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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/848

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

had been reserved from the previous voyage. They burned with a fierce and steady blaze, leaving but a trace of ash. I was then informed by one of the harpooners that no other fuel was ever used for boiling blubber at any time, there being always amply sufficient for the purpose.

We were now in the haunts of the sperm whale, or "cachalot," a brilliant lookout being continually kept for any signs of their appearing. One officer and a foremast hand were continually on watch during the day in the main crow's-nest, one harpooner and a seaman in the fore one. A bounty of ten pounds of tobacco was offered to whoever should first report a whale, should it be secured; consequently there were no sleepy eyes up there.

At last, one beautiful day, the boats were lowered and manned, and away went the greenies on their first practical lesson in the business of the voyage. There were two greenies in each boat, they being so arranged that whenever one of them "caught a crab," which of course was about every other stroke, his failure made little difference to the boat's progress. They learned very fast under the terrible imprecations and storm of blows from the iron-fisted and iron-hearted officers, so that before the day was out the skipper was satisfied of our ability to deal with a "fish" should he be lucky enough to "raise" one. I was, in virtue of my experience, placed at the after oar in the mate's boat, where it was my duty to attend to the "main sheet" when the sail was set, where also I had the benefit of the lightest oar except the small one used by the harpooner in the bow.

The very next day after our first exhaustive boat drill, a school of "blackfish" was reported from aloft, and with great glee the officers prepared for what they considered a rattling day's fun.

The blackfish (Phocœna sp.) is a small toothed whale, not at all unlike a miniature cachalot, except that its head is rounded at the front, while its jaw is not long and straight, but bowed. It is as frolicsome as the porpoise, gamboling about in schools of from twenty to fifty or more, as if really delighted to be alive. Its average size is from ten to twenty feet long and seven or eight feet in girth; weight, from one to three tons. Blubber about three inches thick, while the head is almost all oil, so that a good rich specimen will make between one and two barrels of oil of medium quality.

We lowered and left the ship, pulling right toward the school, the noise they were making in their fun effectually preventing them from hearing our approach. It is etiquette to allow the mate's boat first place, unless his crew is so weak as to be unable to hold their own; but as the mate always has first pick of the men this seldom happens. So, as usual, we were first, and soon I heard the order given, "Stand up, Louey, and let 'em have it!" Sure enough, here we were right