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Our First Whale

Simultaneous ideas occurring to several people, or thought transference,
whatever one likes to call the phenomenon, is too frequent an occurrence
in most of our experience to occasion much surprise. Yet on the occasion
to which I am about to refer the matter was so very marked that few of
us who took part in the day's proceedings are ever likely to forget
it. We were all gathered about the fo'lk'sle scuttle one evening, a
few days after the gale, and the question of whale-fishing came up for
discussion. Until that time, strange as it may seem, no word of this,
the central idea of all our minds, had been mooted. Every man seemed
to shun the subject, although we were in daily expectation of being
called upon to take an active part in whale-fighting. Once the ice was
broken, nearly all had something to say about it, and very nearly as
many addle-headed opinions were ventilated as at a Colney Hatch
debating society. For we none of us knew anything about it. I was
appealed to continually to support this or that theory, but as far as
whaling went I could only, like the rest of them, draw upon my
imagination for details. How did a whale act, what were the first
steps taken, what chance was there of being saved if your boat got
smashed, and so on unto infinity. At last, getting very tired of this
"Portugee Parliament" of all talkers and no listeners, I went aft to
get a drink of water before turning in. The harpooners and other petty
officers were grouped in the waist, earnestly discussing the pros and
cons of attack upon whales. As I passed I heard the mate's harpooner
say, "Feels like whale about. I bet a plug (of tobacco) we raise sperm
whale to-morrow." Nobody took his bet, for it appeared that they were
mostly of the same mind, and while I was drinking I heard the officers
in dignified conclave talking over the same thing. It was Saturday
evening, and while at home people were looking forward to a day's
respite from work and care, I felt that the coming day, though never
taken much notice of on board, was big with the probabilities of
strife such as I at least had at present no idea of. So firmly was I
possessed by the prevailing feeling.

The night was very quiet. A gentle breeze was blowing, and the sky was
of the usual "Trade" character; that is, a dome of dark blue fringed
at the horizon with peaceful cumulus clouds, almost motionless. I
turned in at 4 A.M. from the middle watch, and, as usual, slept
like a babe. Suddenly I started wide awake, a long mournful sound
sending a thrill to my very heart. As I listened breathlessly other
sounds of the same character, but in different tones, joined in, human
voices monotonously intoning in long-drawn-out expirations the single
word "bl-o-o-o-o-w." Then came a hurricane of noise overhead, and
adjurations in no gentle language to the sleepers to "tumble up lively
there, no skulking; sperm whales." At last, then, fulfilling all the
presentiments of yesterday, the long-dreaded moment had arrived.
Happily there was no time for hesitation--in less than two minutes we
were all on deck, and hurrying to our respective boats. There was no
flurry or confusion, and except that orders were given more quietly
than usual, with a manifest air of suppressed excitement, there was
nothing to show that we were not going for an ordinary course of boat
drill. The skipper was in the main crow's-nest with his binoculars.
Presently he shouted, "Naow, then, Mr. Count, lower away soon's
y'like. Small pod o' cows, an' one'r two bulls layin' off to west'ard
of 'em." Down went the boats into the water quietly enough, we all
scrambled in and shoved off. A stroke or two of the oars were given to
get clear of the ship and one another, then oars were shipped and up
went the sails. As I took my allotted place at the main-sheet, and the
beautiful craft started off like some big bird, Mr. Count leaned
forward, saying impressively to me, "Y'r a smart youngster, an' I've
kinder took t' yer; but don't ye look ahead an' get gallied, 'r I'll
knock ye stiff wi' th' tiller; y'hear me? 'N' don't ye dare to make
thet sheet fast, 'r ye'll die so sudden y' won't know whar y'r
hurted." I said as cheerfully as I could, "All right, sir," trying to
look unconcerned, telling myself not to be a coward, and all sorts of
things; but the cold truth is that I was scared almost to death
because I didn't know what was coming. However, I did the best thing
under the circumstances, obeyed orders, and looked steadily astern, or
up into the bronzed, impassive face of my chief, who towered above me,
scanning with eagle eyes the sea ahead. The other boats were coming
flying along behind us, spreading wider apart as they came, while in
the bows of each stood the harpooner with his right hand on his first
iron, which lay ready, pointing over the bow in a raised fork of wood
called the "crutch."

