Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 90.djvu/500

This page needs to be proofread.


484

��Popular Science Monthly

���The first encounter with a devilfish came suddenly with a most terrific shock which threw the four men who were standing, to their hands and knees.

"The boat, which was running at full speed, had met the head of a Mania, rising to the surface and coming toward us at moderate speed. The shock of the collision was so great that it almost stopped the headway of the boat, and its bow was lifted more than a foot out of the water; but our speed carried the boat up over the high part of the back of the Mania just as the two great black fins were flung madly into the air, almost meeting over our heads and deluging us with many gallons of water. Then the two fins crashed down on the surface of the sea with a noise that could have been heard for miles, and the Manta in- stantly repeated the performance as I yelled to the engineer, 'Keep her go- ing.' Just as the boat was sliding from the back of the crea- ture, another huge Manta rushed up from below, striking full on the port bow with sufficient force to spin the boat aroundjuntil its direc- tion was almost re- versed. At one time all four of the great black pectoral fins were towering above the men in the boat, and large quantities of water were flung into the bottom. First the head and then the stern of the boat was highest as it was pitched from side to side, and then the chug, chug, chug of the racing propeller blades could be heard as they gashed the tip of the pectoral fin of the first Manta. The engineer kept the engine going at full speed, but the propeller blades were not catching the water, and for a short distance the boat was carried upon the broad backs of the two monster devils of the sea.

"Scarcely a word was spoken until, in the midst of a wild upheaval of the two madly frightened Manta beneath us, the boat was flung from their backs and was turning over, when I shouted, 'High side!' which order was instantly obeyed, two of the men, except for an arm and a leg, throwing themselves entirely out of the boat.

"The boat struck head first and shipped a lot of water over her bow, but we were now clear of the two Manta, who raced together on the surface for a short distance."

Almost in an instant the boat was cleared of surplus water, harpoon and ropes were rearranged and Mr. Coles and his crew were in pursuit of the two Manta, when sud- denly the fish went below. In the distance he saw three specimens, but all of them were under thirteen feet in width ; then the first two came in sight again, and after that they were seen many times. The first

��It is possible to kill one of these monsters with Mr. Coles' specially devised spade lance by a single well- aimed thrust just severing the spine back of the brain

��showed the bleeding fin tip which had been cut by the propeller, and its mate had lost about eight inches from the tip of one of its fins in some former encounter.

"These two Manta appeared to have lost all fear of the boat and its occupants; ' we were many times in touching distance of them and they both passed under the boat several times. The first was a female, well above fifteen feet in width, and I was about to attack it, when I saw, nearly a mile away the largest Manta that I have ever seen. It was on the surface so I ran the boat down to it, and never have I wanted to kill any one thing quite as badly as I wanted to kill that great fish, for it was fully twenty-four feet in width and must have weighed not less than twelve thousand pounds, i was uncertain how- ever, as to its gender, and a female was ab- solutely neces- sary, also I had only fifteen hun- dred pounds of plas- ter of Paris — not enough to cast such a huge beast; but the principal drawback was that we could not tow such a mon- ster with the little launch and there was no other boat in sight."

For more than two hours Mr. Coles and his crew moved among the six devilfish, hoping that some other boat would appear to help in towing the carcass of the big one. None came and finally Coles decided to kill the first into which he had run.

"We moved to the attack. As she was passing, quartering across our bow, I gave the word. Charlie and I drove our harpoons deep into her broad back; then, with a great splash of her fins, she plunged below and ahead. As the drogue was snatched under, it threw water high in the air and the shock was so great that it brought the great ray to the surface in that awkward, wheeling, edgewise leap that Manta make, after the manner of a wheel turning over. Before its tail had reached the per- pendicular, I and all of my crew saw an embryo, folded in cylindrical form, thrown high in the air, and I heard Captain Jack exclaim, 'Did you see that? The young one has a tail longer than the old one!' The embryo quickly unfolded its fins and, catching the air horizontally, its descent was retarded until after the mother fish had disappeared beneath the surface.

"When I had hurled my harpoon and reached behind me, the spade lance had been instantly placed in my hand, but as I saw this embryo feebly flapping on the surface, I passed back the spade lance and yelled 'Give me an iron, quick!' (the harpoon is always called an iron) and while not five seconds were taken in the exchange, that was too

�� �