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THE GKEENLAND WHALE.
The whale tribes are distinct from both fishes and land animals, though partaking of the characters of both. They resemble fishes in form, are furnished with a tail of the fish kind, and have fins or paws for motion in the water, which is their exclusive habitation. They resemble the land animals in having warm blood, giving suck to their young, having no scales, and in requiring to breathe air.
One of the largest of this tribe of "mighty monsters" is the Greenland whale, an inhabitant of the Arctic regions. When full grown, it measures from fifty to sixty feet in length, and from thirty to forty feet in circumference, immediately before the fins, which are close to the eyes, and called by Dr. Fleming "swimming paws;" they are nine feet in length, enclosed by very elastic membranes, with bones similar in form and number to those of the human hand. It is thickest a little behind the fins, and from thence gradually tapers towards the tail. The head is disproportionably large, forming indeed about a third of the whole bulk. The bones of the head are very porous, and full of a fine kind of oil. Fat or oil, which is lighter than water, is abundantly supplied to fishes, in order to counteract their tendency to sink in this fluid; it would otherwise require a constant effort on their part to keep themselves at any given level. When the oil is drained from the bones of the head, they are so light as to float in water. The spermaceti whale has a purer kind of oil in a large reservoir at the top of the head, and this enables the animal to keep above the surface of the water without any exertion whatever. The enormous jaw-bones are from twenty to twenty-five feet in length, and extend along the mouth in a curved line; when the mouth is fully extended, the cavity is capable of receiving a ship's jolly boat with her crew. The tongue is of great size—has been compared from this and its softness to a feather-bed; it is composed almost entirely of fat, and adheres to the lower jaw by its under surface.
The eyes are not larger than those of an ox, but the sense of seeing is acute. The whale has no external ear, nor can any orifice for the admission of sound be discovered until the skin is removed. On the upper part of the head there is a double opening, called the "spout holes," or "blow holes;" through these the animal breathes, and they also serve to carry off the water while the animal is feeding, as they take with their prey large quantities of water into their mouths. This they drive out by the compression of powerful muscles, producing spouts of water forty or fifty feet in height. In place of teeth, the mouth contains two rows of whalebone, of a curved form, and from ten to fourteen feet in length. The breadth of the largest at the thick ends, where it is attached to the jaw, is about a foot. A large whale yields a ton and half of whalebone. The tail is flat and horizontal, only four or five feet long, but more than twenty broad, indented in the middle, and the two lobes pointed and turned outwards. In it lies the whole strength of the animal, and it is a most formidable instrument of motion and defence. A single stroke will throw a large boat with all its crew into the air.
Sometimes the whale places himself in a perpendicular position, with the head downwards, and lashes the water with an awful violence, that is heard for miles off, like the roar of a distant tempest. Sometimes he makes an immense spring, and rears his whole body above the waves, to the terror of those who, for the first time, witness so astonishing a spectacle. This animal employs the tail principally to advance himself in the water, as a boat is skulled along by a single oar; his fins merely direct and steady the movement, and thus serve rather as a helm than as oars. The force with which this immense creature cuts its way through the water is so great, as to occasion a track like that which a ship leaves. This is called his wake, and by it the animal is often traced.
The colour of the Greenland whale is velvet