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Chapter 12 Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales

  • DURING THE NIGHT of March 13–14, the Nautilus resumed its southward heading.
  • Once it was abreast of Cape Horn, I thought it would strike west of the cape, make for Pacific seas, and complete its tour of the world. It did nothing o_he sort and kept moving toward the southernmost regions. So where was i_ound? The pole? That was insanity. I was beginning to think that th_aptain's recklessness more than justified Ned Land's worst fears.
  • For a good while the Canadian had said nothing more to me about his escap_lans. He had become less sociable, almost sullen. I could see how heavil_his protracted imprisonment was weighing on him. I could feel the ange_uilding in him. Whenever he encountered the captain, his eyes would flicke_ith dark fire, and I was in constant dread that his natural vehemence woul_ause him to do something rash.
  • That day, March 14, he and Conseil managed to find me in my stateroom. I aske_hem the purpose of their visit.
  • "To put a simple question to you, sir," the Canadian answered me.
  • "Go on, Ned."
  • "How many men do you think are on board the Nautilus?"
  • "I'm unable to say, my friend."
  • "It seems to me," Ned Land went on, "that it wouldn't take much of a crew t_un a ship like this one."
  • "Correct," I replied. "Under existing conditions some ten men at the mos_hould be enough to operate it."
  • "All right," the Canadian said, "then why should there be any more than that?"
  • "Why?" I answered.
  • I stared at Ned Land, whose motives were easy to guess.
  • "Because," I said, "if I can trust my hunches, if I truly understand th_aptain's way of life, his Nautilus isn't simply a ship. It's meant to be _efuge for people like its commander, people who have severed all ties wit_he shore."
  • "Perhaps," Conseil said, "but in a nutshell, the Nautilus can hold only _ertain number of men, so couldn't Master estimate their maximum?"
  • "How, Conseil?"
  • "By calculating it. Master is familiar with the ship's capacity, hence th_mount of air it contains; on the other hand, Master knows how much air eac_an consumes in the act of breathing, and he can compare this data with th_act that the Nautilus must rise to the surface every twenty–four hours … "
  • Conseil didn't finish his sentence, but I could easily see what he was drivin_t.
  • "I follow you," I said. "But while they're simple to do, such calculations ca_ive only a very uncertain figure."
  • "No problem," the Canadian went on insistently.
  • "Then here's how to calculate it," I replied. "In one hour each man consume_he oxygen contained in 100 liters of air, hence during twenty–four hours th_xygen contained in 2,400 liters. Therefore, we must look for the multiple o_,400 liters of air that gives us the amount found in the Nautilus."
  • "Precisely," Conseil said.
  • "Now then," I went on, "the Nautilus's capacity is 1,500 metric tons, and tha_f a ton is 1,000 liters, so the Nautilus holds 1,500,000 liters of air, which, divided by 2,400 … "
  • I did a quick pencil calculation.
  • "… gives us the quotient of 625. Which is tantamount to saying that the ai_ontained in the Nautilus would be exactly enough for 625 men over twenty–fou_ours."
  • "625!" Ned repeated.
  • "But rest assured," I added, "that between passengers, seamen, or officers, w_on't total one–tenth of that figure."
  • "Which is still too many for three men!" Conseil muttered.
  • "So, my poor Ned, I can only counsel patience."
  • "And," Conseil replied, "even more than patience, resignation."
  • Conseil had said the true word.
  • "Even so," he went on, "Captain Nemo can't go south forever! He'll surely hav_o stop, if only at the Ice Bank, and he'll return to the seas o_ivilization! Then it will be time to resume Ned Land's plans."
  • The Canadian shook his head, passed his hand over his brow, made no reply, an_eft us.
  • "With Master's permission, I'll make an observation to him," Conseil then tol_e. "Our poor Ned broods about all the things he can't have. He's haunted b_is former life. He seems to miss everything that's denied us. He's obsesse_y his old memories and it's breaking his heart. We must understand him. Wha_oes he have to occupy him here? Nothing. He isn't a scientist like Master, and he doesn't share our enthusiasm for the sea's wonders. He would ris_nything just to enter a tavern in his own country!"
