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Whales And Dolphins

( Originally Published 1936 )

THE Cetacea are the largest and most powerful of all mammals. All are strictly aquatic and fish-like in their habits, never coming to shore on any occasion except when stranded, or driven in by storms; and all are more or less fish-like in appearance and might be easily mistaken for the lower order of life, but for several singular characters, perhaps the most noticeable among which is the up-and-down motion of the deeply-forked tail.

They are mainly surface feeders, although able to dive to great depths. The Sperm Whale, in particular, is thought to obtain its food at the bottom of the ocean. The nostrils, or "blow-holes," are generally at the top of the head. The Whale is obliged to come to the surface of the water at frequent intervals in order to breathe, or " spout," and it was at one time thought that great quantities of water were taken into the mouth and forced out through the nose, causing this spouting. The fact is, however, that as the Whale nears the surface of the ocean it breathes heavily outward through the blow-hole, thereby forcing the water that is immediately above the nostril high into the air. This spouting, or blowing, is usually the first sign of the presence of the animal, and the cry of old whalers, " There she blows!" always announces the discovery of one. Many species are toothless, and when teeth are present they are all similar in structure, sometimes being found only in the lower jaw. The eye is very small and as a rule set close to the corner of the mouth, and the ear is quite invisible. The fore-limbs are encased in a thick heavy skin and developed in the shape of paddles, or fins, and there are no hind legs, the immensely heavy and muscular tail taking their place. Beneath the skin is a thick layer of fat called blubber, and in some species there is a dorsal, or back, fin.

The Cetacea are divided into two sub-orders—the Mystacoceti, containing the single family Balaenidae, —in which there are no teeth, the mouth being furnished with plates of whalebone, which are used to strain from the water the small animals on which the Whales feed; and Odontoceti, including the remaining Cetacea, in which teeth are always found in both jaws, but no whalebone.


Greenland Whale (Baloena mysticetus)

The Greenland Whale, or " Right Whale," inhabits the Arctic Ocean. It has an enormous head and mouth, containing from three hundred to four hundred layers of whalebone on each side, for which and for the oil obtained from its blubber, it was formerly so eagerly hunted that its numbers have be-come greatly reduced. See Plate 38, Fig. 161. Some years ago great numbers of ships were fitted out and sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to various parts of the world, some going to the North to hunt the Right Whale, others to the Southern Seas in search of the Sperm Whales. Owing partly to the substitution of steel-springs for many purposes for which whalebone was formerly employed, and to the extensive use of mineral oil, whale-fishing is now carried on only to a comparatively small extent. At present specimens are rarely met with exceeding fifty feet in length, but in former days when the animal was less pursued, it attained a much greater length. It is naturally a mild, inoffensive animal, and rarely turns on its pursuers.

Although the Right Whale is so gigantic in size, its food consists of minute forms of sea-life, taken into the mouth with the water in which it swims and then strained by the pressure of the immense tongue against the thick layers of whalebone, which act like a sieve.

Common Rorqual (Baloenoftera musculus)

The largest species of Whale, growing to a length of eighty feet or more, is the Rorqual. It is more slender than the Greenland Whale, the whalebone is much shorter, and there is a small back-fin toward the end of the body. See Plate 39, Fig. 162. The whale-bone and blubber are less valuable than those of the Greenland Whale, and the animals are bolder and more dangerous to attack, so that the old method of harpooning them by hand from rowboats is no longer used, and, instead, bombs are now shot into the animal from steam whale-boats, exploding and killing it very quickly. The huge creature is then fastened to the side of the vessel and towed ashore, where the blubber is cut from it in great strips.

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