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Volume 2, 1869
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Art. IV.—On the Balænidæ or Whales with Baleen.

(With Illustrations.)

[Read before the Wellington Pilosophical Society, September 18, 1869.]

Observations on the Natural History of the Baloenidoe, or that division of mammiferous animals called Cetacea, having the remarkable substance known in commerce as Whalebone (Baleen), as a substitute for teeth.

The habitat of the Cetacea has necessarily rendered it a difficult task to obtain reliable descriptions of them. The naturalist and practical whaler know nothing about the anatomy of the animal, and they accordingly record measurements of the external surface. In those Cetacea of large size great inaccuracy occurs even in obtaining this very deficient character in determining genera or species. For example, in describing Cetaceans, the naturalist and practical whaler invariably include the tail in their measurements, thus adding from ten to fifteen feet to the actual length of the skeleton; and when the sex and age of the animal are also not given, the result must be the erroneous increase in the number of species. Hence, a carefully prepared skeleton, the sex of the specimen, and, if possible, the anatomy of the viscera, are imperatively required to enable the naturalist to determine with accuracy either genera or species.

The following observations are the result of the dissection of three specimens of the Balænidæ; and the author proposes to reduce the number of Balænidæ to four, distinguished by the following characters:—

Average length of adult animal
Balœna Mysticetus, or Right whale 55 to 65 feet
Rorqualus major (Knox), Hump-back 80 to 100 "
"minor (Knox) 20 to 25 "
"Sp., Trigger-fin, Sulphur-bottom 30 to 55 "
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Number of Vertebræ.
Cervical. Dorsal. Lumber and caudal. Total. Number of Ribs.
Balœna Mysticetus. 7 12 33 52 12
Rorqualus major 7 15 43 65 15
"minor 7 11 30 48 11
"Sp. Trigger-fin, anatomy not known.
Baleen—Measurement of longest blade.
Balœna Mysticetus from 9 to 17 feet
Rorqualus major from 4 to 5 "
"minor 5 inches
"Sp. Trigger-fin, anatomy not known.

Average length of Baleen offered for sale, from 6 to 12 feet.

1. Balæna Mysticetus, Right Whale.

The Mysticetus, in point of value, not only exceeds that of all others, not excepting even that of the Cachalot, but is infinitely more valuable, as a marketable production, than any other animal; and yet only the skin (i.e., the blubber of the practical whaler) and its appendages, in the shape of baleen, is brought to market, the entire carcase and skeleton have as yet no marketable value.*

All attempts to give a drawing of the animal have hitherto failed, although the skeleton may now be seen in most of the Museums on the Continent, more especially in Paris, where the Museum, towards the close of Cuvier's career, formed the largest “Scientific Dictionary, illustrated,” in the world. (A profile view of the skull is given in Plate 2b, fig. 5.) It has been stated that Cuvier found specific difference between the Arctic and Antarctic Mysticetæ; but I have not seen the grounds on which he based his opinion. Practical whalers are of opinion the Mysticetæ killed in the Southern Hemisphere, are identical with those of Davis' Straits and Greenland, only differing in size, arising from the nature of the food.

Since arriving in New Zealand, I have come to the conclusion that there are at least two species of the Mysticetæ, from an examination of the baleen; that of the Southern Hemisphere being proportionately finer in texture, narrower, and thinner in the blade. Baleen has been used for a great variety of purposes, and, at one time, its value was regulated by the length of the blade, everything under six feet brought a much less price than that of greater length. Now, the baleen in the Arctic whale (central blades of the series) has frequently reached seventeen and eighteen feet in length, whereas the baleen brought from the Antarctic or South Sea, seldom exceeds nine feet. I, at one time, from observing transverse ridges on the sides of the baleen plates, thought that these ridges indicated a periodical interruption in the growth, similar to those observed on the horn of the ox, but from the examination of the baleen belonging to the cranium presented to the Museum by Sir George Grey, I very much doubt the soundness of this theory. The baleen is strictly analogous to the hair, nails, hoofs, etc., and being liable to be worn down, continues throughout the whole life of the animal to grow. A fine and similar example of this wonderful provision of nature may be observed in the molar teeth of the elephant.

