Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/590

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572
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

with the first three rays of the dorsal fin, the duct being formed as in Trachinis. There is also a spine on each gill cover connected with a poison gland. The effect of a wound from either of these fish is quite a serious matter. At the moment of puncture only the sharp prick is felt. In a few minutes, however, the part commences to burn and itch, and then becomes acutely painful. These pains increase in violence and extent. Then a feeling of suffocation is felt, and pain over the heart. From this time commence those cries of anguish which can always be recognized as caused by the acutest torture and fear. The dies are continuous, and beads of sweat stand on the brow. Flashes of light pass before the eyes, and the pulse is found to beat intermittently. Finally, delirium and convulsions supervene, which may pass on to collapse and death, or may, after lasting for many hours, gradually subside, leaving a malaise which is very difficult to get rid of. The point of puncture soon shows the results of intense irritation, and may eventually become gangrenous and necessitate amputation. The treatment is practically the same as that for a snake bite. The poison approaches that of the serpent in character, being alkaloidal, very quickly decomposed, and intensely rapid in action. It is secreted in larger quantities at the spawning season, and is most active in the male fish. On coasts where these fish abound it frequently happens that bathers are poisoned by stepping on one of them, the Trachinii being especially fond of concealing themselves just under the sand in shallow water.It would be of interest to know whether Dr. Calmette's snake-bite antitoxin is also efficient against the venom of these fishes.

 

Baku.—A very interesting account of Baku, the great petroleum center in Russia on the Caspian Sea, is given by W. F. Hume. Its growth, it seems, has been almost Western in rapidity. What was an insignificant town of fourteen hundred inhabitants thirty years ago, is now a flourishing city of over one hundred thousand souls whose population is still rapidly increasing. Two causes have combined to bring about this rapid growth: First, its magnificent harbor, and, secondly and chiefly, its proximity to the main area of naphtha supply, which already rivals that of America in productiveness. Several attempts were made to start refineries in this district, the first by the brothers Doubinnin in 1823, but until 1859, when M. Kokareff founded the Baku Petroleum Company, none of them were successful. In 1865 the first refinery was established in Baku itself, and so rapidly did the industry develop, that in 1873 the town was in danger of becoming entirely absorbed by the distilleries that rose on every hand, while the black, dense, and acrid smoke from the naphtha-fed furnaces poisoned the atmosphere. The nuisance became such a serious one that the whole industry was moved outside the town (by an edict of the Government, which is Russian). How intolerable it had become, may be inferred from the fat that the sole firing material for the furnaces was the refuse oil, and no smoke-consuming appliances were employed; not only the buildings but the whole surface of the ground became coated with a thick layer of soot, while the roads were almost impassable, owing to pools and ponds of oil. The city received the name, Tchornoia Gorod (black town), which still clings to it. Through the use of a smoke-consuming device the present factory district is quite free from soot, and is hence called the white town. Baku is a commercial center, but most undesirable for residential purposes. It is subject to heavy dust storms, rainlessness, intense heat, and there is an almost entire absence of vegetation and fresh water. The only garden is the so-called Alexander II, maintained at great expense, the shrubs and trees being planted in imported soil. The spot of chief interest about the town is the plateau of Balachani-Sabountchi, situated about eight miles to the northeast of Baku. Here are located the great petroleum wells. Viewed from a distance the tall, closely set, truncated towers erected over the wells look almost like a pine forest. These pyramids consist of a wooden boarded framework, and are easily removable when the bore becomes exhausted. The Baku district is so saturated with naphtha oils that there is an ever-present danger of serious fires through the ignition of the hydrocarbon gases, which escape not only from the bores but through every fissure and cleft in the soil, and, although every possible precaution is taken, many disastrous fires have occurred.