All of a sudden, at a motion of the chief's hand, the peak of our
mainsail was dropped, and the boat swung up into the wind, lying "hove
to," almost stationary. The centre-board was lowered to stop her
drifting to leeward, although I cannot say it made much difference
that ever I saw. Now what's the matter? I thought; when to my
amazement the chief, addressing me, said, "Wonder why we've hauled up,
don't ye?" "Yes, sir, I do," said I. "Wall," said he, "the fish hev
sounded, an' ef we run over 'em, we've seen the last ov 'em. So we
wait awhile till they rise agin, 'n then we'll prob'ly git thar' 'r
thareabouts before they sound agin." With this explanation I had to be
content, although if it be no clearer to my readers than it then was
to me, I shall have to explain myself more fully later on. Silently we
lay, rocking lazily upon the gentle swell, no other word being spoken
by any one. At last Louis, the harpooner, gently breathed "blo-o-o-w";
and there, sure enough, not half a mile away on the lee beam, was a
little bushy cloud of steam apparently rising from the sea. At almost
the same time as we kept away all the other boats did likewise, and
just then, catching sight of the ship, the reason for this apparently
concerted action was explained. At the main-mast head of the ship was
a square blue flag, and the ensign at the peak was being dipped. These
were signals well understood and promptly acted upon by those in
charge of the boats, who were thus guided from a point of view at
least one hundred feet above the sea.

"Stand up, Louey," the mate murmured softly. I only just stopped
myself in time from turning my head to see why the order was given.
Suddenly there was a bump; at the same moment the mate yelled, "Giv't
to him, Louey, give't to him!" and to me, "Haul that main sheet, naow;
haul, why don't ye?" I hauled it flat aft, and the boat shot up into
the wind, rubbing sides as she did so with what to my troubled sight
seemed an enormous mass of black india-rubber floating. As we
crawled up into the wind, the whale went into convulsions befitting
his size and energy. He raised a gigantic tail on high, thrashing the
water with deafening blows, rolling at the same time from side to side
until the surrounding sea was white with froth. I felt in an agony
lest we should be crushed under one of those fearful strokes, for Mr.
Count appeared to be oblivious of possible danger, although we seemed
to be now drifting back on to the writhing leviathan. In the agitated
condition of the sea, it was a task of no ordinary difficulty to
unship the tall mast, which was of course the first thing to be done.
After a desperate struggle, and a narrow escape from falling overboard
of one of the men, we got the long "stick," with the sail bundled
around it, down and "fleeted" aft, where it was secured by the simple
means of sticking the "heel" under the after thwart, two-thirds of the
mast extending out over the stern. Meanwhile, we had certainly been in
a position of the greatest danger, our immunity from damage being
unquestionably due to anything but precaution taken to avoid it.

By the time the oars were handled, and the mate had exchanged places
with the harpooner, our friend the enemy had "sounded"; that is, he
had gone below for a change of scene, marvelling no doubt what strange
thing had befallen him. Agreeably to the accounts which I, like most
boys, had read of the whale fishery, I looked for the rushing of the
line round the loggerhead (a stout wooden post built into the boat
aft), to raise a cloud of smoke with occasional bursts of flame; so as
it began to slowly surge round the post I timidly asked the harpooner
whether I should throw any water on it. "Wot for?" growled he, as he
took a couple more turns with it. Not knowing "what for," and hardly
liking to quote my authorities here, I said no more, but waited
events. "Hold him up, Louey, hold him up, caint ye?" shouted the mate,
and to my horror, down went the nose of the boat almost under water,
while at the mate's order everybody scrambled aft into the elevated
stern sheets.

