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The Okarito Whale.
(See illustration on page 26.)
The skeleton of the celebrated Okarito whale is now open to the inspection of the public at the Can-<*> terbury Museum (writes Edgar R.
Waiito, F.Li.S., Curator, in tho ''Weekly Press"), and it is safe to say that every one who sees it for the first time will find that it exceeds; in magnitude, all preconceived idea*. The principal measurements of the skeleton are as follows .—Total length 87ft., length of .head 21ft., length of the lower jaw in a straigbt line 20ft. Bin., length of hand 12ft. The width of the tail flukes was 2-lft., but these being merely fleshy, aro not seen in the ■kele'ton. It is not possible to give "the weight of the entire skeleton, but it has been estimated at nine tons. Some <f the bones were weighed for freight charges; the cranium, exclusive of the upper Jaw, weighs 1 ton U cwt., and the lower jaws together weigh 1 ton 5 cwt. It will be remembered that tho whale was stranded about six miles north pf Okarito, on tho West (.'oast of the Soutli Island of .New Zea land, in February last year. I was early on tho scene, and, ,In com pany, with Mr. Sparkes, made a careful examination of the monster as it lay on the beach. It proved to be a female blue whole, and an accurate measurement from the tip of the jaw to the end of the backbone yielded the length of 87ft. It is thus the largest animal known, and though my claim has been chair lengeri in the local Press, replies re ceived from letters sent to various European and American museums conclusively prove tho truth ol the assertion. The whale had evi dently been dead some time before the carcass was thrown up by the sea, as tho whalebone or baleen had rotted out of the mouth. The skele ton was purchased for £500. The mere fact of an animal living in water seems to be sufficient to entitle it to 'the name of "flsh" ; thus we have star fish, shellfish, jellyfish. &c, but of course a whalo is more fishlike in shape than any of these invertebrate or backboneless animals. As in a typical fish, the tail is the organ of propulsion, but the tail of a whale is essentially different from that of a fish : it Ton tains no fan-like bony structures, the nukes consisting only of dense tissue, and it is set horizontally, whereas a fish's tail has a vertical position. The reason for this is evi dent : owing to the fact that a fish breathes in water, it is not con cerned with atmospheric air, and its motions arc chiefly in a horizon tal plane. A whale, on the other hand, is an air breather, and it has to rise frequently to the sur face, often from great depths, for the purposa of Respiration. In re lation, therefore, to this up and down motion in the water, the tail is expanded horizontally. The nos trils open either separately, or by a single -aperture ; in any case they arc situated at the highest part of the head, and this is tho only portion of the animal which it is necessary should be exposed above the surface. This leads us to refer to tho wide spread l>ellef that a whale takes in water at the ? mouth and spouts it out through the blowhole. The "blowing" of the whale |is nothing more than the ordinary act or respira tion which, taking place at longer, in tervals than in land animals, is per formed with a greater amount of emphasis. Tho moment the animal rises to the surface it forcibly ex pels from its lungs the air taken in at the last inspiration, which of course is highly charged with watery vapour in consequence of the natural respiratory changes. This, rapidly condensing in a cold atmos phere in which the phenomenon is generally observed, forms a column of steam or spray, which had erron eously been taken for water. It also often happens, especially when the surfucc of the ocean is agitated into waves, that the anirnnt - com mences its expiratory puff before the orifice has quite cleared the top of the water, some of which may thus be driven upwards with tho blast, tending to complete tho illusion. In hunting whales, tho harpoon often pierces the lungs or air passages of the unfortunate vic tim, and then fountains of blood may be forced high into the air through the blow hole as com monly depicted in scenes of whal ing adventures ; but this is nothing more (allowance being made for the whale's peculiar mode of breathing) than what always follows se\ere wounds of the respiratory tv?i\ns of other mammals. While fishes havo many fins, whiles usually have but three—namely, a small one on the back, which, how
ever, is not always present, and i never contains bones, uud the two 1 hands or paddles ; these latter do i not show any external division into arm, wrist or fingers, though thpro < is considerable movement at the i shoulder joint. Beneath the skin and blubber all the joints and bones, and even most of the mus cles, nerves, and arteries as found , in the human hand, may be noticed. Whales are warm-blooded ani mals, and, as every one knows, long immersion in sea water tends to chill tho body, unless protected by some non-conducting material. Seals and walruses have an ample coat of fur, but whales are naked. • The absence of hair is compensated for by the presence of a thick coat ing of fat, termed blubber, which is rich in oil, and for the sako of which the whale is hunted by man. The head of a whale is generally very large, aud in some kinds at tains to even more than one-third the entire length of the animal. The eye is quite small, and there is no arrangement for the shedding of tears. The majority of whales possess teeth, but in one group teeth are absent, ami the palate is furnished with the horny plates culled baleen, or whalebone. So many other char acters are correlated with the pre sence or absence of teeth that it is believed tho two groups had no near ancestral connection, but wero developed from widely different types, and similarity of outward form being due to an adaptation to inhabit the same element. The Okarito whale