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Natural History of Ordinary Cetacea, Sir. William Jardine, Bart - 1837 Edited by Stanley Klos 1999


These general observations will suffice to enable our readers to understand distinctly the singular position which is occupied by the Cetacea in the classification of the animal kingdom. While they inhabit the water like fishes, and while in their mode of progression through their common element and in some of their more obvious external characters, they seem to claim kindred with the other inhabitants of the deep, yet, in every essential respect, they are unequivocally marked as members not of this the fourth and last class, but of the first and most remote class of the vertebratae, viz. the Mammalia. Fish, as we have seen, are produced from spawn, and after the lapse of weeks or months, emerge from the gravel and the egg, where they had lain long neglected by the individuals who there deposited and deserted them; but the whales are brought alive into the world, and the cub is nourished for months by its mother's milk, and disports itself around her in playful affection, like the fawn or the lamb in the sunny glade. Fish are cold-blooded—their circulating fluid being only exposed to the water, in the gills ; but the whale has no gills, nor any thing resembling them ; on the contrary, it has true lungs, in a great bony ehest, into which the air is freely admitted—not indeed by the mouth, but by a peculiar apparatus to be afterwards explained, and through which the animal breathes the pure air of heaven like other mammalia, and is thus enabled to maintain the warm temperature of its body even in the midst of the icy seas. Fish never breathe; and if removed from the water, and brought into the air. immediately die; whereas the Cetacea, if deprived of air and confined under water, are speedily and literally drowned.

The Cetae, therefore, are not fishes, but true mammalia. Not only in their internal organization, but, to a great extent, in their osseous structure, they approximate to the quadrupeds or the mammalia of the land; and it is not a little interesting to trace the wonderful adaptations by which an animal of such a structure and habit of body is fitted to become the inhabitant of a different element. Before we proceed, accordingly, to introduce the various genera to the notice of our readers, we propose to devote a chapter to the comparative anatomy of the order generally. By so doing we shall not only make 6ur readers acquainted with the object of their study more effectually than it would be possible to do by any other means, but we shall prepare them for marking intelligently the specific differences which we shall have occasion to point out as we advance in our survey.

The Humpback Whale - Copyright Stan Klos

The classification which we have adopted with the view of exhibiting and treating the various species composing the Cetacea, will appear as we proceed. The series comprises a great variety of animals, descending from the greater whales to those of smaller dimensions, down to the porpoises and dolphins, some of which are not more than two feet in length.

The fossil Cetae which have been discovered form an interesting addition to the subject of our investigation. The examination and classification of these remains was one of the latest and most successful labors of the illustrious Cuvier, who informs us that the fossil marine mammalia, whose species it has been possible to characterize, are not less different from those which now inhabit our coasts, than are the terrestrial fossil mammifer EB distinct from those which now inhabit the land; and for some of them, he has been even under the necessity of establishing entirely new genera. This, he adds, " only more and more confirms the proposition to which the examination of fossil shells had already led, that it is not land animals only which have undergone a change during the revolutions of the globe; but that the inhabitants of the ocean likewise, have not withstood their effects; and that when the sea formed on our continents those prodigious deposits filled with shells which are now almost unknown, the great mammalia which it nourished were not those which people it at present; and that in spite of the strength which the immensity of their size apparently conferred upon them, they had no more power to resist the catastrophes which disturbed their element, than had the elephant, the rhinoceroses, the hippopotami, &c. to withstand those upon land; and that in the absence of the arts of man, which, of course, could not be brought to bear against them, their races must have been exterminated by the general revolutions of nature alone." (Oss. Foss. v. 398.) Many of the fossil* varieties will be incorporated into our Survey, each being introduced in connexion with those genera and species with which it stands most nearly allied.

We must not conceal from our readers that the ascertainment and description of the existing Cetacea is a work of great difficulty and uncertainty.— " It is," says Cuvier, " concerning large animals that the greatest errors and confusion exists; and for this reason, that we can know and distinguish only those species which we can examine under our eye and carefully compare with each other; and this remark applies especially to the great Cetacea. They astonish every one by the immensity of their dimensions, and their capture has for ages given employment to unwearied efforts of activity and coinage; but except under favorable circumstances, when occasionally stranded near some intelligent naturalist, they have scarcely ever been described with accuracy, and still less been minutely examined. Thousands of mariners have captured and cut up whales, who have never accurately examined one of them; and yet it is upon their vague descriptions and figures that zoologists have endeavored to establish the natural history of these animals. The greater number of authors, moreover, have never endeavored to exercise their critical powers in their compilations, inasmuch as they had but few ascertained facts as the basis of their reasoning. This is the true cause why the history of the Cetacea is so meager, and yet so full of contradiction and repetition. It would be truly an easy matter, by availing ourselves of the extraordinary figures which have been depicted, but which are the mere creatures of imagination and recollection, and also of the many confused and mutilated descriptions which have been published, and by accumulating synonyms which are mere copies of each other, to display long lists of species, but they would have no real existence in nature, and would altogether vanish before the slightest breath of criticism."

