquisite of the captain’s.

In three or four days, they hoist the pieces of blubber out of the hold, chop them, and put them by small pieces into the casks through the bung-holes.

A Whale, the longest blade of whose mouth measures nine or ten feet, will yield about thirty butts of blubber; but some of the largest yield upwards of seventy. One of these latter is generally worth about 1000l. sterling: and a full ship, of three hundred tons burden, will produce more than five thousand pounds from one voyage.

Premiums on every Whale that is taken, are given to all engaged, from the captain even to the men who row the boats; which render them active in the service of their employers.

To give the readers some idea of the produce of the Whale-fishery, I shall make choice of the season of the year 1697, as perhaps the most fortunate that ever was known.—In this year there were a hundred and eighty-nine vessels of different nations; of which a hundred and twenty-one were Dutch, forty-seven from Hamburgh, two Swedish, four Danish, twelve from Bremen, two from Embden, and one from Lubec: which caught, in all, 1968 fish, The following II.148 was the number of puncheons of blubber produced:

By the Dutch captures 41,844
—— Hamburghers 16,414
—— Swedes 540
—— Danes 1,710
—— Bremeners 3,790
—— Embdener 68
Total 63,866

Estimating the whalebone at about two thousand pounds weight for every Whale, there must have been in the whole not much less than 4,000,000 pounds.

Mr. Anderson, in his Natural History of Iceland and Greenland, observes, from an account of the Dutch Whale-fishery for forty-six years, ending in 1721, that in this time that nation had employed 5886 ships, and caught 32,907 Whales; which, valued on an average at 500l. each, give an amount for the whole value of above sixteen millions sterling, gained out of the sea, mostly by the labour of the people; deducting the expence of the wear and tear of shipping, the casks, and the provisions.

The Whale-fishery begins in May, and continues through the months of June and July: but whether the ships have had good or bad success, they must come away and get clear of the ice by the end of August; so that in the month of September at furthest, they may be expected home. The more fortunate ships, however, often return in June or July.

Notes and Corrections: The Whale-fishery

the year 1697, as perhaps the most fortunate that ever was known
[The author really ought to stop and ask why the best-ever whaling year was over a century ago.]

forty-six years, ending in 1721, that in this time
text has 1721,that without space

to the

Those marked with an * are varieties of some other species; and those printed in Italics are Synonyms.

Cetaceous Animals 129
Delphin 140
Dolphin Tribe 138
—— Porpesse 138
—— Dolphin 140
—— Grampus 143
—— Delphin 140
—— Killer 143
—— Orca 143
Grampus 143
Killer 143
Mysticete, great 133
Orca 143
Porpesse 138
Walfish 133
Whales 129
Whale Tribe 132
—— common 133
—— Great Mysticete 133
—— Walfish 133
Whale-fishery 145


Cetæ. 129
Balæna Genus 132
—— mysticetus 133
Delphinus Genus 138
—— phocœna 138
—— delphis 140
—— orca 143

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.