THE INDIAN OCEAN
The 27th of January, at the entrance of the vast Bay of Bengal, we met repeatedly a forbidding spectacle—dead bodies floating on the surface of the water. They were the dead of the Indian villages, carried by the Ganges to the level of the sea, and which the vultures, the only undertakers of the country, had not been able to devour. But the sharks did not fail to help them at their funereal work.
About seven o'clock in the evening, the Nautilus, half immersed, was sailing in a sea of milk. At first sight the ocean seemed lactified. Was it the effect of the lunar rays? No; for the moon, scarcely two days old, was still lying hidden under the horizon in the rays of the sun. The whole sky, though lit by the sidereal rays, seemed black by contrast with the whiteness of the waters.
Conseil could not believe his eyes, and questioned me as to the cause of this strange phenomenon. Happily I was able to answer him.
"It is called a milk sea," I explained; "a large extent of white wavelets often to be seen on the coasts of Amboyna, and in these parts of the sea."
"But, sir," said Conseil, "can you tell me what causes such an effect? for I suppose the water is not really turned into milk."
"No, my boy; and the whiteness which surprises you is caused only by the presence of myriads of infusoria, a sort of luminous little worm, gelatinous and without color, of the thickness of a hair, and whose length is not more than the seven-one-thousandths of an inch. These insects adhere to one another sometimes for several leagues."
"Several leagues!" exclaimed Conseil.
"Yes, my boy; and you need not try to compute the number of these infusoria. You will not be able; for, if I am not mistaken, ships have floated on these milk seas for more than forty miles."
Toward midnight the sea suddenly resumed its usual color; but behind us, even to the limits of the horizon, the sky reflected the whitened waves, and for a long time seemed impregnated with the vague glimmerings of an aurora borealis.