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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/431

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THE GREAT MARINE VERTEBRATES

most extraordinary weapon ever used by man in his pursuit of helpless animals, is doing its deadly work at a rate that does not permit delay.

No effective measure has yet been taken; although man has actually made his first pause in the brutal butchery and reckless waste of the whale kind, begun a thousand years ago, and now nearing an end hastened in geometric proportion by modern invention.

The capture of the finback and other whales is indeed forbidden in the Norwegian fjords, but this is of little avail; for, unfortunately, the whales visiting the Scandinavian coast to calve and feed their young make a round into the far northern waters about the Bear Island and Spitzbergen, and are there slaughtered just as inevitably. When I was at the Bear Island whaling establishment early in July last I was informed that up to that time the season's catch already numbered forty-seven; and the evidence on every hand, the several thousand barrels of oil on the hillside, the skeleton-lined shore, the thousands of carrion-eating birds, and the trying-out works that sent up an odor that literally smelled to heaven as it floated away for miles over mountain, valley and snow field—all these told the story of short-sighted human greed better than records.

This reckless arctic hunt is now largely confined to the finback, to Balænoptera borealis, to the gigantic blue whale, Balænopteris musculus, and to Megaptera longimana. It is a bloody hunt, occurring when the females, which show throughout an extraordinary affection, are suckling their young.

The most recently attacked form is the bottle-nose, Hyperoodon rostratus; and just twenty-seven years have brought this superb gregarious animal to the verge of extinction; for although worth but a few hundred dollars each, this species is easy to catch. Unlike the fierce and wary "cachalot," its wondering curiosity and lack of fear makes it easy prey.

For the greater part, however, the whale butchery is, for a second time, being transferred to the Antarctic, where, after an interim of fifty years, whales are again more plentiful, showing very conclusively the need of exact study of the habits of the whale and an international police patrol. So far as we are monetarily concerned, it may be stated that the whaling industry of the United States, north and south, from 1835 to the wane of the fisheries about 1872, yielded oil and bone worth $272,000,000; this vast sum being the net from 19,943 voyages with a capture of 300,000 whales.

The total capture of all the species of whale mentioned above may well fall short of 1,000,000 individuals—certainly a limited number when we consider a hunt that has occupied the maritime nations of the globe for quite 1,000 years, and a number, moreover, that warns us how very liable to extinction are all enormous and highly specialized mam-