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SHETLAND WHALE HUNT. When God had formed man in his own image, he blessed him, and he said, “ Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth on the earth”—(Gen. i. 28). By this, it was probably intended, that man was at liberty to make all the lower animals subservient to his necessity or convenience,
We need not at present enquire what was the amount of service that Adam, in a state of innocence, was intended by God to derive from the creatures in earth, air, and sea, since for many purposes of food and clothing it would appear they were not to be required. All we know is, that though the first man disobeyed the just command of his Creator, yet the grant of sovereignty over the animals was not withdrawn, but, on the contrary, was renewed to Noah in still more ample and unlimited terms.
Accordingly, man is still undisputed lord and vicegerent of his Creator over the brutal tribes: he subjects the mightiest of them to his service, such as the elephant and
the camel ; while others, again, useful or inimical, he overpowers and destroys. Would that we could say, he does this only as necessity and humanity dictate !
It must be truly wonderful to witness the elephant, terrific and fierce in its native woods, so overawed by even the first contact with the comparatively puny strength of man, as to crouch, cowed and subdued, and at once yield up his gigantic powers to the control of one, whom, by a single stroke, he could crush to death, thus fulfilling that promise, “ the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea : into your hand are they delivered.”—(Gen. ix. 2).
The same remark may be illustrated, when we witness also the ease with which men render tributary the “ Leviathan of the great deep.” Not requiring its services in the element which is its proper home, we have yet discovered that we need its produce when dead, and therefore we search for, and take its life; and in no more striking point of view can we contemplate the superiority which, by means of speech and reason, man is able to exert over the brutes, than when we see him encounter and subdue a physical force so incomparably vaster than any that he could exert, thus at once proving and asserting his divinely delegated dominion.
Our young readers are doubtless aware that every year many large ships are sent from Britain to the Polar Seas in search of the largest species of the whale tribe, which are from fifty to seventy feet in length, and of the value sometimes of some hundred pounds. Some striking narratives of danger and escape during these voyages have been given. One of these, most to the point at present, states, that a gigantic whale ran with force against a ship, in the absence of most of her crew, with the boats, engaged in the chase of another—the bows of the vessel were staved by the stroke, when the animal, lashed apparently into ungovernable rage, after recoiling a little, dashed again at the devoted ship, which was thus broken in two, and the few men remaining in her, had hardly time to take to a boat, when she sank. Rarely one of these enormous creatures wanders towards the British coasts, and getting embayed among the hoals, is captured by many hands, eager to share in a prize so
valuable. About twenty-five years ago, a whale of this description, in the course of a very preposterous (as we might say) and mal à propos excursion, ran itself aground in one of the small Shetland bays—being unable to turn, and the tide ebbing, it was soon destroyed. It lay like an island in five fathoms of water, and could be ascended only by means of ladders from the boats-its jaw bones, thirty feet in height, form an appropriate arch over the entrance gate of a gentleman's residence in the immediate vicinity.
But there is a much smaller species of this animal, which is gregarious, and roams in vast herds over the Northern Seasthese are called the “Bottle-nose” or “Ca'ing Whale.” The latter designation is given from their capability of being driven, just like a flock of poor sheep to the slaughter. In the Orkney and Shetland islands, flocks of these animals are discovered on the coast, and driven by various expedients into the bays, till they are beset and bewildered-they appear always to follow one of the largest and most powerful of the herd as a leader ; the object then is to cause him to rush on his fate, which, when he finds the water shallowing, he almost invariably does, and running on shore, the whole flock follow headlong. A whale hunt is a most surprising and exciting spectacle, and, while we cannot but lament the fate of the gentle and harmless creatures, we feel that we owe thanks to the Giver of all our comforts for providing so liberal a supply of artificial light, as that afforded by their oil, to enliven our long winter evenings; and the value of what is not so required at home is to the fishermen a considerable addition to their scanty resources.
