Acres of gore

The archives of Natural History magazine contain some strange old stories—like this tale from 1933, when whales were casually slaughtered, and you could write about their death throes in a popular magazine. There’s a memorable image in it, at least.

Unimaginable numbers of squids, which occur in practically all parts of the oceans, are devoured by sperm whales. The certainty of this is, of course, obvious from the bulk of the mighty foragers and the size and number of the schools engaged in an unceasing quest for food throughout all the warmer sea waters of the globe. It was indelibly impressed upon my mind, however, by an incident witnessed during a South Atlantic cruise in the old New Bedford whaling brig “Daisy.” I manned stroke oar in the mate’s boat, and on one occasion our harpooner made fast to a medium-sized sperm whale, perhaps thirty-five feet in length, which showed very little fight, and which we overtook soon after the iron had been planted. The first pricks of the terrible lance, thrust and “churned” by the mate, evidently found its life, for the whale went immediately into a flurry, swimming desperately around the boat, and rolling over and over so that the line encircled it many times. Then, while we watched its dying struggles at close range, the beast began to belch up squids. Barrelful after barrelful of the tentacled creatures, some but freshly swallowed, others in advanced stages of disintegration, floated to the surface all about our boat. Most of them seemed to have bodies a foot and a half or two feet long, but some were larger. By the time the whale floated fin-out and lay still, the slimy carcasses and fragments of squids covered the space of an acre or more.

Biology isn’t always pretty.


  1. Apikoros says

    Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

  2. says

    Perhaps even stranger, in 1874 a Right Whale became stranded on the banks of the Raritan River and died. From what I’ve been able to find, the carcass was taken to what is now “Passion Puddle” on Rutgers Cook Campus where the flesh was removed, the skeleton was hanged from the ceiling of the Geology Museum for some time. However, the skeleton is no longer on display in the shoddy museum an no one seems to know where it has gotten to.