Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/247

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SHARK-CAVES.

drag its victims into the water, either by seizing some carelessly outstretched limb or by overturning the canoe. It is a hideous animal, with gigantic mouth and with broad serrated teeth. I saw an enormous specimen hanging from the bows of a vessel which was lying at anchor in the harbour.

Even the small lagoon shark is not a pleasant fellow-swimmer, though it rarely exceeds six feet in length. It ventures into very shallow water, but makes its home in caves in the coral, in company with its kinsman. In all these isles it is considered good food; and in many of the groups (notably the New Hebrides and the Hervey Isles) the bold fishermen actually dive into the shark-caverns, contrive to pass a slip-knot round the tail of one of the sleepers, and instantly rise to the surface, when their companions haul the ugly monster, tail first, into the canoe, hitting him on the head with all possible speed. You can quite understand that this sort of fishing is by no means child's-play. Sometimes, when a diver has entered a cave, a shark will move so as to prevent his exit, and then his only chance of ever returning to the surface lies in the skill with which he can tickle or stroke the monster, so as to induce it to move aside. Of course he only dares to do this if the creature's tail is towards him. Should it have turned the other way, his fate is almost inevitably sealed, as the slightest movement on his part would reveal his presence and consign him to the shark's maw; and on the other hand, though he is himself wellnigh amphibious, a delay of a few seconds must cost his life.

One of the most unpleasant inmates of these waters is the stingaree or sting-ray, which is a large flat fish, the spine of which is prolonged to a sharp, barbed point, serrated on both sides. The swimmer who unluckily comes in contact with this weapon receives a dangerous wound, as the point probably breaks into his flesh, and works its way inward with every breath he draws.

Even the globe-fish is an uncomfortable neighbour. It is the hedgehog of the sea, covered with sharp horny spikes. It possesses the curious faculty of filling itself with air till it becomes a perfect ball, of the consistency of oiled parchment. Verily, those denizens of the deep are strange!