페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

“Your Lordship will observe that no sooner was the captain's attention called to the object than “it was discovered to be an enormous serpent," and yet the closest inspection of as inuch of the body as was visible a fleur d eau, failed to detect any undulations of the body, although such actions constitute the very character which would distinguish a serpent or serpentiform swimmer from any other marine species. The foregone conclusion, therefore, of the beast's being a sea serpent, notwithstanding its capacious vaulted cranium and stiff inflexible trunk, must be kept in mind in estimatiаg the value of the approximation made to the total length of the animal, as "at the very least 60 feet.” This is the only part of the description, however, which seems to me to be so uncertain as to be inadmissible in an attempt to arrive at a right conclusion as to the nature of the animal. The more certain characters of the animal are these :-Head, with a convex, moderately capacious cranium, short obtuse muzzle, gape of the mouth not extending further than to beneath the eye, which is rather sinall, round, filling closely the palpebral aperture ; colour, dark brown above, yellowish white beneath; surface smooth, without scales, scutes, or other conspicuous modifications of hard and naked cuticle. And the captain says, “Had it been a man of my acquaintance I should have easily recognised his features with my naked eye." Nostrils not mentioned, but indicated in the drawing by a crescentic mark at the end of the nose or muzzle. All these are the characters of the head of a warm-blooded mammal; none of them those of a cold blooded reptile or fish. Body long, dark brown, not undulafing, without dorsal or other apparent fins; “but something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of sea-weed washed about its back.” The character of the integuments would be a most important one for the zoologist in the determination of the class to which the above defined creature belonged.

“If any opinion can be deduced as to the integuments from the above indi. cation, it is that the species had hair which, if it was too short and close to be distinguished on the head, was visible where it usually is the longest, on the middle line of the shoulders or advanced part of the back, where it was not stiff and upright like the rays of a fin, but washed about.” Guided by the above interpretation of the 'mane of a horse, or a bunch of sea-weed,' the animal was not a cetaceous mammal; but rather a great seal. But what seal of large size, or indeed of any size, would be encountered in latitude 24° 44' S., and longitude 9° 22' E., -viz: about 300 miles from the western shore of the southern end of Africa ? The most likely species to be there met with are the largest of the seal tribe, e.g. Anson's sea lion, or that known to the southern whalers by the name of the Sea Elephant,' the phoca proboscidia, which attains the length of from 20 to 30 feet. These great seals abound in certain of the islands of the southern and antarctic seas, from which an individual is occasionally floated off upon an iceberg.

"The sea lion exhibited in London last spring, which was a young individual of the phoca proboscidia, was actually captured in that predicament, having been carried by the currents that set northward towards the Cape, where its temporary resting place was rapidly melting away. When a large individual of the phoca proboscidia or phoca leonina is thus borne off to a distance from its native shore, it is compelled to return for rest to its floating abode after it has made its daily excursion in quest of the fishes or squids that constitute its food. It is thus brought by the iceberg into the latitudes of the Cape, and perhaps further north, before the berg has melted away. Then the poor seal is compelled to swim as long as strength endures; and in such a predicament I imagine the creature was that Mr. Sartorious saw approaching the Dedalus from before the beam, scanning, probably, its capa.

bilities as a resting place, as it paddled its long stiff body past the ship. In so doing, it would raise a head of the form and colour described and delineated by Captain M'Qubae, supported on a neck also of the diameter given; the thick neck passing into an inflexible trunk, the longer and coarser hair on the upper part of which would give rise to the idea, especially if the species were the phoca leonina explained by the similes above cited. The organs of locomotion would be out of sight. The pectoral fins being set on very low down, as in my sketch, the chief impelling force would be the action of the deeper immersed terminal fins and tail, which would create a long eddy, readily mistakeable by one looking at the strange phenomenon with a sea serpent in his mind's eye for an indefinite prolongation of the body,

"It is very probable that not one on board the Dedalus ever before beheld a gigantic seal freely swimming in the open ocean. Entering unexpectedly upon that vast and commonly blank desert of waters it would be a strange and exciting spectacle, and might be well interpreted as a marvel; but the creative powers of the human mind appear to be really very limited, and on all the occasions where the true source of the great unknown' has been detected—whether it has proved to be a file of sportive porpoises, or a pair of gigantic sharks,-old Pontoppidan's sea serpent with the mane has uni. formly suggested itself as the representative of the portent, until the mystery has been unravelled.

“ The vertebræ of the sea serpent described and delineated in the Wernerian Transactions, vol. I, and sworn to by the fishermen who saw it off the Isle of Stronsa (one of the Orkneys), in 1808, two of which vertebræ are in the Museum of the College of Surgeons, are certainly those of a great shark, of the genus selache, and are not distinguishable from those of the species called basking shark,' of which individuals from 30 to 35 feet in length have been from time to time captured or stranded on our coasts.

