“20000 Leagues Under the Sea” Part2 Ch12

Question 1: How much air does a modern submarine contain and for a given crew size how long would that air supply last if the submarine couldn’t replenish it?

Question 2: Were any whale species hunted to extinction?

Answer 2: No single species of whale appears to have been hunted to extinction in known history, however several species have been hunted to near extinction, including: the Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus), the Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis and Eubalaena australis),  and the Bowhead Whale(Balaena mysticetus).  The Gray whale had been thought extinct several times in the last century, but has made a remarkable comeback in the Pacific.  There were once four distinct populations or herds of gray whales in the world. These four herds were mysteriously all limited to the Northern hemisphere between the subtropics and the arctic ice. Only two of these herds exist today and only one maintains a healthy population.  The European herd apparently went extinct sometime in the first millenium after Christ’s birth, as evidenced by fossil finds on the North East Atlantic coast. The Western Atlantic herd is thought to have been wiped out between the 1600 and 1700 A.D.  The Pacific herds were almost wiped out.  As stated on pg. 24 of “Gray Whales” by Jim Darling (copyright 1999, published by Voyageur Press, Inc., MN U.S.A):

Both the eastern and western Pacific herds have been declared extinct at least once in the last 100 years but they seemed to have beaten the odds.  The eastern Pacific or American herd that ranges from Mexico to Siberia is also often called the California or Chukotka-California stock.  The western Pacific herd ranges along the Asian coast and is also called the Okhotsk-Korean population.  Most investigators have felt there is no ongoing connection between the two stocks; however; considering the current remnant status of the Asian herd and well-known mobility of large whales; this remains an open question.  Genetic comparisons to determine the relationship between these stocks are currently underway.

This same book details how this near extinction of the Pacific herd of gray whales was clearly the result of massacre by the whaling industry, particularly in the late 1800s, when whaling ships decimated large populations of the whales in the lagoons on the west coast of Mexico where the whales breeded and calved.

Question 3:

“Then the southern whale is still unknown to you.  It is the Greenland whale you have hunted up to this time, and that would not risk passing through the warm waters of the equator.  Whales are localised, according to their kinds, in certain seas which they never leave.  And if one of these creatures went from the Bering to Davis Straits, it must be simply because there is a passage from one sea to the other, either on the American or the Asiatic side.”

Are whales truly localized, never leaving certain seas?

Answer 3:

According to pg. 144 of “The Whale” by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé translated from the French by J.F. Bernard Copyright 1972, published in 1987 by Arrowood Press:

Sperm whales, those mortal enemies of the giant squid are another matter.  Their principal habitat seems to be between 40 degrees North and 40 degrees South; and these are the farthest limits of their migrations.

Question 4: Is hunting animals wrong when it’s just “killing for killing’s sake”?

Answer 4: Certainly reckless killing isn’t justified, but sometimes it is good wildlife management to kill a certain number of a species to avoid overpopulation of a given wildlife preserve.  The ocean however is rather large to justify needing such management of whales at present.

Question 5: What does whale’s milk taste like?  How is it different from cow’s milk?  Could whales be milked like cows?  What processing might need to be done to make whale’s milk consumable by humans?

Question 6: Would cachelots likely attack other whales?

Answer 6:

Probably not. Perhaps Jules Verne meant by cachelot the relatives of the cachelot, the killer whale.  According to pg 234 of “The Whale” by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé translated from the French by J.F. Bernard Copyright 1972, published in 1987 by Arrowood Press:

The killer whale, except for man, is the only enemy of the whale.  They always attack in groups and sometimes cover their prey from one end of its body to the other.  A single killer whale would have no chance against the strength and the enormous tail of a full-grown baleen whale.  Their attacks are always well coordinated and tactically effective.  Some of the killer whales bite the victim in the stomach and in the genital area, causing it great pain.  Others force the baleen whale to open its mouth and they seize its tongue.  It is a pitiless and savage onslaught, and the attackers have numbers on their side.  In order to discourage such attacks, baleen whales form a defensive circle, or try to beat off the predators with blows from their tails.  Killer whales therefore prefer, as their victim, a whale calf, or a young whale; and, when they find such a victim, they mount a diversionary attack against its mother.

In fact the cachelot wouldn’t even be able to eat something as large as a whale since it swallows its food whole as state on pg 133 of “The Whale” by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé translated from the French by J.F. Bernard Copyright 1972, published in 1987 by Arrowood Press:

The cachelot’s teeth are all alike.  That is, there are no incisors or molars, and they are used only for seizing the whale’s prey.  For this great animal, who to all appearances is so well armed and a flesh eater, does not have the teeth of a carnivore.  The cachelot does not pulverize his food, nor does he chew.  He does not even really bite.  Instead, he swallows his food whole, in a gulp.

