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THE EARLIEST REFERENCES TO WHALEBONE WHALES IN AMERICAN WATERS,
The first reference to cetaceans in American waters is in the Saga of Thorfinn Karlsefne, giving an account of his voyage to Vinland. DeCosta's translation contains the following:
“ Afterward a whale was cast ashore in that place [Stream Bay]; and they assembled and cut it up, not knowing what kind of whale it was. They boiled it with water; and ate it, and were taken sick. Then Thorhall said 'Now you see that Thor is more prompt to give aid than your Christ. This was cast ashore as a reward for the hymn which I composed to my patron Thor, who rarely forsakes me.' When they kuew this, they cast all the remains of the whale into the sea and com: mended their affairs to God. From that time there was an abundance of food; and there were beasts on the land, eggs in the island, and fish in the sea.” 1
DeCosta gives this the date of 1008 A.D., and identifies Stream Bay with Buzzard's Bay, Mass. Beamish ? has a note to the effect that this whale was probably a species of the Balæna physalis of Linnæus, which was not edible, and being rarely seen in the Greenland and Iceland seas, was unknown to the Northmen.' This is hardly probable as Baluna physalus of Lindens is the common Finback of European waters and is edible. It may have been a bottlenosed whale of the genus Hyperoödon, the fat of which is purgative. The fact that the Northmen could throw the remains into the sea shows that it was not one of the large whales.
GREENLAND, DAVIS STRAIT, AND BAFFIN BAY.
The narrative of Iver Boty (or Burt), maitre d'hôtel of the Bishop of Greenland, as quoted from the papers of Barents in Henry Hudson's possession, contains the following notice of whales :
“Item, from Skagen Ford east lyeth a hauen called Beare Ford : it is not dwelt in. In the mouth thereof lyetú a riffe [reef], so that great ships can not barbour in it.
"Item, there is great abundance of whales; and there is a great fishing for the killing of them there, but not without the bishop's consent, wbich keepeth the same
DECOSTA, B. F., The Pre-Columbian Discovery of America by the Northmen, 2d ed., 1890, pp. 125-126. -° BEAMISH, N. L., Discovery of America by the Northmen, 1841, p. 91, foot-note.
for the benefit of the cathedrall church. In the bauen is a great swalth'; and when the tide doth runne out, all the whales doe runne into the sayd swalth.” 2
Boty's account is of course pre-Columbian, and as it is supposed to relate to the most flourishing period of the Norse colonies in Greenland, we may properly consider that the events mentioned in it occurred in the 12th century. Whatever the fact as regards the date of this observation, we may well doubt that the whales referred to were whalebone whales. It is much more probable that they were white whales, Delphinapterus.
Passing on to the times of Columbus and the great discoverers and explorers, the earliest bit of information about the larger whales of Greenland which I find is in Beste's narrative of Martin Frobisher's third voyage to Davis Strait in 1578. An odd accident happened to one of the vessels in his fleet, which is thus described :
[1578. FROBISHER'S THIRD VOYAGE.] “On Monday, the laste of June (1578], wee mette with manye greate whales, as they hadde beene porposes.
" This same day the Salamander being under both hir corses and bonets, hapned to strike a greate whale with hir full stemme, wyth such a blow, that the ship stoode stil and stirred neither forwarde nor backward. The whale thereat made a great and ugly noise, and caste up his body and tayle, and so went under water, and within two dayes after there was founde a greate whale dead, swimming above water, which we supposed was that the Salamander stroke." 3
The place where this happened must have been just east of Frobisher Bay, the entrance to which (Queen Elizabeth's Foreland“) they sighted July 2d.
It is somewhat singular that there is no vessel named Salamander in the roster of the fleet. As there is a Salomon or Sollomon, however, it is probable that the name is misspelt in the paragraph quoted above.