The line sang quite a tune as it was grudgingly allowed to surge round
the loggerhead, filling one with admiration at the strength shown by
such a small rope. This sort of thing went on for about twenty
minutes, in which time we quite emptied the large tub and began on the
small one. As there was nothing whatever for us to do while this was
going on, I had ample leisure for observing the little game that was
being played about a quarter of a mile away, Mr. Cruce, the second
mate, had got a whale and was doing his best to kill it; but he was
severely handicapped by his crew, or rather had been, for two of them
were now temporarily incapable of either good or harm. They had gone
quite "batchy" with fright, requiring a not too gentle application of
the tiller to their heads in order to keep them quiet. The remedy, if
rough, was effectual, for "the subsequent proceedings interested them
no more." Consequently his manoeuvres were not so well or rapidly
executed as he, doubtless, could have wished, although his energy in
lancing that whale was something to admire and remember. Hatless, his
shirt-tail out of the waist of his trousers streaming behind him like
a banner, he lunged and thrust at the whale alongside of him as if
possessed of a destroying devil, while his half-articulate yells of
rage and blasphemy were audible even to us.

Suddenly our boat fell backward from her "slantin-dicular" position
with a jerk, and the mate immediately shouted, "Haul line, there! look
lively, now! you"--so on, et cetera, et cetera (he seemed to invent
new epithets on every occasion). The line came in hand over hand, and
was coiled in a wide heap in the stern sheets, for, silky as it was,
it could not be expected in its wet state to lie very close. As it
came flying in, the mate kept a close gaze upon the water immediately
beneath us, apparently for the first glimpse of our antagonist. When
the whale broke water, however, he was some distance off, and
apparently as quiet as a lamb. Now, had Mr. Count been a prudent or
less ambitious man, our task would doubtless have been an easy one, or
comparatively so; but, being a little over-grasping, he got us all
into serious trouble. We were hauling up to our whale in order to
lance it, and the mate was standing, lance in hand, only waiting to
get near enough, when up comes a large whale right alongside of our
boat, so close, indeed, that I might have poked my finger in his
little eye, if I had chosen. The sight of that whale at liberty, and
calmly taking stock of us like that, was too much for the mate. He
lifted his lance and hurled it at the visitor, in whose broad flank it
sank, like a knife into butter, right up to the pole-hitches. The
recipient disappeared like a flash, but before one had time to think,
there was an awful crash beneath us, and the mate shot up into the air
like a bomb from a mortar. He came down in a sitting posture on the
mast-thwart; but as he fell, the whole framework of the boat collapsed
like a derelict umbrella. Louis quietly chopped the line and severed
our connection with the other whale, while in accordance with our
instructions we drew each man his oar across the boat and lashed it
firmly down with a piece of line spliced to each thwart for the
purpose. This simple operation took but a minute, but before it was
completed we were all up to our necks in the sea. Still in the boat,
it is true, and therefore not in such danger of drowning as if we were
quite adrift; but, considering that the boat was reduced to a mere
bundle of loose planks, I, at any rate, was none too comfortable. Now,
had he known it, was the whale's golden opportunity; but he, poor
wretch, had had quite enough of our company, and cleared off without
any delay, wondering, no doubt, what fortunate accident had rid him of
our very unpleasant attentions.

I was assured that we were all as safe as if we were on board the
ship, to which I answered nothing; but, like Jack's parrot, I did some
powerful thinking. Every little wave that came along swept clean over
our heads, sometimes coming so suddenly as to cut a breath in half. If
the wind should increase--but no--I wouldn't face the possibility of
such a disagreeable thing. I was cool enough now in a double sense,
for although we were in the tropics, we soon got thoroughly chilled.

By the position of the sun it must have been between ten a.m. and
noon, and we, of the crew, had eaten nothing since the previous day at
supper, when, as usual, the meal was very light. Therefore, I suppose
we felt the chill sooner than the better-nourished mate and harpooner,
who looked rather scornfully at our blue faces and chattering teeth.