“I have no unmeet confidence in the exactitude of my interpretation of the phenomena witnessed by the captain and others of the Dedalus. I am too sensible of the inadequacy of the characters which the opportunity of a rapidly passing animal, 'in a long ocean swell, ' enabled them to note, for the determination of its species or genus. Giving due credence to the most probably accurate elements of their description, they do little more than guide the zoologist to the class, which, in the present instance, is not that of the serpent or the saurian.

« But I am usually asked, after each endeavour to explain Captain M'Quhae's sea serpent, “Why there should not be a great sea serpent ?'often, too, in a tone which seems to imply, 'Do you think, then, that there are not more marvels in the deep than are dreamt of in your philosophy ?' And freely conceding that point, I have felt bound to give a reason for scepticism as well as faith. If a gigantic sea serpent actually exists, the species must of course have been perpetuated through successive generations, from its first creation and introduction in the seas of this planet. Conceive, then, the number of individuals that must have lived and died and have left their remains to attest the actuality of the species during the enormous lapse of time from its beginning to the 6th of August last! Now, a serpent, being an air breathing animal with long vesicular and receptacular lungs, dives with an effort, and commonly floats when dead; and so would the sea serpent, until decomposition or accident had opened the tough integument and let out the imprisoned gases. Then it would sink, and, if in deep water, be seen no more until the sea rendered up its dead, after the lapse of the cons requisite for the yielding of its place to dry land-a change wbich has actually revealed to the present generation the old saurian monsters that were entombed at the bottom of the ocean of the secondary geological periods of our earth's history. During life the exigencies of the respiration of the great sea serpent would always compel him frequently to the surface; and when dead and swollen

“Prone on the flood, extended long and large, He would

“ Lay floating many a rood ; in bulk as huge

As whom the fables name of monstrous size

Litanian or earth-born that warred on Jove." “Such a spectacle, demonstrative of the species ifit existed, has not hitherto met the gaze of any of the countless voyagers who have traversed the seas in so many directions. Considering, too, the tides and currents of the ocean, it seems still more reasonable to suppose that the dead sea serpent would be occasionally cast on shore. However, I do not ask for the entire carcase! The structure of the back bone of the serpent tribe is so peculiar that, a single vertebræ would suffice to determine the existence of the hypothetical Ophi. dian; and, this will not be deemed an unreasonable request, when it is remembered that the vertebræ are more numerous in serpents than in any other animals. Such large, blanched, and scattered bones on any sea shore would be likely to attract even common curiosity; yet, there is no vertebræ of a serpent larger than the ordinary pythons and boas in any museum in

Europe.

“Few sea coasts bave been more sedulously searched, or by more accute naturalists (witness the labours of Sars and Loven), than those of Norway. Krakens and sea serpents ought to have been living and dying thereabouts from long before Pontoppidan's time, to our day, if all tales were true; yet, have they never vouchsafed a single fragment of their skeleton to any Scandinavian collector; whilst the other great denizens of those seas have been by no means so chary. No museums, in fact, are so rich in the skeletons, skulls, bones, and teeth of the numerous kinds of whales, cachalots, grampuses, walruses, sea unicorns, seals, &c., as those of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden ; but, of any large marine nondescript or indeterminable monster they cannot show a

trace.

" I have inquired repeatedly whether the natural history collections of Boston, Philadelphia, or other cities of the United States, might possess any unusually large ophidan vertebræ, or any of such peculiar form a3 to indicate some large and unknown marine animal; but, they have received no such specimens.

“ The frequency with which the sea serpent has been supposed to have ap. peared near the shores and harbours of the United States has led to its being specified as the “ American Sea Serpent;" yet, out of the two hundred vertebræ of every individual that should have lived and died in the Atlantie since the creation of the species, not one has yet been picked up on the shoresof America. The diminutive snake, less than a yard in length, “killed upon the sea shore," apparently beaten to death, “ by some labouring people of Cape Ann," United States, (see the 8vo. Pamphlet, 1817, Boston, page 38) and figured in the Illustrated London News, October 28th, 1848, from the original American memoir, by no means satisfies the conditions of the problem. Neither do the vaccopharynx of Mitchell, nor the ophiognathus of Harwood, the one 4, feet, the other 6 feet, long ; both are surpassed by some of the congers of our own coasts; and, like other muranoid fishes, and the known small sea snakes (hydrophis), swim by undulatory movements of the body.

“ The fossil vertebræ and skull which were exhibited by Mr. Kock, in New

York and Boston, as those of the great sea serpent, and which are now in Berlin, belonged to different individuals of a species which I had previously proved to be an extinct whale, a determination which has subsequently been confirmed by Professors Müller and Agassiz. Mr. Dixon, of Worthing, has discovered many fossil vertebræ in the Eocene tertiary clay at Bracklesham, which belong to a large species of an extinct genus of serpent (palæaphiz), founded on similar vertebræ from the same formation in the Isle of Sheppey. The largest of these ancient British snakes was 20 feet in length; but, there is no evidence that they were marine.

