Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beached Whales

A recent Wall Street Journal blog post discusses what beached the London Whale.  Charles Forelle’s post indicates that trader Bruno Iksil had been placing bets on a credit index maintained by Markit called  “CDX.NA.IG.9″.  In an earlier time, diarist John Evelyn recorded the beaching of an actual whale in the Thames:

3d June, 1658. A large whale was taken between my
land abutting on the Thames and Greenwich, which
drew an infinite concourse to see it, by water, horse,
coach, and on foot, from London, and all parts. It
appeared first below Greenwich at low water, for at high
water it would have destroyed all the boats, but lying
now in shallow water encompassed with boats, after a
long conflict, it was killed with a harping iron, struck
in the head, out of which spouted blood and water
by two tunnels; and after a horrid groan, it ran quite
on shore, and died. Its length was fifty-eight feet,
height sixteen; black skinned, like coach leather; very
small eyes, great tail, only two small fins, a peaked
snout and a mouth so wide, that divers men might have
stood upright in it; no teeth, but sucked the slime only
as through a grate of that bone which we call whale-
bone; the throat yet so narrow, as would not have ad-
mitted the least of fishes. The extremes of the cetaceous
bones hang downward from the upper jaw, and are hairy
toward the ends and bottom within side: all of it pro-
digious; but in nothing more wonderful than that an
animal of so great a bulk should be nourished only bv
slime through those grates.

Often when one whale is beached, others follow.  Or so says Walter Scott.  Scott mentions seeing hundreds of whales while on his trip with Robert Stevenson to inspect the Northern Lights in 1814.  The following entry (August 1814) is found in Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott…”:

‘The few friends who may see this journal are much indebted for these pathetic remarks to the situation under which they are recorded…The worst is that this struggle carries us past a most curious spectacle, being no less than the carcasses of two hundred and sixty-five whales, which have been driven ashore in Taftsness Bay, now lying close under us.  With all the inclination in the world, it is impossible to stand in close enough to verify this massacre of Leviathans with our own eyes, as we do not care to run the risk of being drawn ashore ourselves among the party.  In fact this species of spectacle has been of late years very common among the isles.  Mr Stevenson saw upwards of one hundred and fifty whales lying upon the shore in a bay at Unst, in his northward trip.  They are not large, but are decided whales, measuring perhaps from fifteen to twenty-five feet.  They are easily mastered, for the first that is wounded among the sounds ans straits so common in the isles, usually runs ashore.  The rest follow the blood, and urged on by the boats behind, run ashore also.  A cut with one of the long whaling knives under the back-fin, is usually fatal to these huge animals.   The two hundred and sixty-five whales now lying within two or three miles of us were driven ashore by seven boats only.’

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