Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/645

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625
THE SIRENS OF THE SEA.

wrapped round as with the folds of a hammock, and the net has to be cut away piecemeal. As often as not, the dugongs thus drown themselves by frantic efforts to escape, but where a partial entanglement permits them to follow their instinct and come to the surface, they are taken alive. In the morning the boat cruises round to see how the nets have fared and to secure the game. . . . The dugongs that are found alive in their captivity struggle desperately. As a rule 5 they are as harmless as vegetarians are usually supposed to be, the only known breakers of the peace being a couple of bulls fighting over a sweetheart, or a frantic mother maddened by danger to her offspring. Nevertheless, although the dugong is by nature mild-mannered, and innocent of the wiles by which a Greenland whale sends a boat spinning into the air with all bands, the men prefer to give the netted individual a wide berth. Nor would it be the correct thing to slaughter it on the ground, lest the blood should attract a legion of sanguinary sharks, whose attacks would cause a speedy loss of the booty. The dugong, still floundering, is therefore hauled ashore, and a long knife applied to the throat puts an end to its career." Harpooning has been practiced, and is much liked by the blacks, but is discountenanced because it tends to drive away the animals.

"When the dugong was hauled up on the sandy slope, a line was cut down the belly and the skin was taken off in one piece, and spread out to be used as a receptacle for the meat as it was hewn from the carcass. As it happened to be a fair-sized skin, it required two men to carry it. We were afterward shown a hide that was an inch and a half thick at the back, though the thickness bad gradually diminished toward the under part of the body." The hide is not, however, composed of gross material, but is really quite delicate.

The flesh "is cut off the carcass in flitches and slabs, and from the same animal is taken meat resembling beef, veal, and bacon. I have eaten it in each form, and can testify to its excellence, and to the way in which it has been palmed off upon knowing men as prime fillets of beef, cutlets of veal, and rashers of superior bacon. If the dugong is not properly fat, it is turned chiefly into bacon; should it, however, present a layer nearly two inches thick, the snow-white fat is used for a more important purpose. The lean flesh, beef-like in the mature and veal-like in the young animals, is eaten fresh or salted for food. The bacon-flitch in size, color, and streakiness, if hung in an English pork-butcher's shop, might easily be taken for a section of the side of a true Wiltshire hog; and the only difference detected in the eating would be, in the dugong, an absence of the strong flavor too often found in pork; and a mature dugong, twelve feet long, or thereabout, would weigh nearly a ton. It is worth mentioning, too, before passing from the flesh of this animal, that the meat from the calf is always the best, and that it is recommended by the faculty to consumptive persons, by reason of its undoubted strengthening qualities."