[Footnote] * Value of two Whales.—Oil, 20 tons, at £50 a ton, £1,000; Baleen, 1 ½ tons, at £700, £1,050. Total, £2,050.—Voyage of the “Diana,” whaler, from Hull, in the year 1866–7.

[Footnote] † The principal whaler has no idea of size in any animal constituting a generic or specific character.

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To accompany paper by F.J.Knox

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2. Rorqualus Major, Hump-back.

In the autumn of 1831, a whale of unusual dimensions was observed moving about in the Firth of Forth, and was ultimately stranded near North Berwick, within about twenty-five miles of Edinburgh. I was requested by my brother, Professor Knox, to visit the locality, and endeavour to purchase the animal. This I accomplished, after much trouble, and no small cost; the comparative anatomy was ascertained; the most interesting parts, such as sections of the baleen matrix, the arch of the aorta, plaster casts of the brain, etc., together with the baleen in sitû, were exhibited in the Royal Institution for some time, and were ultimately handed over to the Town Council of Edinburgh. As the skeleton occupied a space of one hundred and twenty feet by forty-five, it was expensive even to afford it house room, and therefore it was put at the Zoological Gardens.

As an assistance to collectors in New Zealand, I am able to give a careful drawing of the skeleton of this whale. (Plate 2a, Fig. 1.)

The specimen exhibited the characteristic plicæ or folds of the integuments on the abdominal surface. Immediately above the generative organ (male) there was the hunch or hump, so diminutive in size, as to require to be looked for. It is worthy of remark that a similar hump is observed on the Cachalot, and that the Rorqual and Cachalot should equal each other in size, in habits, and even in the oil, that of the Hunch-back Rorqual being quite equal to sperm, and indeed containing the spermaceti about the head in considerable quantities. The action of both the Rorqual and Cachalot, upon being attacked, have also a strong resemblance; they retaliate, or as the practical whaler expresses it, “run upon the harpoon or lance,” and consequently endanger the boat and crew.

The following measurements were made of the fresh specimen:—

Snout to tip of tail 100 feet
Greatest circumference 36 "

The following measurements were made of the skeleton:—

Snout of occipital foramen 22 feet
Length of spinal column 67 "
Total length of skeleton 89
Length of lower jaw, external surface 24
Cervical (all jointed) 7
Dorsal 15
Lumbar and Caudal 43
Total number of Vertebræ 65
Sternal 3
A. Sternal 12
The sixth, the longest
Pairs 15
Baleen, the longest blade 5 feet
Total weight of the skeleton 28 tons

ascertained by the tollage charged on passing from North Berwick to Edinburgh.

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The cranium was of colossal bulk and weight, exceeding in this respect that of the Mysticetae, at least ten times. To enable me to remove the cranium from the beach at North Berwick, I had it raised on a frame, and made a transverse section in front of the nostrils; and secondly, a longitudinal section of the cranium, thus allowing me to remove the upper jaw with the baleen in sitû, and also obtain a cast of the brain.

3. Rorqualus Minor, Knox.

I am enabled to refer to an original drawing of this animal, with which, to me, an interesting history is connected. (See Plate 2a., Fig. 3.) In the month of February, 1834 (whilst engaged in the preparation of the Rorqualus major), a notice was placarded and extensively circulated throughout Edinburgh, that a monster had been caught in the Firth of Forth, near Queen's Ferry, and was exhibited. I formed one of the number of the visitors— although naturally a lover of the “beautiful,” and, consequently, disliking the sight of monsters. Notwithstanding that great efforts had been made to disfigure it, I recognized a specimen of the Balænidæ, I made the purchase, and within a few hours there were grouped around the interesting stranger, such men as the late Professor Edward Forbes, Professor John Goodsir, Sir W. Ferguson, and Sir Geo. Ballingall, and it was determined to have a drawing of the specimen. It was suggested that by suspending it horizontally, as in swimming, a much more accurate likeness would be obtained. This was accordingly forthwith accomplished, and Forbes undertook to be draughtsman. The effort resulted in realizing more than our most sanguine expectations. The specimen was evidently that of a young animal, but having obtained the magnificent likeness, it immediately occupied the attention of the practical anatomist, and nearly every part was preserved. The preparation of the skeleton was a work of much labour (notwithstanding its comparative small size) more especially in preserving the baleen in sitû. All, however, was ultimately accomplished, and the entire comparative anatomy was presented to the Museum of the University of Edinburgh.