  • To be sure, the monotony of life on board must have seemed unbearable to th_anadian, who was accustomed to freedom and activity. It was a rare event tha_ould excite him. That day, however, a development occurred that reminded hi_f his happy years as a harpooner.
  • Near eleven o'clock in the morning, while on the surface of the ocean, th_autilus fell in with a herd of baleen whales. This encounter didn't surpris_e, because I knew these animals were being hunted so relentlessly that the_ook refuge in the ocean basins of the high latitudes.
  • In the maritime world and in the realm of geographic exploration, whales hav_layed a major role. This is the animal that first dragged the Basques in it_ake, then Asturian Spaniards, Englishmen, and Dutchmen, emboldening the_gainst the ocean's perils, and leading them to the ends of the earth. Balee_hales like to frequent the southernmost and northernmost seas. Old legend_ven claim that these cetaceans led fishermen to within a mere seven league_f the North Pole. Although this feat is fictitious, it will someday com_rue, because it's likely that by hunting whales in the Arctic or Antarcti_egions, man will finally reach this unknown spot on the globe.
  • We were seated on the platform next to a tranquil sea. The month of March, since it's the equivalent of October in these latitudes, was giving us som_ine autumn days. It was the Canadian—on this topic he was never mistaken—wh_ighted a baleen whale on the eastern horizon. If you looked carefully, yo_ould see its blackish back alternately rise and fall above the waves, fiv_iles from the Nautilus.
  • "Wow!" Ned Land exclaimed. "If I were on board a whaler, there's an encounte_hat would be great fun! That's one big animal! Look how high its blowhole_re spouting all that air and steam! Damnation! Why am I chained to this hun_f sheet iron!"
  • "Why, Ned!" I replied. "You still aren't over your old fishing urges?"
  • "How could a whale fisherman forget his old trade, sir? Who could ever ge_ired of such exciting hunting?"
  • "You've never fished these seas, Ned?"
  • "Never, sir. Just the northernmost seas, equally in the Bering Strait and th_avis Strait."
  • "So the southern right whale is still unknown to you. Until now it's th_owhead whale you've hunted, and it won't risk going past the warm waters o_he equator."
  • "Oh, professor, what are you feeding me?" the Canadian answered in a tolerabl_keptical tone.
  • "I'm feeding you the facts."
  • "By thunder! In '65, just two and a half years ago, I to whom you speak, _yself stepped onto the carcass of a whale near Greenland, and its flank stil_arried the marked harpoon of a whaling ship from the Bering Sea. Now I as_ou, after it had been wounded west of America, how could this animal b_illed in the east, unless it had cleared the equator and doubled Cape Horn o_he Cape of Good Hope?"
  • "I agree with our friend Ned," Conseil said, "and I'm waiting to hear ho_aster will reply to him."
  • "Master will reply, my friends, that baleen whales are localized, according t_pecies, within certain seas that they never leave. And if one of thes_nimals went from the Bering Strait to the Davis Strait, it's quite simpl_ecause there's some passageway from the one sea to the other, either alon_he coasts of Canada or Siberia."
  • "You expect us to fall for that?" the Canadian asked, tipping me a wink.
  • "If Master says so," Conseil replied.
  • "Which means," the Canadian went on, "since I've never fished these waterways, I don't know the whales that frequent them?"
  • "That's what I've been telling you, Ned."
  • "All the more reason to get to know them," Conseil answered.
  • "Look! Look!" the Canadian exclaimed, his voice full of excitement. "It'_pproaching! It's coming toward us! It's thumbing its nose at me! It knows _an't do a blessed thing to it!"
  • Ned stamped his foot. Brandishing an imaginary harpoon, his hands positivel_rembled.
  • "These cetaceans," he asked, "are they as big as the ones in the northernmos_eas?"
  • "Pretty nearly, Ned."
  • "Because I've seen big baleen whales, sir, whales measuring up to 100 fee_ong! I've even heard that those rorqual whales off the Aleutian Island_ometimes get over 150 feet."
  • "That strikes me as exaggerated," I replied. "Those animals are only member_f the genus Balaenoptera furnished with dorsal fins, and like sperm whales, they're generally smaller than the bowhead whale."
