National Geographic : 1940 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE inch. It is not likely that the other ceta ceans, with the possible exception of the Bottlenose Beaked Whale, ever dive to such depths. Since cetaceans spend their entire lives in the water, their bodies are blanketed with a layer of blubber to prevent rapid loss of body heat. Tear glands of whales secrete a greasy substance that guards the eyes against the irritation of sea water. Whales possess no external ears, but they can detect water-borne sounds. A WHALE'S "COLD TABLE" Baleen whales depend for their livelihood on "food banks," vast masses of small crustaceans, resembling shrimp, that come to the surface to feed on diatoms and plank ton, which are tiny plants and minute forms of animal life that live in the sea. Nature's plan for producing the food banks is fascinating. They are found in high latitudes in spring and summer in regions where cold polar currents mix with warmer ocean waters. This mixing pro duces just the right temperature, which, combined with action of the radiant energy of sunlight and nourishing salts in the water, provides a favorable environment for vast quantities of microscopic plants and ani mals to come into existence. They multiply in such numbers that large areas of surface waters are colored brownish or greenish. Then immense swarms of small shrimp like creatures come to the surface to spawn and feed upon this accumulation of prov ender. Next come the whales, eating in their turn the crustaceans which have eaten the smaller organisms. Migration routes of the baleen whales depend largely on the seasonal locations of these floating food supplies. The whales go north or south to cooler waters to find the food banks in summer. As the sur face water grows colder, however, the food sinks to greater depths, and the whales turn back to the Tropics, where they bring forth their young during the winter months. Most of the larger baleen whales com monly display such strong affection for their calves that whalers for centuries made a practice of harpooning the young first. The cow then became an easy prey, since she refused to leave her dead offspring. Dolphins and porpoises are not noted for the defense of their young. Nevertheless, the females keep their calves close beside them and no doubt endeavor to protect them from the attacks of their natural pred atory enemies. The young dolphin is able to keep up with the pace set by the school as soon as it is born (p. 88). Normally, female cetaceans give birth to single young. Whales have been hunted for more than a thousand years. When they were pursued in small ships, and the killing was done with hand harpoons by a few men in a small boat propelled by oars, whaling was neces sarily limited to animals that floated when dead, such as the Right Whale, Bowhead, and later the Sperm Whale. The larger "finner" whales, including the Finback, Blue Whale, and Sei Whale, and also the Humpback, sink when killed. Moreover, these animals were too speedy and dangerous to be hunted successfully until the perfection of the harpoon gun about the middle of the 19th century. This also permitted use of a heavier harpoon line, by which the whales could be hauled to the surface to be pumped full of air so that they would float. The ever-increasing demand for whale bone, or baleen, led to an amazing expan sion of the whale fishery. Men endured constant hardships in the pursuit of whales for whalebone, but is doubtful that they were at any time much more uncomfortable than the ultimate consumer, the fashion able woman of that day, who willingly sub jected herself to the discomforts of gar ments braced with whalebone.* WHALEBONE AIDS TO BEAUTY Bustles, basques, and bodices were stif fened with thin strips of whalebone; high collars and ruffs were braced with this ma terial, and the billowy hoop skirt would have been literally a "flop' without its presence. In the years between 1890 and 1902, whalebone sold for a top price of $5 to $7 a pound and a single Bowhead Whale would yield from 1,500 to 3,300 pounds. But when steel corset stays came to be sub stituted for whalebone, many holding large stores of this material went bankrupt. Whale oil was suitable for nearly all the diversified uses for which oil was required. Soaps to preserve complexions and to wash clothes were made of it. Homes were lighted with lamps filled with whale oil or with candles made of spermaceti. In 1819 * "Whalebone" refers only to the horny material taken from the mouth of the baleen whale. The huge bones of the whale's skeleton are ground up for use as fertilizer.