In spite of all assurances to the contrary, I have not the least doubt
in my own mind that a very little longer would have relieved us of
all our burdens finally, because the heave of the sea had so
loosened the shattered planks upon which we stood that they were on
the verge of falling all asunder. Had they done so we must have
drowned, for we were cramped and stiff with cold and our constrained
position. However, unknown to us, a bright look-out upon our movements
had been kept from the crow's-nest the whole time. We should have been
relieved long before, but that the whale killed by the second mate was
being secured, and another boat, the fourth mate's, being picked up,
having a hole in her bilge you could put your head through. With all
these hindrances, especially securing the whale, we were fortunate to
be rescued as soon as we were, since it is well known that whales are
of much higher commercial value than men.

However, help came at last, and we were hauled alongside. Long
exposure had weakened us to such an extent that it was necessary to
hoist us on board, especially the mate, whose "sudden stop," when he
returned to us after his little aerial excursion, had shaken his
sturdy frame considerably, a state of body which the subsequent
soaking had by no means improved. In my innocence I imagined that we
should be commiserated for our misfortunes by Captain Slocum, and
certainly be relieved from further duties until we were a little
recovered from the rough treatment we had just undergone. But I never
made a greater mistake. The skipper cursed us all (except the mate,
whose sole fault the accident undoubtedly was) with a fluency and
vigor that was, to put it mildly, discouraging. Moreover, we were
informed that he "wouldn't have no [adjective] skulking;" we must
"turn to" and do something after wasting the ship's time and property
in such a blank manner. There was a limit, however, to our obedience,
so although we could not move at all for awhile, his threats were not
proceeded with farther than theory.

A couple of slings were passed around the boat, by means of which, she
was carefully hoisted on board, a mere dilapidated bundle of sticks
and raffle of gear. She was at once removed aft out of the way, the
business of cutting in the whale claiming precedence over everything
else just then. The preliminary proceedings consisted of rigging the
"cutting stage." This was composed of two stout planks a foot wide and
ten feet long, the inner ends of which were suspended by strong ropes
over the ship's side about four feet from the water, while the outer
extremities were upheld by tackles from the main rigging, and a small
crane abreast the try-works.

These planks were about thirty feet apart, their two outer ends being
connected by a massive plank, which was securely bolted to them. A
handrail about as high as a man's waist, supported by light iron
stanchions, ran the full length of this plank on the side nearest the
ship, the whole fabric forming an admirable standing-place from whence
the officers might, standing in comparative comfort, cut and carve at
the great mass below to their hearts' content.

So far the prize had been simply held alongside by the whale-line,
which at death had been "rove" through a hole cut in the solid gristle
of the tail; but now it became necessary to secure the carcass to the
ship in some more permanent fashion. Therefore, a massive chain like a
small ship's cable was brought forward, and in a very ingenious way,
by means of a tiny buoy and a hand-lead, passed round the body, one
end brought through a ring in the other, and hauled upon until it
fitted tight round the "small" or part of the whale next the broad
spread of the tail. The free end of the fluke-chain was then passed in
through a mooring-pipe forward, firmly secured to a massive bitt at
the heel of the bowsprit (the fluke-chain-bitt), and all was ready.

If ... too much stress has been laid upon the smashing of our own boat
and consequent sufferings, while little or no notice was taken of the
kindred disaster to Mistah Jones' vessel, my excuse must be that the
experience "filled me right up to the chin," as the mate concisely, if
inelegantly, put it. Poor Goliath was indeed to be pitied, for his
well-known luck and capacity as a whaleman seemed on this occasion to
have quite deserted him. Not only had his boat been stove upon first
getting on to the whale, but he hadn't even had a run for his money.
It appeared that upon striking his whale, a small, lively cow, she had
at once "settled," allowing the boat to run over her; but just as they
were passing, she rose, gently enough, her pointed hump piercing the
thin skin of half-inch cedar as if it had been cardboard. She settled
again immediately, leaving a hole behind her a foot long by six inches
wide, which effectually put a stop to all further fishing operations
on the part of Goliath and his merry men for that day, at any rate. It
was all so quiet, and so tame and so stupid, no wonder Mistah
Jones felt savage. When Captain Slocum's fluent profanity flickered
around him, including vehemently all he might be supposed to have any
respect for, he did not even look as if he would like to talk back;
he only looked sick and tired of being himself.