  • "Oh!" exclaimed the Canadian, whose eyes hadn't left the ocean. "It's gettin_loser, it's coming into the Nautilus's waters!"
  • Then, going on with his conversation:
  • "You talk about sperm whales," he said, "as if they were little beasts! Bu_here are stories of gigantic sperm whales. They're shrewd cetaceans. I hea_hat some will cover themselves with algae and fucus plants. People mistak_hem for islets. They pitch camp on top, make themselves at home, light _ire—"
  • "Build houses," Conseil said.
  • "Yes, funny man," Ned Land replied. "Then one fine day the animal dives an_rags all its occupants down into the depths."
  • "Like in the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor," I answered, laughing. "Oh, Mr.
  • Land, you're addicted to tall tales! What sperm whales you're handing us! _ope you don't really believe in them!"
  • "Mr. Naturalist," the Canadian replied in all seriousness, "when it comes t_hales, you can believe anything! (Look at that one move! Look at it stealin_way!) People claim these animals can circle around the world in just fiftee_ays."
  • "I don't say nay."
  • "But what you undoubtedly don't know, Professor Aronnax, is that at th_eginning of the world, whales traveled even quicker."
  • "Oh really, Ned! And why so?"
  • "Because in those days their tails moved side to side, like those on fish, i_ther words, their tails were straight up, thrashing the water from left t_ight, right to left. But spotting that they swam too fast, our Creato_wisted their tails, and ever since they've been thrashing the waves up an_own, at the expense of their speed."
  • "Fine, Ned," I said, then resurrected one of the Canadian's expressions. "Yo_xpect us to fall for that?"
  • "Not too terribly," Ned Land replied, "and no more than if I told you ther_re whales that are 300 feet long and weigh 1,000,000 pounds."
  • "That's indeed considerable," I said. "But you must admit that certai_etaceans do grow to significant size, since they're said to supply as much a_20 metric tons of oil."
  • "That I've seen," the Canadian said.
  • "I can easily believe it, Ned, just as I can believe that certain balee_hales equal 100 elephants in bulk. Imagine the impact of such a mass if i_ere launched at full speed!"
  • "Is it true," Conseil asked, "that they can sink ships?"
  • "Ships? I doubt it," I replied. "However, they say that in 1820, right i_hese southern seas, a baleen whale rushed at the Essex and pushed it backwar_t a speed of four meters per second. Its stern was flooded, and the Esse_ent down fast."
  • Ned looked at me with a bantering expression.
  • "Speaking for myself," he said, "I once got walloped by a whale's tail—in m_ongboat, needless to say. My companions and I were launched to an altitude o_ix meters. But next to the Professor's whale, mine was just a baby."
  • "Do these animals live a long time?" Conseil asked.
  • "A thousand years," the Canadian replied without hesitation.
  • "And how, Ned," I asked, "do you know that's so?"
  • "Because people say so."
  • "And why do people say so?"
  • "Because people know so."
  • "No, Ned! People don't know so, they suppose so, and here's the logic wit_hich they back up their beliefs. When fishermen first hunted whales 400 year_go, these animals grew to bigger sizes than they do today. Reasonably enough, it's assumed that today's whales are smaller because they haven't had time t_each their full growth. That's why the Count de Buffon's encyclopedia say_hat cetaceans can live, and even must live, for a thousand years. Yo_nderstand?"
  • Ned Land didn't understand. He no longer even heard me. That baleen whale kep_oming closer. His eyes devoured it.
  • "Oh!" he exclaimed. "It's not just one whale, it's ten, twenty, a whole gam!
  • And I can't do a thing! I'm tied hand and foot!"
  • "But Ned my friend," Conseil said, "why not ask Captain Nemo for permission t_unt—"
  • Before Conseil could finish his sentence, Ned Land scooted down the hatch an_an to look for the captain. A few moments later, the two of them reappeare_n the platform.
  • Captain Nemo observed the herd of cetaceans cavorting on the waters a mil_rom the Nautilus.
  • "They're southern right whales," he said. "There goes the fortune of a whol_haling fleet."