Such food swallowed whole is digested by means of two stomachs and a long intestine: typically twenty four times the whale’s length (compared to the human intestine of 5-6 times the length of a man’s body).   This is according to Sarah R. Riedman and Elton T. Gustafson, in “Home is the Sea for Whales”.

Question 7: Professor Aronnax mentions that the cachelot can remain longer under water than other whales.  Is this true?

Answer 7: According to page 91 of “The Whale” by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé translated from the French by J.F. Bernard Copyright 1972, published in 1987 by Arrowood Press:

How long can a sperm whale remain beneath the surface without breathing?  There is a considerable amount of data available on this point, and the consensus seems to be that large males can remain in apnea – that is, do without breathing – for between sixty and ninety minutes.

and on page 94 of this same book:

Apparently only the finback whale rivals the sperm whale in the duration of its dives, as was demonstrated by the specimen that we marked and tracked in the Indian Ocean.

Such long dives often go to great depths as attested to on pg 90 of the same book:

Experts on whales have had much discussion on the maximum depth to which a sperm whale can dive.  In 1900, a German scholar, Kukenthal, declared that they could go down to 3250 feet.

Kukenthal’s opinion was apparently corroborated by a curious incident.  In 1932, an American cable layer, the All America, was working on a telegraph line in the open sea off British Columbia.  The ship’s crew was amazed when they raised the defective line – with great effort – to find the carcass of a cachalot tangled in the line.  The animal had obviously been trapped by the cable, and had drowned.  The interesting fact was that the cachelot’s body had not been crushed by the water pressure – even though the cable had been laid at a depth fo 3330 feet.

Professor Budker writes: “…it now seems to have been proved that sperm whales often swim at depths of around 3000 feet. It seems plausible therefore to conclude that sperm whales when they become entangled in underwater cables are in search of food.  That is, they are swimming with their lower jaws hanging open, stirring up the upper layers of sediment on the bottom.”

A more recent book “The Spirit of the Whale, Legend, History, Conservation” by Jane Billinghurst, (copyright 2000, published by Voyageur Press) attests to even greater diving prowess on pg. 14-15:

The deepest divers of any mammals, sperm whales may descend as deep as two miles (3.2 km) in search of food, and their dives may last for more than two hours.  They can dive so deep because their lungs exchange about 90 percent of their contents with each breath (by comparison, human lungs exchange 15 to 20 percent).  Also, they have more blood for their body size than humans do, therefore they can store proportionately more oxygen.  They can also store more oxygen in their muscle tissue than humans by using a muscle hemoglobin called myoglobin.  These high levels of myoglobin give sperm whale meat its characteristic dark color and unpleasant taste.

Apparently research since Jacques Cousteau has proven the sperm whale to be able to dive greater depths than previously thought.

Question 8:

…It is in the upper part of this enormous head, in great cavities divided by cartileges, that is to be found from six to eight hundred pounds of that precious oil called spermaceti…

Besides the spermaceti, what other materials were harvested from cachelots by whalers?

Answer 8: Ambergris is another valued substance sometimes found in cachelots.  It is now known that this substance is excreted and available as flotsam in the ocean and is sometimes washed ashore.  According to pgs.143-144 of “The Whale” by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé translated from the French by J.F. Bernard Copyright 1972, published in 1987 by Arrowood Press:

 If we had succeeded in swallowing the squid’s beak along with the rest of the animal, it is possible that we might have turned into producers of ambergris, that precious substance indispensible in the manufacture of expensive perfumes.  Ambergris is found only in the intestines of sperm whales, and it very likely is formed from the beaks of squid that have been digested.  The largest block of ambergris ever found in a cachelot’s intestine weighed close to a thousand pounds and was worth a fortune.

The chances are that cachelots would have fared better at the hands of the whalers if it had not been for ambergris; for their flesh is mediocre and their oil inferior to that of baleen whales.  Ambergris (“gray amber”), however, has always been highly regarded, first for the medicinal qualities imputed to it, and, now, for the strange quality that it has of causing a scent to linger.  In addition, sperm whales offer another treasure: an exceptionally pure wax, called spermaceti. 

Question 9: While spermaceti wax was found useful to whalers that hunted the sperm whale (cachelot) what use might this substance have for the whale itself?

Answer 9: According to pg. 15 of “The Spirit of the Whale, Legend, History, Conservation” by Jane Billinghurst, (copyright 2000, published by Voyageur Press):

…Sperm whales were highly valued by whalers for the liquid wax, or spermaceti oil that exists in their huge heads.  The whales may use this oil for buoyancy while diving and to focus sonar clicks to stun prey.


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