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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/857

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LIFE ON A SOUTH SEA WHALER.

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 baled out with buckets into a tank, concreting as it cooled into a waxlike 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 mass of fat, cut it up into "horse-pieces" about eighteen inches long and six inches square. 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 baling 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. 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