From the expression “greate whales, as they hadde beene porposes,” in the first sentence, it might be inferred that the Salomon ran against an Orcinus or Hyperoödon, rather than a baleen whale, but it seems hardly probable that either of these could stop a vessel of above 130 tons under full sail. Furthermore, I presume it
An eddy, or whirlpool. ✓a
A Treatise of Iver Boty a Gronlander, etc. In Asher's Henry Hudson the Navigator (Hakluyt Society, 1860, p. 231). From Purchas His Pilgrimes, V, 3, pp. 518-520. Writings of William Barentz in Hudson's possession,
The complete heading of the narrative is as follows: "A Treatise of Iver Boty a Gronlander, translated out of the Norsh language into High Dutch, in the yeere 1560. And after out of High Dutch into Low Dutch, by William Barentson of Amsterdam, who was chiefe Pilot aforesaid [of the expedition of 1595 to the Northeast). The same copie in High Dutch is in the hands of Iodocvs Hondivs, which I haue seene. And this was translated out of Low Dutch by Master William Stere, Marchant, in the yeere 1608, for the vse of me Henrie Hudson. William Barentsons Booke is in the hands of Master Peter Plantivs, who lent the same vnto me.”
The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher. Ed. by R. Collinson. Hakluyt Soc., 1867, p. 234. Reprinted from the ist ed. of Hakluyt's Voyages.
Or Cape Resolution, Resolution Island.
is not necessary to suppose that the “greate whale” which was struck was of the same sort as those referred to as resembling porpoises. These early narratives usually contain no more than a passing word regarding the animals observed and anything like satisfactory identifications are impossible.
From the accounts of the voyages of John Davis to the strait which bears his name we are able to get a little better idea of the whales which were encountered.
In the narrative of his first voyage to Greenland in 1585, is the following note: “Between the 16th and the 18th [of July, 1585] great numbers of whales were
This was just before Davis made a landfall at Cape Discord on the east coast of Greenland, which he sighted on July 20, 1585. Soon afterwards he passed into Davis Strait and crossed to the vicinity of Cumberland Sound, where, according to the narrative written by John Janes, the following incidents occurred :
[1585. DAVIS'S FIRST VOYAGE.]
“The 17 [of August, 1585) we went on sboare [in Cumberland Sound] Our Captaine and master searched still for probabilities of the [Northwest] passage, and first found, that this place was all Islands, with great sounds passing betweene them.
Thirdly, we saw to the west of those Isles, three or foure Wbales in a skul, which they judged to come from a westerly sea, because to the Eastward we saw not any whale. Also as we were rowing into a very great sound lying southwest [Irvine Inlet ?—Ev.], upon a suddayne there came a violent counter checke of a tide from the southwest against the flood which we came with, not knowing from whence it was maintayned.” 2
Davis was at this time, as the narrative shows, exploring Cumberland Sound with the hope of finding the much-sought Northwest Passage. We may suppose that the whales seen there were either Humpbacks or Finbacks; though from lack of a description it is impossible to determine which of the two they were. The Greenland whale is not in these parts in August.
In the narratives of Davis's third voyage to Greenland in 1587 we find other allusions to whales, as follows:
“The 24 [of June, 1587] being in 67 degrees and 40 minutes, we had great store of Whales, and a kinde of sea birdes which the Mariners called Cortinous [probably a misprint.—Ed.]." 3
This was in Davis Strait opposite the Cumberland peninsula. The kind of whale, as before, is uncertain. It may have been the Beluga.
Another allusion, about a month later, is as follows: “ As we rode at anker [July 23, 1587, among the islands “in the bottome”
Voyages toward the Northwest. Ed. by Thos. Rundal). Hakluyt Society, 1849, p. 36.
* The Voyages and Works of John Davis the Navigator. Ed. by A. H. Markham. Hakluyt Soc., 1880, pp. 12–13.
Op. cit., p. 43.
of Cumberland Sound] a great whale passed by us, and swam west in among the isles."
Twenty years later Henry Hudson was in Greenland waters, seeking like his predecessors that ignis fatuus, the Northwest Passage to Cathay. In the narratives of his voyages there are occasional references to whales. The earliest of these, in the narrative of the first voyage in 1607, is as follows:
[1607. HUDSON'S FIRST VOYAGE.] “Also wee saw (June 13th] a whale close by the shoare. Wee called the head-land which we saw Youngs Cape; and neere it standeth a very high mount, like a round castle, which wee called the Mount of Gods Mercie.” 2
This place appears to have been in Hudson Strait. A few days later we find another reference:
"This day (June 18, 1607] we saw three whales neere our ship, and having steered away north-east almost one watch, five leagues, the sea was growne every way.”