  • "Well, sir," the Canadian asked, "couldn't I hunt them, just so I don't forge_y old harpooning trade?"
  • "Hunt them? What for?" Captain Nemo replied. "Simply to destroy them? We hav_o use for whale oil on this ship."
  • "But, sir," the Canadian went on, "in the Red Sea you authorized us to chase _ugong!"
  • "There it was an issue of obtaining fresh meat for my crew. Here it would b_illing for the sake of killing. I'm well aware that's a privilege reserve_or mankind, but I don't allow such murderous pastimes. When your peers, Mr.
  • Land, destroy decent, harmless creatures like the southern right whale or th_owhead whale, they commit a reprehensible offense. Thus they've alread_epopulated all of Baffin Bay, and they'll wipe out a whole class of usefu_nimals. So leave these poor cetaceans alone. They have quite enough natura_nemies, such as sperm whales, swordfish, and sawfish, without you meddlin_ith them."
  • I'll let the reader decide what faces the Canadian made during this lecture o_unting ethics. Furnishing such arguments to a professional harpooner was _aste of words. Ned Land stared at Captain Nemo and obviously missed hi_eaning. But the captain was right. Thanks to the mindless, barbari_loodthirstiness of fishermen, the last baleen whale will someday disappea_rom the ocean.
  • Ned Land whistled "Yankee Doodle" between his teeth, stuffed his hands in hi_ockets, and turned his back on us.
  • Meanwhile Captain Nemo studied the herd of cetaceans, then addressed me:
  • "I was right to claim that baleen whales have enough natural enemies withou_ounting man. These specimens will soon have to deal with mighty opponents.
  • Eight miles to leeward, Professor Aronnax, can you see those blackish speck_oving about?"
  • "Yes, Captain," I replied.
  • "Those are sperm whales, dreadful animals that I've sometimes encountered i_erds of 200 or 300! As for them, they're cruel, destructive beasts, and the_eserve to be exterminated."
  • The Canadian turned swiftly at these last words.
  • "Well, Captain," I said, "on behalf of the baleen whales, there's still time—"
  • "It's pointless to run any risks, professor. The Nautilus will suffice t_isperse these sperm whales. It's armed with a steel spur quite equal to Mr.
  • Land's harpoon, I imagine."
  • The Canadian didn't even bother shrugging his shoulders. Attacking cetacean_ith thrusts from a spur! Who ever heard of such malarkey!
  • "Wait and see, Professor Aronnax," Captain Nemo said. "We'll show you a styl_f hunting with which you aren't yet familiar. We'll take no pity on thes_erocious cetaceans. They're merely mouth and teeth!"
  • Mouth and teeth! There's no better way to describe the long–skulled sper_hale, whose length sometimes exceeds twenty–five meters. The enormous head o_his cetacean occupies about a third of its body. Better armed than a balee_hale, whose upper jaw is adorned solely with whalebone, the sperm whale i_quipped with twenty–five huge teeth that are twenty centimeters high, hav_ylindrical, conical summits, and weigh two pounds each. In the top part o_his enormous head, inside big cavities separated by cartilage, you'll fin_00 to 400 kilograms of that valuable oil called "spermaceti." The sperm whal_s an awkward animal, more tadpole than fish, as Professor Frédol has noted.
  • It's poorly constructed, being "defective," so to speak, over the whole lef_ide of its frame, with good eyesight only in its right eye.
  • Meanwhile that monstrous herd kept coming closer. It had seen the balee_hales and was preparing to attack. You could tell in advance that the sper_hales would be victorious, not only because they were better built fo_ighting than their harmless adversaries, but also because they could sta_onger underwater before returning to breathe at the surface.
  • There was just time to run to the rescue of the baleen whales. The Nautilu_roceeded to midwater. Conseil, Ned, and I sat in front of the lounge windows.
  • Captain Nemo made his way to the helmsman's side to operate his submersible a_n engine of destruction. Soon I felt the beats of our propeller gettin_aster, and we picked up speed.
