The Natural History of Ireland Volume 4 The Grampus

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The Grampus, Phocana Orca, F. Cuv., Delphinus Orca, Fabr.

Visits the coast.

Templeton states that it " appears on the coast of Ireland along with the herring :" Dr. J. D. Marshall, that it is " met with in great numbers [about Rathlin] during summer, and is said to be very mischievous, and not unfrequently to endanger boats,an observation indicating that the true grampus is alluded to. In M'Skimmin's History of Carrickfergus it is said to be " an occasional visitor during summer ; " and " a very large fish called the herring-hog, seen in pursuit of others, especially of the herring, with a larger dorsal fin." and hence imagined by this writer to be the fin-backed whale, is probably the grampus : he mentions one as cast ashore at Kilroot. In M'Skimmin's first edition, 1811, he notes the " herring-hog, said to be a very large fish, often upwards of twenty feet long," p. 184. The Cetacea mentioned in Sampson's History of Londonderry as visiting that coast are the porpoise and the grampus.

I am enabled to state that this species occurs on the north-east coast, from the examination of a cranium which came under my notice in 1839, when it was presented by Dr. Drummond to the Belfast Museum. The animal had been taken at Donaghadee ten or twelve years before that time. This cranium is thirty-two inches and a half in extreme length, and sixteen inches and a quarter in height ; it perfectly agrees with that represented in Cuvier's Oss. Foss. pl. 223 f. 3 ; edit. 1834. In Rutty's Dublin it is remarked under Grampus, " that forty-six were said to have been cast upon our coast in March, 1716;" but these were more probably Delp. melas. The grampus is included in the Fauna of Cork. The following paragraphs appeared in the Cork Reporter, and were copied into the Northern Whig, a Belfast newspaper, at the dates mentioned. " Shoal of Grampuses.About ten o'clock on Sunday a shoal of grampuses, about sixty in number, entered our harbour, and continued their course until they reached Horsehead, where they turned. They were chased by all the boats in the harbour. The scene was indeed extraordinary ; the strange visitors rolled and tumbled about, and spouted up the water to a considerable height. The tide was on the ebb, and the young monsters, finding themselves hotly pursued, made for the harbour, which they passed at about twelve o'clock. Several were taken, one of them weighing over three tons." N. Whig, July 31, 1841. " Shoal of Whales.Bantry Bay has been the scene of great excitement, high enjoyment, and most valuable occupation to the people of this locality, this week, in consequence of a very large shoal of whales- grampus species- which entered that harbour on Monday, and found their way to the romantic bay of Glengariff" on Tuesday-the evening of which day found all kinds of boats,weapons, and missiles in requisition for the attack on the herd. An immense number were secured, - a correspondent states three hundred, the value of which he computes at £1500. Nothing could exceed the spirit-stirring character of the whole scene, enhanced as it was by the beautiful weather, and splendid scenery of the bay." N. Whig, May 21, 1844.

The latter at least must, I consider, apply to the D. melas.Since the preceding was written I find that a cranium of D. melas (twenty-three inches and a quarter in length and thirteen inches in height) in the Belfast Museum was presented as that of a " grampus, one of a number cast ashore at Youghal," thus showing that this name is sometimes applied in the south to the other species.A herd of not less than a hundred grampuses mentioned to me by Mr. John Nimmo, in 1837, as having been once seen by him in Roundstone Bay, Connemara, were probably the allied species, and of whose occurrence on the western coast we have had ocular demonstration.On 4th or 5th February, 1848, two individuals of some kind of Cetaceous animals entered the bay of Belfast and came near the quays of that town, above Mr. Thompson's embankment. They were first observed at " grey dawn by men engaged in removing the beacon lights, some way below Connswater, and who rowed up towards the animals, mistaking them for a yawl adrift. On a near approach, however, they were not a little surprised by the spouting up of a large jet of water which would have half filled their boat, and by the disappearance of the object of their curiosity. After a little time the latter again came to the surface, and, several boats having arrived, a general pursuit ensued, in the course of which a number of shots were fired, but apparently without effect. One boat, in which were several men from the guard ships and armed with boat-hooks,was rowed between the two Cetaceans, who had become partially aground and were so close together that there was scarcely room for the boat to pass but the fiowing tide soon enabled them to retreat into deeper water, and the assailants, finding them afloat, were glad to escape as speedily as possible. The boat which passed between them was twenty-four feet long, and the animals were described as being at least thirty feet in length, both as they extended beyond the boat astern and stern. They had one back-fin each about two feet and a half high, and thought to be nearer to the head than to the tail. The head was considered to resemble in form that of the porpoise, according to the figure in Bell's British Quadrupeds which was shown to the parties, and the eyes were full and large. Another informant stated that when he saw the animals he thought theywere a " lighter sinking."' The captain of a small tug-steamer plying in the bay gave chase for upwards of a mile, and was able to pass the animals by putting on " full steam," but he abandoned the pursuit, as he could not follow into shallow water so as to make the prize his own. The noise of the paddles and of blowing off the steam appeared to occasion great alarm. On the following morning the same captain observed the " whales at Holywood bank, and renewed the chase as far as Cultra, in the direction of the open sea. The engineer of this steamer corroborated the captain's statements, and they also concurred in saying that at first they thought there were two animals, but on a close approach they considered that there was only one, as the two bodies appeared to be joined at the inner sides, so far as visible. The two together were as broad as the deck of the steamer - about fourteen feet- and they rose simultaneously in the water, their backs suggesting the idea of " a double-roofed house." They inclined to float lazily on the surface when not disturbed ; and when they disappeared underneath it was only for a short time. Water was blown from the front of the head when the latter was above the sea, and in a forward direction along the surface- not upwards. All parties who saw the animals agreed that they were neither bottle-nosed whales nor dolphins ; and I have no doubt, everything considered, that they were grampuses. "When at Newcastle (County Down) in October, 1851, I was informed by fishermen that the grampus is seen there every summer, and is called the " Herring Hog." They identified the species on my showing them the figures in Bell's British Quadrupeds.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.