The third mate, again, was of a different category altogether. He had
distinguished himself by missing every opportunity of getting near a
whale while there was a "loose" one about, and then "saving" the crew
of Goliath's boat, who were really in no danger whatever. His iniquity
was too great to be dealt with by mere bad language. He crept about
like a homeless dog--much, I am afraid, to my secret glee, for I
couldn't help remembering his untiring cruelty to the green hands on
first leaving port.

In consequence of these little drawbacks we were not a very jovial
crowd forward or aft. Not that hilarity was ever particularly
noticeable among us, but just now there was a very decided sense of
wrong-doing over us all, and a general fear that each of us was about
to pay the penalty due to some other delinquent. But fortunately there
was work to be done. Oh, blessed work! how many awkward situations you
have extricated people from! How many distracted brains have you
soothed and restored, by your steady, irresistible pressure of duty to
be done and brooking of no delay!

The first thing to be done was to cut the whale's head off. This
operation, involving the greatest amount of labor in the whole of the
cutting-in, was taken in hand by the first and second mates, who,
armed with twelve-foot spades, took their station upon the stage,
leaned over the handrail to steady themselves, and plunged their
weapons vigorously down through the massive neck of the animal,--if
neck it could be said to have,--following a well-defined crease in the
blubber. At the same time the other officers passed a heavy chain
sling around the long, narrow lower jaw, hooking one of the big
cutting tackle into it, the "fall" of which was then taken to the
windlass and hove tight, turning the whale on her back. A deep cut was
then made on both sides of the rising jaw, the windlass was kept
going, and gradually the whole of the throat was raised high enough
for a hole to be cut through its mass, into which the strap of the
second cutting tackle was inserted, and secured by passing a huge
toggle of oak through its eye. The second tackle was then hove taut,
and the jaw, with a large piece of blubber attached, was cut off from
the body with a boarding-knife, a tool not unlike a cutlass blade set
into a three-foot-long wooden handle.

Upon being severed the whole piece swung easily inboard and was
lowered on deck. The fast tackle was now hove upon while the third
mate on the stage cut down diagonally into the blubber on the body,
which the purchase ripped off in a broad strip or "blanket" about five
feet wide and a foot thick. Meanwhile the other two officers carved
away vigorously at the head, varying their labors by cutting a hole
right through the snout. This when completed received a heavy chain
for the purpose of securing the head. When the blubber had been about
half stripped off the body, a halt was called in order that the work
of cutting off the head might be finished, for it was a task of
incredible difficulty. It was accomplished at last, and the mass
floated astern by a stout rope, after which the windlass pawls
clattered merrily, the "blankets" rose in quick succession, and were
cut off and lowered into the square of the main hatch or
"blubber-room." A short time sufficed to strip off the whole of the
body-blubber, and when at last the tail was reached, the backbone was
cut through, the huge mass of flesh floating away to feed the
innumerable scavengers of the sea. No sooner was the last of the
blubber lowered into the hold than the hatches were put on and the
head hauled up alongside. Both tackles were secured to it and all
hands took to the windlass levers. This was a small cow whale of about
thirty barrels, that is, yielding that amount of oil, so it was just
possible to lift the entire head on board; but as it weighed as much
as three full-grown elephants, it was indeed a heavy lift for even our
united forces, trying our tackle to the utmost. The weather was very
fine, and the ship rolled but little; even then, the strain upon the
mast was terrific, and right glad was I when at last the immense cube
of fat, flesh, and bone was eased inboard and gently lowered on deck.

As soon as it was secured the work of dividing it began. From the
snout a triangular mass was cut, which was more than half pure
spermaceti. This substance was contained in spongy cells held together
by layers of dense white fibre, exceedingly tough and elastic, and
called by the whalers "white-horse." The whole mass, or "junk" as it
is called, was hauled away to the ship's side and firmly lashed to the
bulwarks for the time being, so that it might not "take charge" of the
deck during the rest of the operations.