is a Rorqual, therefore a toothless species, and though it possessed baleen, the "bone" would |be comparatively short, for, unlike tho Right Wales, the Rorquals have a lowly arched head us will bo seen from an in spection <rf the skull. These baleen whales have, about the middle of foetal life, numerous small teeth in botfn upper and lower laws ; these teeth are later absorbed, and n? trace remains of them at the time of birth. The baleen, or whalebone, does not make its appearance until after the young one is born. The hinder edge of each of the 300 or 400 plates has a hair-like fringe, the function of which is to strain the water from the small marina moll uses, crustaceans, or fish, upon which the whale subsists. In feed ing, the immense mouth is filled with water containing shoals of these small creatures, and then on the whale closing the jaws and raising the tongue, so as to di minish the cavity of the mouth, the water streams out through the narrow intervals between the hairy fringe of the whalebone blades, and escapes through the lips, leaving the living prey to be swallowed. One of the most striking features of the Rorquals, during liiTc, is the closely furrowed throat. After death the throat of the Okarito whale presented an appearance not unlike corrugated iron, the folds having become somewhat lax, and having lost their sharp edge?. A noticeable feature of the dead whale was the number of pits In certain portions of the skin ; thew were each the size of a crown piece, and half an inch in depth. They marked the position of hosts of barnacles which had dropped off after death, but which were doubt* less more or less irritating to the ; whale when alive. The head is symmetrically formed ; in other words, it is not lobsided, as in the toothed whales, examples , nf Vhleh. may.be inspected in the New Zealand room/.The.lower jawa are much bowed, in which respect they differ from those of the tooth wholes, wherein the jaws arc nearly straight. Beneath the hinder por tion of the skull will be seen sus ' ponded the tongue bones; these are relatively large, being con cerned in the movements of the mas sive tongue, which performs such an important function in feeding. ' This whale has a backbone com posed of sixty-four vertebrae. The neck bones arc quite distinct from each other, in which respect they differ from those of some other i forms, wherein the bones are fused together into one piece. The number of nock bonos is seven, and it is interesting to note that in all mammals (with a few exceptions), whatever the length or flexibility of ■ the neck, the uuraber of separato bones is the same ; thus the giraffe l elephant, whale, mouse, and man have each seven neck bones. The only exceptions are the manatee sloths. and pangolins, in which the 1 number varies from six to nine. The sternum, or breast-bone, lies between the first pair of ribs, and Is m- one piece—not in several pieces, as in tho toothed whales. In these latter, 1 also, there are sometimes sternal ribs ; these aro" never developed in the baleen whales. Zoologists differ as to the number of ribs possessed by the blue whale, some giving fifteen and others sixteen pairs. While our 1 example has the lower number, it is ', signilicant that the sixteenth dorsal vertebra has an articular surface, so 1 that did we not know that nil the ribs were secured and preserved, we should, by examination of tho ver tebrae, pronounce the number to be . shrtecn pairs. The vestigial bones, • situated below the backbone, in
front of the tail-bones, have already | been referred to. The larger bono probably represents the ischia, one of the bones of the pelvis, or hip while the small bone spoken of a9^' about the size of a walnut is re ferable to the rudiments of a hind-* limb. The lumbar and caudal bones are each widely separated, the space be tween each vertebrae being lilted with a part of cartilage, so as to allow the hinder portion of the body and tail that free movement which is necessary to an animal depend ing on its tail for progression. Un derneath the tail-bones, a number of V-shaped bones will be seen. '. They arc named chevron-bones, and while some are very large, the hin der ones arc quite small. SIZE OF WHALES. ■■ A letter from Mr. Edgar R. Waite, curator of the Canterbury Museum. Christchurch, New Zealand, asking for information as to the length q! skeletons of great whales preserved in museums, was published in "Na ture" on November. 20 last (says "Na ture" of March 25). A reply to this letter has been received from Mr. F. A. Lucas, curator-in-chief of th« museum of tho Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York. in which he states that in 1903 ■ ho measured a. number of blu« whales taken off the coast of New foundland 1. Of twenty-six whales measured, only six reached a length of 74 feet, from the tip of the nose to "the notch of the fluke, the tape line being carried along the M^L of the body. The six whales rang^F in length from 74 feet 4 inches to exactly 75 feet. Adding to thia • the under-hang of the lower jaw, ; which is 1 foot 4 inches, and the : depth k>f the fork of the flukes,, which is 2 feet 0 inches to 3 feet, ; a total length for the. largest whale of a little under 80 feet was obtained. Mr. Lucas points out that the measurements taken from a mounted skeleton are of little value, as the inter-vertebral cartii lage is made too thick almost in-; variably. Mr. Lucas's letter waif1} submitted to Mr. Waite, who, in . his reply, says he is at present unable to give the exact length • of the skull ol the Okarito whale,,' but the length of the ramus of the.*/ '. lower jaw in a straight line is ■- 20 feet 8 inches, and round the outer curve 22 foot 0 inches. Be- ; • specting the statement that there. : i is the skeleton of a whale in Co- > penhagen 150 feet in length, Mr^ , Watte adds he has received a pri vate letter from Professor Jun- j gersen saying the largest whale in .< the Copenhagen collection measures ,! 75 feet.