  • The battle between sperm whales and baleen whales had already begun when th_autilus arrived. It maneuvered to cut into the herd of long–skulle_redators. At first the latter showed little concern at the sight of this ne_onster meddling in the battle. But they soon had to sidestep its thrusts.
  • What a struggle! Ned Land quickly grew enthusiastic and even ended u_pplauding. Brandished in its captain's hands, the Nautilus was simply _earsome harpoon. He hurled it at those fleshy masses and ran them clea_hrough, leaving behind two squirming animal halves. As for those dauntin_trokes of the tail hitting our sides, the ship never felt them. No more tha_he collisions it caused. One sperm whale exterminated, it ran at another, tacked on the spot so as not to miss its prey, went ahead or astern, obeye_ts rudder, dived when the cetacean sank to deeper strata, rose with it whe_t returned to the surface, struck it head–on or slantwise, hacked at it o_ore it, and from every direction and at any speed, skewered it with it_readful spur.
  • What bloodshed! What a hubbub on the surface of the waves! What sharp hisse_nd snorts unique to these frightened animals! Their tails churned th_ormally peaceful strata into actual billows.
  • This Homeric slaughter dragged on for an hour, and the long–skulled predator_ouldn't get away. Several times ten or twelve of them teamed up, trying t_rush the Nautilus with their sheer mass. Through the windows you could se_heir enormous mouths paved with teeth, their fearsome eyes. Losing al_elf–control, Ned Land hurled threats and insults at them. You could feel the_linging to the submersible like hounds atop a wild boar in the underbrush.
  • But by forcing the pace of its propeller, the Nautilus carried them off, dragged them under, or brought them back to the upper level of the waters, untroubled by their enormous weight or their powerful grip.
  • Finally this mass of sperm whales thinned out. The waves grew tranquil again.
  • I felt us rising to the surface of the ocean. The hatch opened and we rushe_nto the platform.
  • The sea was covered with mutilated corpses. A fearsome explosion couldn't hav_lashed, torn, or shredded these fleshy masses with greater violence. We wer_loating in the midst of gigantic bodies, bluish on the back, whitish on th_elly, and all deformed by enormous protuberances. A few frightened sper_hales were fleeing toward the horizon. The waves were dyed red over an are_f several miles, and the Nautilus was floating in the middle of a sea o_lood.
  • Captain Nemo rejoined us.
  • "Well, Mr. Land?" he said.
  • "Well, sir," replied the Canadian, whose enthusiasm had subsided, "it's _readful sight for sure. But I'm a hunter not a butcher, and this is plai_utchery."
  • "It was a slaughter of destructive animals," the captain replied, "and th_autilus is no butcher knife."
  • "I prefer my harpoon," the Canadian answered.
  • "To each his own," the captain replied, staring intently at Ned Land.
  • I was in dread the latter would give way to some violent outburst that migh_ave had deplorable consequences. But his anger was diverted by the sight of _aleen whale that the Nautilus had pulled alongside of just then.
  • This animal had been unable to escape the teeth of those sperm whales. _ecognized the southern right whale, its head squat, its body dark all over.
  • Anatomically, it's distinguished from the white whale and the black righ_hale by the fusion of its seven cervical vertebrae, and it numbers two mor_ibs than its relatives. Floating on its side, its belly riddled with bites, the poor cetacean was dead. Still hanging from the tip of its mutilated fi_as a little baby whale that it had been unable to rescue from the slaughter.
  • Its open mouth let water flow through its whalebone like a murmuring surf.
  • Captain Nemo guided the Nautilus next to the animal's corpse. Two of his me_limbed onto the whale's flank, and to my astonishment, I saw them draw fro_ts udders all the milk they held, in other words, enough to fill two or thre_asks.
  • The captain offered me a cup of this still–warm milk. I couldn't help showin_y distaste for such a beverage. He assured me that this milk was excellent, no different from cow's milk.
  • I sampled it and agreed. So this milk was a worthwhile reserve ration for us, because in the form of salt butter or cheese, it would provide a pleasan_hange of pace from our standard fare.
  • From that day on, I noted with some uneasiness that Ned Land's attitude_oward Captain Nemo grew worse and worse, and I decided to keep a close watc_n the Canadian's movements and activities.