Science (journal)/Volume 5/No. 100/Military Cetology

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Military cetology.

In the exhaustive essay upon brush-making, by Capt. A, L. Varney, in the last report of the secretary of war (vol. iii. p. 190), I find, in connection with much information of interest to the zoölogist, some remarks upon cetaceans which are unique in their way, and show how dangerous it is for one unacquainted with a subject to attempt to instruct others therein. After stating that "whalebone, or baleen, is a horny substance, consisting of fibrous laminae laid laid lengthwise along the upper jaw of the whale," our author proceeds to give the following information about the order Cetacea in general: —

"Zoölogically, whales, or mammallia of the cetacean order, are divided into two great families, — 'blowing' cetacea, so called from the habit of spouting water through the nasal openings or spiracles in the top of the head; and 'herbivorous' cetacea (Manati). The family of 'blowing' cetacea is divided into two tribes, — the tribe of whales (Balaena); and the dolphin tribe, distinguished mainly by the size and shape of the head. “The whale tribe (Balaenidae) is divded into the genus whale and the genus cachalot (sperm whale). The genus whale produces the baleen,” etc.

This travesty of truth was evidently compiled from text books, of fifty years ago, and, although somewhat amusing from its complete erroneousness, cannot be too severely criticised. Cetology is certainly not in so advanced a condition as could be wished; but there are numerous recent works in which the outlines of the subject are correctly laid down, and from which our author might have gathered facts, and not fictions, with which to preface his chapter upon whalebone.

Frederick W. True.

U.S. national museum.

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