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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/430

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
Resolved, That the American Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists will aid in any way practicable those measures legislative, international and local which will prevent the now imminent extermination of the great marine vertebrates, especially the cetaceans and manatees, seals, green and other turtles on the coasts of the United States, or on the high seas.

This resolution was also adopted as its own by the American Association for the Advancement of Science at its Chicago meeting, and very similar action has been taken by the New York Zoological Society looking to needed action by congress. Many evidences of a world-wide interest are at hand.

 

The Thousand-year Hunt of the Whales

The first of the great cetaceans to be hunted, was the Biscayan whale, Balæna glacialis. Its capture was begun in the ninth century by the Bisques and soon taken up by others. Following extermination in the Gascoigne Bay, the hunt was slowly pushed northward to Finland and Iceland, and along the western Atlantic; it being even possible that whalers visited the Newfoundland shores long previous to the discoveries of Columbus. The relentless warfare to which the Biscayan whale was subjected for hundreds of years culminated in the sixteenth century and only stopped short of total extinction through the extension of the fisheries to the far north and discovery of the greater value of the Greenland whale, Balæna mysticetus.

The capture of the latter began in 1612 in the open waters between Spitzbergen and Greenland, and soon extended to Davis Strait and Baffin Bay. After two hundred years of unceasing pursuit this whale was driven to the remote places of the Arctic Ocean, and is now so nearly extinct that its recovery in numbers is doubtful. It may be too late to save this form; although from 1669 to 1778 it yielded to 14,167 Dutch vessels 57,590 catches worth $16,000,000 net. But this is only one of the many killings of the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs, and a cruel enough one too. Scoresby says, in speaking of this timid whale of strictly arctic range, that it shows an affection for its young which "would do honor to the superior intelligence of human beings"; but being a trader as well as observer he adds that "the value of the prize ... can not be sacrificed to the feelings of compassion!"

After the virtual extermination of these two more valuable species the merciless hunt was diverted to the much wilder finback whale, Balænoptera physalis, now in turn with still other forms destined to extinction if restrictive measures are not soon taken. For in these days of steam, and electric light that robs the long arctic night of its terrors, the whale chase goes on very fast. The shot harpoon,[1] the


  1. Invented by Sven Foyn about 1870, by which time, owing to wildness and scarcity of the whales, the older methods of capture were no longer capable of returning a profit. Foyn was at first a sealer.