Porpoises bent upon voyages of their own pass us at intervals. At each turn in the water we see their huge fins and shining, convex bodies. The porpoise describes a graceful, undulatory line in its course through the water; now appearing at the surface and immediately diving below it, showing itself only as it rounds the crest of each wave. When a number rise together in line, their dorsal fins and backs alone being visible, you are reminded of a great saw with huge, incurved teeth. Here, again, are others apparently at play. How they lash the water into spray with their powerful tails! Now one shoots like an arrow into the air; another jumps, and clearing the water for several feet, enters it again with a plunge. This may be anything but play, however. A whale or some other enemy is perhaps giving them chase, and they are fleeing for their lives.
We saw several whales during this voyage, and on one evening two crossed our bows. They swam side by side, rolling along at an easy gait, much like that of the porpoise, and spouting a jet of spray as they came to the surface to breathe.
At another time a very large school of porpoises was seen advancing toward our vessel. There must have been several hundred of them. They formed a long, not very deep line, swimming in several squads of fifty or more each, and crossed our course without altering theirs. Some passed by the stem or bow, or with a plunge shot under the vessel as if it were a plank. Both dolphins and porpoises like to race with a ship, although it costs many their lives. You can see their brown, spotted bodies and blunt noses as with great speed they shoot to this and that side of the cutwater. The faster the ship goes the greater seems to be the sport. The porpoise is little more than a powerfully muscular tail, developed at the expense of the rest of the body. Most sailing craft carry a spear or harpoon, for the sailors not only like the excitement of taking these animals, but also find in their flesh a welcome variety to the monotonous ship fare.
One morning, as I stood with the captain on the forecastle deck, he attaching his harpoon line as I watched the porpoises, I saw a large loggerhead turtle under the bow, his brown back being barely under water. He appeared to be asleep, but in a moment the vessel struck him, and down he slowly paddled out of sight. The spear did not happen to be in readiness, so that our turtle soup that day was a strictly Barmecide dish.
The number of small invertebrate animals which come to the surface on calm evenings is quite astonishing. Once in May, while in the vicinity of the Gulf Stream, near the Florida coast, there appeared regularly at about four o'clock in the afternoon countless swarms of a brown jellyfish or medusa—"sea thimbles," as sailors call all animals of this class—and this species (Linerges)