The upper part of the head was now slit open lengthwise, disclosing an
oblong cistern or "case" full of liquid spermaceti, clear as water.
This was bailed out with buckets into a tank, concreting as it cooled
into a wax-like substance, bland and tasteless. There being now
nothing more remaining about the skull of any value, the lashings were
loosed, and the first leeward roll sent the great mass plunging
overboard with a mighty splash. It sank like a stone, eagerly followed
by a few small sharks that were hovering near.

As may be imagined, much oil was running about the deck, for so
saturated was every part of the creature with it that it really gushed
like water during the cutting-up process. None of it was allowed to
run to waste, though, for the scupper-holes which drain the deck were
all carefully plugged, and as soon as the "junk" had been dissected
all the oil was carefully "squeegeed" up and poured into the try-pots.

Two men were now told off as "blubber-room men," whose duty it became
to go below, and squeezing themselves in as best they could between
the greasy masses of fat, cut it up into "horse-pieces" about eighteen
inches long and six inches broad. Doing this they became perfectly
saturated with oil, as if they had taken a bath in a tank of it; for
as the vessel rolled it was impossible to maintain a footing, and
every fall was upon blubber running with oil. A machine of wonderful
construction had been erected on deck in a kind of shallow trough
about six feet long by four feet wide and a foot deep. At some remote
period of time it had no doubt been looked upon as a triumph of
ingenuity, a patent mincing machine. Its action was somewhat like that
of a chaff-cutter, except that the knife was not attached to the
wheel, and only rose and fell, since it was not required to cut right
through the "horse-pieces" with which it was fed. It will be readily
understood that in order to get the oil quickly out of the blubber it
needs to be sliced as thin as possible, but for convenience in
handling the refuse (which is the only fuel used) it is not chopped up
in small pieces, but every "horse-piece" is very deeply scored, as it
were, leaving a thin strip to hold the slices together. This, then,
was the order of work. Two harpooners attended the try-pots,
replenishing them with minced blubber from the hopper at the port
side, and bailing out the sufficiently boiled oil into the great
cooling tank on the starboard. One officer superintended the mincing,
another exercised a general supervision over all. There was no man at
the wheel and no look-out, for the vessel was "hove-to" under two
close-reefed topsails and foretopmast-staysail, with the wheel lashed
hard down. A look-out man was unnecessary, since we could not run
anybody down, and if anybody ran us down, it would only be because all
hands were asleep, for the glare of our try-works fire, to say nothing
of the blazing cresset before mentioned, could have been seen for many
miles. So we toiled watch and watch, six hours on and six off, the
work never ceasing for an instant night or day. Though the work was
hard and dirty, and the discomfort of being so continually wet through
with oil great, there was only one thing dangerous about the whole
business. That was the job of filling and shifting the huge casks of
oil. Some of these were of enormous size, containing three hundred and
fifty gallons when full, and the work of moving them about the greasy
deck of a rolling ship was attended with a terrible amount of risk.
For only four men at most could get fair hold of a cask, and when she
took it into her silly old hull to start rolling, just as we had got
one half-way across the deck, with nothing to grip your feet, and the
knowledge that one stumbling man would mean a sudden slide of the ton
and a half weight, and a little heap of mangled corpses somewhere in
the lee scuppers,--well, one always wanted to be very thankful when the
lashings were safely passed.

The whale being a small one, as before noted, the whole business was
over within three days, and the decks scrubbed and re-scrubbed until
they had quite regained their normal whiteness. The oil was poured by
means of a funnel and long canvas hose into the casks stowed in the
ground tier at the bottom of the ship, and the gear, all carefully
cleaned and neatly "stopped up," stowed snugly away below again.

