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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/77

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THE SHOVEL-NOSED SHARK.

over the side, they were as usual very soon disposed of by his affectionate friends and relations, waiting near, and delighted to profit by the good fortune. The flesh is not bad eating when young.

The shark is always attended by a small blue pilot-fish, which swims about five yards in front of him, and evidently guides him and warns him of danger, his unwieldy size and length making it difficult for him to turn. The pilot-fish appears to do his kindly offices from pure friendship, with no filthy lucre of gain; but he probably benefits in some way by the leavings of his great ally, or the small fry which gather round a dead prey. There is another (strictly speaking) parasite which attends the shark—the sucker-fish, about sixteen inches long, which fastens itself on to him by a curious patch at the back of its head, not unlike the sole of an India-rubber shoe: this adheres with such force that a strong man can hardly drag the fish away when it has thus fastened itself to the deck. Sometimes twelve or fifteen of them may be seen hanging on to one shark. Probably they find it convenient to seek their food, thus traveling, as it were, on their own carriage, free of cost or trouble, and rushing through the water at a rate which their unassisted exertions would certainly never attain.

Fig. 2.
PSM V04 D077 Shark teeth.jpg
Fig. 2. Sharks' Teeth.

But, on the other hand, they must endure some very hard quarters of an hour, when their great friend gets into trouble, helplessly hanging on to his fortunes as they are.

The perils of the sea are certainly doubled in the regions where these dreadful jaws are to be found. And the certainty of such a death was one of the most touching parts of the simple heroism shown by the soldiers on board the Birkenhead. As is well known, she was a transport-vessel employed to take out detachments to various regiments in South Africa, with the wives and children. She struck on a pointed rock near Simon's Bay, and it was soon found impossible to save her. The men were drawn up on deck by their commanding officer, and not a man stirred from his place as the women and children were put into the few boats and sent off in safety to the land. Then, standing as firmly as if on parade, with the sharks swimming around, the whole body of men, with their officers, went down in the ill-fated ship, very few of them being able to reach the shore.

There are more gallant things done in quiet, unobserved moments, and obscure corners of the earth, even than before the enemy. It