HE BELUGA, OR WHITE WHALE copyright Stan Klos

It may tend in some degree to illustrate the difficulties which are here so ably noticed, and to demonstrate their almost incredible extent, to state what has long been asserted, and never denied, that notwithstanding thousands of the Greenland whale have been annually captured by the subjects of many different nations, there never was an accurate representation of this species till it was supplied in 1809 by our illustrious countryman, Scorseby ; and he, in his valuable work on the Arctic Regions, published in 1820, states that Lacepede's figure of the true whale has not its counterpart in nature ; and that his common narwhal never had any real existence. It is worthy of remark, that Lacepede's interesting production has for long been the most popular treatise on the subject; and we regret to see that some of its worst errors of representation and description have been copied into more recent works. Some of the figures, in these popular treatises, are no more like the animals they are meant to represent, than a bull-dog is like a greyhound. Nor are the errors confined to the figure. They extend to whole genera. Loose and vague accounts of voyagers having been once incorporated into systematic works, an almost inextricable confusion has been introduced, which extorted from the capacious mind of Cuvier the exclamation,—" Toutes ces indications incomplete ne serve qu a metre les naturalists a la torture;" and a man must himself go over the ground before he can feel the full force of the sentiment. Lesson gave utterance to his feelings on the point, in these words,—" What an impenetrable veil covers our knowledge of Cetacea! Groping in the dark, we advance in a field strewed with thorns." There is doubtless then, to use the words of Scorseby, no branch of zoology so much involved as that which is entitled Cetology. Some idea of its difficulties may be formed, by considering that although Desmaret, in his Mammalogie (1820-22), enumerated sixty-two species, yet he considered no fewer than twenty-nine of them as doubtful and not established; and that Lesson, in 1828, out of eighty-four species which he classified, can vouch for the accuracy and existence of not more than fifty.

We have thought it necessary to apprize the student, in these few words, of the difficulties in which the subject is even now involved, that he may perceive it is no easy matter at once to overcome them. From the great rarity of favorable opportunities for examination, we must be cautious even in getting right; and must hesitate ere we finally reject what has previously been admitted even on insufficient and objectionable grounds. Having said this much, we entirely dismiss this part of the subject. We indulge the hope, that our little Volume may become a node mecum to many a mariner and fisherman, and that beguiling over it the tedium of a sea voyage, he may thereby be excited to improve some of those opportunities which frequently present themselves to him, though not to us ; and that by making pertinent and judicious observations, he may thus add to the stock of our interesting and important information.


The Toothed Whales - Sperm Whale Copyright Stan Klos


 Whale facts: Whales are marine mammals. They have lungs instead of gills, hair instead of scales, and they give birth live. They breathe through a blowhole located on the top of their head, and they hear through holes behind their eyes. There are about 80 kinds of whales living in oceans around the world. Whales can grow to over 100 ft. long, and they can weigh over 200 tons. Whales live in family groups called pods. They communicatey making high pitched sounds. Listen to a whale! (133k .au file)


Teacher Talk Activities on this page:
The activities below are designed to be done by students individually, or in groups. Some can be done in one session, and others might be completed over several sessions. Look for the to find "task cards" which can be printed out. Suggested grade levels are indicated in parentheses.

  • Whale Migrations (3-6)
    Why should we be interested in tracking the movements of whales? Biologists and oceanographers can learn more about how the environment affects animal behavior, and they can study environmental change by watching the effects those changes have on whale movements. Whales migrate, or travel from one place to another, to find food, to breed, and to give birth to their young. They migrate for several reasons. Look at the links below, and see if you can find enough information to answer the task card questions.
    Gray whales migration map - notice where they spend the winter and summer.
    Ocean color in the winter - notice where the sea life is the heaviest (orange, red)
    Ocean color in the summer - notice where the sea life is the heaviest (orange, red)
    Sea surface temperature - check the migration route temperatures in December, and then in June.
  • Gray Whales (2-4)
    Unfortunately, there are no longer gray whales in the Atlantic Ocean. But gray whales are found in the Pacific Ocean and are frequent visitors along the west coast of North America. They are often studied and written about because they come so close to shore during their migrations. Read through the links below, and print out and answer the task card.
    Gray Whale Information
    California Gray Whale Tutorial

  • Metompkin and S.T.O.P. (4-6)
    The Satellite Tagging Observation Program (S.T.O.P.) is an idea sponsored by WhaleNet which will make available information on tracking whale movements by satellites. This is a very exciting program, since the current information we have available relies only on human observation. The links below below tell the story and movements of a northern right whale named "Metompkin" that got tangled in fishing nets off the eastern U.S. coast. A radio tag was attached to the whale, and later a satellite tag was attached. Metomptin is now (thankfully) no longer entangled in the nets, but the satellite tag is also no longer attached. For an activity, visit the links below, print out the task card, and answer the questions.
    The story of S.T.O.P.
    The story of Metompkin
    Watch Metompkin swim across the Atlantic Ocean!
    Get the data showing Metompkin's movements.
    Track Metompkin yourself on this map.
    Why is Metompkin going this way?

  • New and Emerging Research
    So far, following the movements of whales and other marine mammals has been hard to do, because it involved people actually following them in boats or watching from shore. However, there is some exciting technology now being developed which will let scientists track these animals using radio and satellite signals.
    Northern Right Whale Monitoring Project - from the Office of Naval Research
    WhaleNet's STOP - Data, Maps and Observations on several whales and dolphins


For Fun...
There are many exciting things about studying whales. Below are some links that will lead you on to discover more about these wonderful creatures of the deep.


Start your search on WHALES.

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