The Natural History of Ireland Volume 4 The Spermaceti Whale
The Spermaceti Whale, Physeter macrocephalus, Linn.,
Has been taken on the ocean coasts of the island.
In the Philosophical Transactions for 1695-6, Dr. Molyneux remarks," Nor is the kind of whale-fish that affords the true spermaceti a stranger to the coast of Ireland that respects America. This we may properly,I think, call the Cetus dentatus, from its large solid white teeth fixed only in the lower jaw, to distinguish it from the species that gives the whalebone of which kind likewise there have been three or four stranded in my time, but on the eastern coast of this country that regards England.There have been three of this kind [Cetus dentatus] taken to my knowledge in the space of the six years, all on the western coast of this country ; one near Coleraine in the County of Antrim, another about Shipharbour in the County of Donegal, and a third in August 1691, 71 feet long (exceeding that discovered by Clusius 19 feet), towards Ballyshannon, where Lough Erne discharges its waters into the western ocean." Vol. xix. p. 508.
In Smith's History of Cork, published in 1750, it is observed that a whale," which I take by the account I heard of it to be the Balaena major, or spermacetiwhale, Ray, Synop. Pisc. 15, was a few winters ago cast on shore near Castlehaven, and towards 60 feet long." Vol. ii. p. 299.Arthur Young in his Tour in Ireland, made in the years 1776- 1779,remarks that," In all the bays on the coast [of Donegal] in March and April there are many whales, the bone sort; they appear on the coast in February, and go off to the northward the beginning of May ; sometimes they are in great plenty, and in November to February there are many spermaceti whales ; [Footnote 1] this is what induced Thomas Nesbit, Esq., of Kilmacredon, to enter into a scheme for establishing a fishery on the coast, and in executing it was the inventor of the gunharpoon.Mr. Nesbit first used the gun-harpoon for killing whales in the year 1756 [In this year] one whale was caught by the hand-harpoon In 1761, with the gun-harpoon, he killed three whales and got them all ; after which he every year killed some, except one year, when he killed fortytwo sun-fish [Footnote 2] in one week, each of which yielded from half a ton to a ton of oil.Mr. Nesbit has since given it up,[Footnote 3] not from want of success in the mode of taking the whales, but from being put by his partners, for want of knowledge in the business, to useless expenses. From many experiments he brought the operationto such perfection, that for some years he never missed a whale, nor failed of holding her by the harpoon : he had for some time ill success, from firing when too near, for the harpoon does not then fly true, but at 14 or 15 yards' distance, which is what he would choose, it flies straight; lias killed several at 25 yards." Other interesting particulars are given, and it is finally remarked :" I have been the more particular in giving an account of this undertaking, because the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, &c. in London has long sincegiven premiums for the invention of the gun-harpoon, supposing it to be original."P. 157.
In Rutty's Natural History of the County of Dublin it is stated that one of these whales " was cast upon our coast in the year 1766, and the sperma was taken from it and refined here in Dublin." Vol. i. p. 369. In 1837 Dr. R. Ball mentioned to me that he had often heard of an immense whale which was taken or cast ashore at Youghal about seventy years before that time. It was said to have been seventy feet in length, and its height so great that his grandfather, a tall man, when on horseback beside the whale, held up his whip, and the top of it could not be seen from the opposite side of the animal. The spermaceti was said to have been carried away in buckets-full. Mr. John Nimmo (of Roundstone, Connemara, informed me in 1837,that a spermaceti whale was driven ashore about fifteen years previously in a sandy bay near that village. Mr. Martin, on whose property it was stranded, was stated to have realized £50 by the spermaceti
- [Footnote 1] At the beginning of August, 1845, a large whale was seen by Mr. Hyndman and others between Horn Head and Tory Island off Donegal.
- [Footnote 2] Basking shark. Selachus maximus, Cuv.
- [Footnote 3] The following paragraphs appeared in 1776, copied in 1839, from a book of extracts made by Dr. Aquila Smith;-"A large Whale. By letters from the Co. Donegal we have an account that Mr. Thos. Nesbit killed and brought
into port, the 11th inst., a large whale; and as many others now appear on the coast, there is reason to hope for a successful season in that fishery."- Freeman's Journal, May 17, 1776. "We hear from Port in the Co. of Donegal that Mr. Thos. Nesbit hadbrought in a whale there which measured 63 feet in length." Freeman's Journal, June 10, 1776.
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|