A few months since, the crew of a small boat engaged in fishing early on a calm dull morning after some very tempestuous weather, caught a glimpse of a shoal of Bottle-nose whales, and immediately gave the alarm at the nearest point of land. The welcome news was soon spread, and many boats full of men and lads hastened to the scene. There appeared to be no less than a thousand in the herd : they were gambolling in unsuspicious safety and freedom, the mothers chasing and watching over their young with the greatest tenderness, and, as is the case with most gregarious animals, several wary sentinels were on the watch ; though one might enquire what foe could approach worthy of being
thought alarming to such an aggregate of strength ? Alas ! danger imminent and fatal was near at hand. It was impossible for the limited number of boats on the spot to surround the whole army of whales; one wing was therefore selected, as being most favourably situated for the purpose, and around these the men in the boats warily insinuated themselves, till they were detached from the main body, and then surrounded ; gradually closing, and driving (or, in the vernacular, ca' ing) the animals towards land, by shouting and throwing stones incessantly, the prey was soon secure. Secure? do our readers exclaim. Yes, from the well-known habits of the animals, though they floundered about in alarm, making the water appear like a boiling cauldron, and maternal care became doubly anxious and bold. Ah! had the poor whales only known their own power, however, one effort was sufficient to have swept their apparently insignificant assailants into the bosom of their element, and set them free! But the “fear and dread" of man prevailed, and after a short space, two hundred whales were stranded on a low beach in an open bay, just before the rising of the wind and sea would have rendered it dangerous or impossible. The men, (now joined by many more from the land,) leaping into the water, slaughtered the whole with harpoons, lances, knives, or any other weapons at hand. Even now maternal love was conspicuous, so that the young are always first despatched, for then the mother is secured : she will not, were escape possible, leave her offspring, even in death. This is a painful part of the proceeding; but the fishermen are in the highest state of excitement, thinking of nothing but securing their valuable prey; and humanity, as well as interest, combine to make the process of slaying as speedy as possible. Then comes the division.
The proprietors of the ground on which the whales are stranded, claim a third of the whole : the rest is divided amongst the hunters. Each of these animals was worth nearly two pounds : they were from twelve to twenty feet in length.
What a providential assistance has this proved, in a locality where the fishermen's families are suffering extremely from a second failure of the potato crop! Nothing except the blubber or fat of these whales (which is manufactured into oil) is made use of in the British isles, except when some landlord or tenant, more active and enlightened than his neighbours, makes manure for the farm of the carcases and bones. In general they are suffered to lie on the beach as a nuisance, or committed again to the sea.
This matter of hunting these whales is very differently, and much more judiciously pursued, in the more remotely north islands of Faroe, a group belonging to the Danish crown. Capturing whales there is an object of main importance to the islanders, whose resources are still more circumscribed than our own. The Faroese have plans arranged, and stringent rules laid down, to which all must conform, in relation to finding, pursuing, and dividing the shoals of whales; consequently, there, much greater numbers are caught than in Shetland, where there is little concert and no authority, but in their place too often only injudicious exertion, directed by over-heated excitement. Moreover, the whale's flesh is always used in Faroe as food, fresh or dried. When cooked, it looks and tastes exactly like beef, but a little coarser ; and is perfectly free from any flavor of fish or oil. We cannot help regretting that this food, which is proved to be both palatable and nutritious, should in this country be rejected, from prejudice.
When we consider the variety and numbers of the animal tribes, all given into the hand of man for the purposes of comfort to him, what reason have we to lift our voice in praise, while we say, “ Thou openest Thy hand, and satisfiest every living thing.” Where there is a barren soil, there is a teeming ocean, and it may with truth be asserted, that it is man who fails in turning the manifold gifts of God to appropriate usefulness, else would there be fewer of those calamitous famines we have lately heard so much about.
Man is culpably deficient in industry, or in judiciousness; he is guided by prejudice, or misled through ignorance, or impoverished by wastefulness. The Lord fails not in bounty, “ He giveth liberally." We fail in improving what is committed to our trust. We may perceive reasons of kindness and forbearance in the infliction of partial evil, even when it appears to proceed directly from the hand of God himself, for we imagine no cause of universal application has been, or ever will be, discovered for the late potato failure, except that it is a providential dis