This long and elaborate process is quite different from that followed
on board the Arctic whale ships, whose voyages are of short duration,
and who content themselves with merely cutting the blubber up small
and bringing it home to have the oil expressed. But the awful putrid
mass discharged from a Greenlander's hold is of a very different
quality and value, apart from the nature of the substance, from the
clear and sweet oil which after three years in cask is landed from a
south-seaman as inoffensive in smell and flavor as the day it was
shipped. No attempt is made to separate the oil and spermaceti beyond
boiling the "head matter," as it is called, by itself first, and
putting it into casks which are not filled up with the body oil.
Spermaceti exists in all the oil, especially that from the dorsal
hump; but it is left for the refiners ashore to extract and leave the
oil quite free from any admixture of the wax-like substance, which
causes it to become solid at temperatures considerably above the

Uninteresting as the preceding description may be, it is impossible to
understand anything of the economy of a south-sea whaler without
giving it, and I have felt it the more necessary because of the scanty
notice given to it in the only two works published on the subject,
both of them highly technical, and written for scientific purposes by
medical men. Therefore I hope to be forgiven if I have tried the
patience of my readers by any prolixity.

It will not, of course, have escaped the reader's notice that I have
not hitherto attempted to give any details concerning the structure of
the whale just dealt with. The omission is intentional. During this,
our first attempt at real whaling, my mind was far too disturbed by
the novelty and danger of the position in which I found myself for the
first time, for me to pay any intelligent attention to the party of
the second part.

But I may safely promise that from the workman's point of view, the
habits, manners, and build of the whales shall be faithfully described
as I saw them during my long acquaintance with them, earnestly hoping
that if my story be not as technical or scientific as that of Drs.
Bennett and Beale, it may be found fully as accurate and reliable; and
perhaps the reader, being like myself a mere layman, so to speak, may
be better able to appreciate description free from scientific formula
and nine-jointed words.

Two things I did notice on this occasion which I will briefly allude
to before closing this chapter. One was the peculiar skin of the
whale. It was a bluish-black, and as thin as gold-beater's skin; so
thin, indeed, and tender, that it was easily scraped off with the
fingernail. Immediately beneath it, upon the surface of the blubber,
was a layer or coating of what for want of a better simile I must call
fine, short fur, although unlike fur it had no roots or apparently any
hold upon the blubber. Neither was it attached to the skin which
covered it; in fact, it seemed merely a sort of packing between the
skin and the surface of the thick layer of solid fat which covered the
whole area of the whale's body. The other matter which impressed me
was the peculiarity of the teeth. For up till that time I had held, in
common with most seamen, and landsmen, too, for that matter, the
prevailing idea that a "whale" lived by "suction" (although I did not
at all know what that meant), and that it was impossible for him to
swallow a herring. Yet here was a mouth manifestly intended for
greater things in the way of gastronomy than herrings; nor did it
require more than the most casual glances to satisfy one of so obvious
a fact. Then the teeth were heroic in size, protruding some four or
five inches from the gum, and solidly set more than that into its firm
and compact substance. They were certainly not intended for
mastication, being, where thickest, three inches apart, and tapering
to a short point, curving slightly backwards. In this specimen, a
female, and therefore small, as I have said, there were twenty of them
on each side, the last three or four near the gullet being barely
visible above the gum.

Another most convincing reason why no mastication could have been
possible was that there were no teeth visible in the upper jaw.
Opposed to each of the teeth was a socket where a tooth should
apparently have been, and this was conclusive evidence of the soft and
yielding nature of the great creature's food. But there were signs
that at some period of the development of the whale it had possessed a
double row of teeth, because at the bottom of these upper sockets we
found in a few cases what seemed to be an abortive tooth, not one that
was growing, because they had no roots, but a survival of teeth that
had once been perfect and useful, but from disuse, or lack of
necessity for them, had gradually ceased to come to maturity. The
interior of the mouth and throat was of a livid white, and the tongue
was quite small for so large an animal. It was almost incapable of
movement, being somewhat like a fowl's. Certainly it could not have
been protruded even from the angle of the mouth, much less have
extended along the parapet of that lower mandible, which reminded one
of the beak of some mighty albatross or stork.

Next: Going To Sea A Hundred Years Ago

Previous: Narrative Of The Mutiny Of The Bounty

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