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he Blue Whale is distinguished from the other Rorquals by its superior size and rich color.

The Blue Whale

The Blue Whale is distinguished from the other Rorquals by its superior size and rich color. All the upper part is a rich zinc-blue slate, the lower a dark blue-grey, whilst the interior parts of the throat and belly grooves are brownish grey. The pectoral fins are blue-grey with snow-white outer edges. The baleen plates, about 4 feet in length, are black, and number up to 400. The Blue Whale feeds almost exclusively on a small red shrimp (Euphausia), known to the Norwegians as "kril," and "swamps" (Temora longicornis). Adults measure from 70 to 102 feet, and weigh approximately from 150 to 200 tons, and yield over 100 barrels of oil. This whale occurs both in the Atlantic and the Pacific. It has been observed off the fringe of the Antarctic ice, and all along both coasts of America, whilst many winter to the east of the West Indies. In March and April large numbers approach the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just keeping outside the ice. Here the main body of these western whales separate, one gathering going right up the estuary as the ice breaks, the other turning east along the south coast of Newfoundland, slowly, but closely, fishing the banks of "kril" as far as Cape St. Mary, in Placentia Bay. As a rule, in the month of June, the "kril" move out from Cape St. Mary to the Grand Banks, where the whales scatter and feed about over a large area, and do not return to the Newfoundland coast until September and October. They do not go north along the Newfoundland east coast, or along the Labrador. It is still uncertain whether these whales, which return in September, are the same as those which left the south coast in June, or fresh comers from the south. It is also uncertain where this herd of whales winter, but the Norwegian captains, who are the best judges on these matters, are all inclined to think that they do not go very far, but winter about the Grand Banks,1 some two hundred miles off south-east Newfoundland, and scattered over a large area. Certainly, many solitary Blue Whales have been seen by ships in this range during the winter months.



The range of the Blue Whale in the eastern Atlantic may be briefly summed up as follows. They appear in large numbers in early May off the west coast of the Hebrides, where one factory in Harris killed no less than forty-two in 1905. They then strike due north, passing the Faroes, where a few are killed ; and make their summer home in the seas off Finmark, Spitzbergen, the White Sea, and the north-east coast of Iceland. Captain Larsen, who has made five trips to East Greenland in summer, has also seen many there. In October all these Blue Whales strike due south, going at full-speed, holding out for the main Atlantic, into which they disappear for the winter.

In the water the Blue Whale, doubtless owing to its vast bulk, is somewhat slow and stately in its movements. It travels in search of food at the rate of about six miles an hour, but when frightened, traveling, or struck by a harpoon, it can go at twenty knots, a speed which it can maintain for a long period. In feeding on a bank of "kril," it swims on its side, erects a fin, and gives a sudden movement of " full speed ahead " ; at the same moment the vast mouth is opened and slowly closed, encompassing about twenty barrels of shrimps. As the mouth closes the water is forced outwards, and may be seen rushing in a white stream from the sides of the baleen, whilst the food remains resting on the inside of the "plates," to be swallowed at leisure. All the Balcsnoptera feed in this manner, and I have seen a large Finback rolling round and round the steamer, taking in its huge mouthfuls with evident satisfaction, and caring as little for our presence as if we were not there at all—in fact it seemed a miracle that he could avoid striking the vessel with his great jaws.

The Blue Whale generally remains under water during his great dive, according to my watch, for ten to twenty minutes. On reaching the surface he " blows," sending up a spout of air and steam to a height of from 20 to 30 feet. He rolls over, slowly exposing the blow-hole, and afterwards the small back fin. Then he makes a series of from eight to twelve short dives on the surface, occupying four minutes. When making his great dive he often raises his tail right out of the water, but not at such a perpendicular angle as the Humpback. It is during the time the whale is making these short dives on the surface that the steam whaler races in and endeavours to get the shot. When struck by the harpoon and its bursting charge, the great Blue Whale often dives at once and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Frequently it rushes off at high speed, and then, coming to the surface, dies after a short " flurry." Sometimes, however, when the whale is hit too far back or near and under the backbone (in which case the bomb does not explode), a long and difficult chase, protracted for hours, ensues. On the whole this is a fairly tame whale, and not considered dangerous, if ordinary precautions are observed. The value is from ;£i00 to ^"150.

Although not so difficult to kill as the Finback, this species is possessed of greater strength and staying power than any whale, and some exciting experiences have fallen to the lot of the Fin-whalers engaged in its chase. The most remarkable and protracted hunt on record after a whale was experienced by the steamer Puma in 1903. The most exaggerated accounts of this appeared in the American and English papers, where the journalists went so far as to say that the whale had towed the ship from Newfoundland to Labrador, and other wild statements. The following particulars were given to me by Hans Johanssen, mate of the Puma, and Captain Christopherson himself, so they are, at any rate, first-hand.

The Puma spied and "struck" a large Blue Whale, six miles from Placentia, at nine o'clock in the morning. The animal immediately became " wild," and it was found impossible to get near enough to fire another harpoon into it, as it came on to blow hard. For the entire day it towed the steamer, with engines at half-speed astern, at a rate of six knots. Towards evening a second rope was made fast to the stern of the vessel and attached to the first line, now " out" one mile. The steamer then put on full-speed ahead. This seemed to incense the whale, which put forth all its strength, and dragged the whole of the after part of the vessel under water, flooding the after cabin and part of the engine-room. The stern rope was immediately cut with an axe and the danger averted. All through the night the gallant whale dragged the steamer, with the dead weight of two miles of rope, and the engines going half-speed astern, and at 9 A.m. the following morning the monster seemed to be as lively and powerful as ever. At 10 A.m., however, its strength seemed to decrease, and at 11 it was wallowing on the surface, where, at 12.30, it was finally lanced by the captain. This great fight occupied twenty-eight hours, the whale having dragged the steamer a distance of thirty miles to Cape St. Mary.  --New Foundland and Its Untrodden Ways, by J. G. Millais 1907 - Edited Stanley L. Klos 1999


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