Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/245

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217
DANGERS IN FISHING.

The men engaged in the bêche-de-mer fisheries find that those hideous gelatinous slugs which appear so very helpless, are also capable of inflicting severe pain. They resemble great sausages of dark-coloured india-rubber, black, grey, red, or greenish, inflated with sea-water. When touched, they eject this water with some violence, and if it falls on any wound or scratch it produces dangerous and agonising inflammation. The smallest drop squirted into the eye causes intolerable burning pain, and many of the tripang-fishers have their sight seriously injured from this cause.

But more noxious by far is the olive-green variety, which is commonly called the leopard, from being marked with orange-coloured spots. When this creature is touched it throws up glutinous filaments like darning-cotton, which not only adhere tenaciously to whatever they touch, but if they come in contact with the human skin, they instantly raise a painful burning blister and cause serious inflammation. Such being the case, it would appear discreet to leave these ugly creatures unmolested; but as they are accounted a great delicacy in China, and fetch from £80 to £100 per ton, the risk is considered worth incurring.

Another serious danger of the reef arises from the various voracious sea-eels, which coil themselves up in the interstices of the coral and dart out to seize any prey which comes within reach. I was severely bitten myself one day while incautiously feeling for small fish; but many natives have thus been maimed for life, the loss of a few fingers being a comparative trifle. I heard of one man in the Paumotu Isles who had the whole calf of his leg bitten off by a vaaroa, or long-mouthed eel, a reptile which attains a length of eight feet or more, and roams about the reef seeking what it may devour. It was formerly an object of worship, in common with the conger-eel; and bloody vengeance has on more than one occasion been taken by the heathen on such of their Christian neighbours as have presumed to eat this incarnate god.

About fifteen years ago, a party of about eighty persons reached Samoa, after drifting over the wide seas for several weeks. They had been driven away from the isle of Fakaofa, where several of their number had been killed in consequence of having eaten conger-