The Sea Saurians of the secondary periods of geology have been placed in the tertiary and actual seas by marine Mammals. No remains of Cetacea have been found in Lias or Oolite, and no remains of Plesiosaur, or Icthyosaur, or any other secondary reptile, have been found in Eocene or latter tertiary deposits, or recent, on the actual sea shores, and that the old airbreathing saurians floated when they died has been shown in the Geological Transactions, (vol. v., second series, p. 512). The inference that may reasonably be drawn from no recent carcase or fragment of such having ever been discovered, is strengthened by the corresponding absence of any trace of their remains in the tertiary beds.

“Now, on weighing the question, whether creatures meriting the name of 'great sea serpent' do exist, or whether any of the gigantic marine saurians of the secondary deposits may have continued to live up to the present time, it seems to me less probable that no part of the carcase of such reptiles should have ever been discovered in a recent or unfossilized state, than that men should have been deceived by a cursory view of a partly submerged and rapidly moving animal, which might only be strange to themselves. In other words, I regard the negative evidence from the utter absence of any of the recent remains of great sea serpents, krakeas, or Enaliosauria, as stronger against their actual existence than the positive statements which have hitherto weighed with the public mind in favour of their existence. A larger body of evidence from eye witnesses might be got together in proof of ghosts than of the sea serpent."

Capt. McQuhae has made the following remarks on the foregoing :

" Professor Owen correctly states, that I evidently saw a large creature moving rapidly through the water, very different from anything I had before witnessed, neither a whale, a grampus, a great shark, an alligator, nor any other of the larger surface-swimming creatures fallen in with in ordinary voyages.' I now assert, neither was it a common seal, nor a sea elephant; its great length and its totally different physiognomy precluding the possibility of its being a Phoca' of any species. The head was flat, and not a 'capacious vaulted cranium'; nor had it a stiff inflexible trunk,' a conclusion to which Professor Owen has jumped, most certainly not justified by the simple statement, that no 'portion of the sixty feet seen by us was used in propelling it through the water, either by vertical or horizontal undulation."

“ It is also asumed that the calculation of its length was made under a strong preconception of the nature of the beast ;' another conclusion quite the contrary to the fact. It was not until after the great length was developed by its nearest approach to the ship, and until after that most important point had been duly considered and debated, as well as such could be in the brief space of time allowed for so doing, that it was pronounced to be a serpent by all who saw it, and who are too well accustomed to judge of lengths and breadths of objects in the sea to mistake a real substance and an actual living body coolly and dispassionately contemplated, at so short a distance too, for No. 12.-VOL. XVII.

4 P

the 'eddy caused by the action of the deeper immersed fins and tail of a rapidly moving gigantic seal raising its head above the surface of the water,' as Professor Owen imagines, in quest of its lost iceberg.

“ The creative powers of the human mind inay be very limited. On this occasion they were not called into requisition, my purpose and desire being throughout, to furnish eminent naturalists, such as the learned Professor, with accurate facts, and not with exaggerated representations, nor with what could by any possibility proceed from optical illusion; and I beg to assure him that old Pontoppidan having clothed his sea serpent with a mane, could not have suggested the idea of ornamenting the creature seen from the Dedalus, with a similar appendage, for the simple reason that I had never seen his account, or even heard of his sea serpent, until my arrival in London. Some other solution must therefore be found for the very remarkable coincidence between us in that particular, in order to unravel the mystery.

* Finally, I deny the existence of excitement, or the possibility of optical illusion. I adhere to the statements, as to form, colour, and dimensions, contained in my official report to the Admiralty, and I leave them as data whereupon the learned and scientific may exercise the 'pleasures of imagination,' until some more fortunate opportunity shall occur of making a closer acquaintance with the great unknown ,' in the present instance most assuredly no ghost.”

A DAY OR TWO ON THE Coast of LABRADOR.- By Capt. H. W.

Bayfield, R.N. We proceeded from the east point of Anticosti across towards Kegashka Bay, having an unsteady breeze from S.W., and sáw Natashquan point on the coast of Labrador, bearing N.b.W. at 7 P.M. Great quantites of snow or packed ice was seen along the beaches; the same, although in less quantity also on the shores of Anticosti. As everything indicated a quiet night I wished to anchor with the stream to avoid being carried away by the currents, and to be in readiness to send a boat inshore in the morning. The great depth of water obliged us to stand closer in than we otherwise should, for we had no bottom with 50 fathoms of line: suddenly we struck soundings in 29 fathoms sand. The vessel was in. stantly rounded to, and the sails clewed up. The lead had been hove again for the purpose of ascertaining more particularly the nature of the bottom, for no one thought the depth of water could have changed as we had not moved twice the vessel's length. I was just about to give the order to let go the anchor when the quarter.master reported—"We are in shoal water, sir, only 6 fathoms." We anchored, an officer was sent to sound around the vessel, but we could not find less than 44 fathoms. There was a depth of 9 fathoms between us and the shore, distant about 14 mile. Three cables' length in the opposite direction there was no bottom at 30 fathoms. This is a bank of sand extending off the southwest extreme of Natashquan point, about a mile further than we were aware of last year.

On the following morning the 22nd of June we had light breezes S.E. with rain and fog all day; we weighed last night at 11 P.M., after we

« 이전계속 »