This appears to have been on the east coast of Greenland. Finally, in that narrative of Hudson's last voyage, by Prickett, which contains the tragic story of his fate, we find another mention of whales, as follows:
(1610. HUDSON'S FOURTH AND LAST VOYAGE.] "Our course (soon after the 4th of June, 1610] for the most part was betweene the west and north-west, till we raysed the Desolations, which is a great iland in the west part of Groneland. On this coast we saw store of whales, and at one time three of them came close by us, so as wee could hardly shunne them: then two passing very neere, and the third going under our ship, wee received no harme by them, praysed be God.” 4
This locality was in the vicinity of Cape Farewell, the “ Desolations” being on either side of that cape. In the perusal of this account one is reminded very forcibly of Scammon's description of the habits of the Common Finback of the North Pacific, Balænoptera velifera Cope. “It frequently gambols about vessels at sea,' he writes, “ip mid-ocean as well as close in with the coast, darting under them or shooting swiftly through the water on either side, at one moment upon the surface, belching forth its quick ringing spout, and the next instant submerged deep beneath the waves." 5
Close after Hudson follows Baffin, who was pilot of the ship Discovery for the company for the discovery of the Northwest Passage, and approached the Green
Voyages toward the Northwest. Ed. by Thos. Rundall. Hakluyt Soc., 1849, p. 47. Davis's Traverse Book From Hakluyt, 3, pp. 153, 154.
Henry Hudson, the Navigator. Ed. by Geo. Asher. Hakluyt Soc., 1860, p. 3. op. cit., p. 4.
ro Op. cit., p. 99.
• Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1869, P. 52.
land coast in May, 1612. The record for the 12th day of that month contains the following note:
[1612. BAFFIN'S FIRST RECORDED VOYAGE.] “This day [May 12, 1612] the water changed of a blackish colour; also, we saw many whales and grampus's.
This was near (and east of) Cape Farewell, which they sighted May 13th, and again May 14th. In 1616, in the same month, Baffin was once more in Greenland waters, and the narrative of that voyage contains an interesting account of the finding of a dead whale in Davis Strait somewhat north of Disco Island. Baffin records the incident thus:
[1616. BAFFIN'S SECOND VOYAGE TO GREENLAND.
(FIFTH RECORDED VOY
“The two and twentieth day [of May, 1616), at a north sunne, wee set saile and plyed still northward, the winde being right against us as we stood off and
pon the sixe and twentieth day, in the afternoone, we found a dead whale, about sise and twentie leagues from shoare, having all her finnes (whalebone). Then making our ship fast, wee vsed the best means wee could to get them, and with much toile got a hundred and sixtie that evening. The next morning the sea went uery high,
and the winde arising, the whale broke from vs, and we were forced to leaue her and set saile, and hauing not stood past three or foure leagues north-westward, came to the ice, then wee tacked and stood to the shoare-ward, a sore storme ensued." 2
This dead whale is mentioned again in a letter which Baffin wrote to Sir John Wolstenholme, one of the principal promoters of the enterprise, in connection with quite extended remarks on the whales of Baffin Bay, so that we are enabled to identify it as a Greenland Right whale. The paragraphs which are pertinent to our subject are as follows:
[1616. BAFFIN'S LETTER TO SIR JOHN WOLSTENHOLME.] “Now that the worst is knowne (concerning the passage) it is necessarie and requisite your worship should vnderstand what probabilitie and hope of profit might here be made hereafter
, if the voyage might bee attempted by fitting men. And first, for the killing of whales; certaine it is, that in this Bay [Baffin Bay] are great numbers of them, which the Biscayners call the Grand Bay whales, of the same kind as are killed at Greeneland, and as it seemeth to me, easie to be strooke, because they are not vsed to be chased or beaten. For we being but one day in Whale Sound (so called for the number of whales we saw there sleeping, and lying aloft on the water, not fearing our ship, or ought else); that if we had beene fitted with men and things necessarie, it had beene no hard matter to haue strooke more then would have made three ships a sauing voyage; and that it is of that sort of whale, theare is no feare; I being twise at Greeneland, tooke sufficient notice to know them againe ; besides a dead whale we found at sea, hauing all her
V'The Voyages of William Baffin. Ed. by C. R. Markham. Hakluyt Soc., 1881, p. 7. From Churchill's Collection of Voyages and Travels, 6, 1732, pp. 241-251. Written by John Gatonbe.
va Op. cit., pp. 139-140. From Purchas. Written by Baffin.