The following notes were made of the recent specimen and skeleton:—

Weight 500Ibs.
Snout to tip of tail 13 feet
Greatest circumference 8ft. 6in
ft. in.
Snout to occipital foramen 2 6
Length of spinal column 7 6
Total length of skeleton 10 0
Cervical 7
Dorsal 11
Lumbar and Caudal 30
Total number 48
Sternal 3
A. Sternal 8
Paris 11
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Rorqualus (Sp.,) Trigger-fin, Razor-back, Sulphur-bottom (to be distinguished from the Finner, which is properly the B. Marginata.)

The fin which in this species of the Balænidæ is placed in the usual situation, immediately above the generative organs, is said to average from thirty to fifty-five feet in length. The baleen is short; and the blubber in comparatively small quantity. The whales of this species resemble the great Rorqual in their general habits, and, although numerous, do not form a tempting object of capture for the practical whaler. They are common in the neighbourhood of the New Zealand group of islands.

Two young specimens were caught and stranded in Porirua Harbour, in 1867, neither of which I was able to preserve; only taking the measurements as detailed in the annexed tables. The dorsal surface was of a jetty and glossy black, becoming of a light-grey on the abdomen. The characteristic plicæ or folds were well-developed; the longest baleen blade was two inches, of a pale yellow or cream colour. The osteology and comparative anatomy of this whale were not ascertained.

A young female specimen, weighed 300 lbs.

It measured as follows:—

ft. in. lines.
Snout to tip of tail 9 10 0
Greatest circumference 6 8 0
Snout to nostrils 1 6 6
" to centre of eye 1 6 0
" to dorsal fin 5 2 0
Baleen, pale rose colour, longest blade 0 2 0

General Observations on the Balænidæ.

The entire form of the animals so nearly resembles a fish, as to lead the naturalist, and practical whaler, to insist that the Cetaceæ are fishes; nothing but the researches of the anatomist could have rescued the whale from that class.

The exhibition of the great Rorqual, at the Royal Institution, in 1835, was considered by the great mass of the visitors, as a sheer imposition. They wished to see the skin stuffed. The baleen (in that case in sitû) was disbelieved to be a reality by most persons who visited the exhibition. One or two persons actually demanded a return of the admission fee. Yet to the anatomist, the contemplation of the spinal column (trunk) composed of sixty-five vertebræ (out of many of which the entire skeleton of the ox could have been fashioned), and these connected by sixty-five joints, many of them containing a gallon of joint-oil, presented a lever, or rather a whip-shaft, to the tail, which left no doubt of the effects of the application of its distal extremity to a whale-boat.

I remember a whaler of the name of Thoms, residing on the Island of Kapiti, who was merely touched by the tail of a Mysticete, and nearly every bone on one side of the body was broken. Fortunately, there was no “duly qualified doctor” to be had, and Thoms consequently got quite well, with the exception of a slight lameness. When brought to the station, he was lifted out of the boat with considerable difficulty, being literally glued to the boat by the blood lost.

The sternum, also, is remarkably short, having only two or three pairs of ribs connected to it. Now, this, instead of indicating a rudimentary condition, rather proved the Divine perfection in all nature's works. In consequence of the smallness of the sternum, the great respiratory muscle— the diaphragm—measured in the great Rorqual, 60 feet in length, by an

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average breadth of 10 or 12 feet; thus enormously increasing the capacity of the chest at the will of the animal, either thereby depressing the locomotive power, or increasing it when determined on a rapid journey.

It has been demonstrated by the comparative anatomist, that the Mysticetae, and, in all probability, the Rorquals, at an early period of uterine development, have numerous cone-shaped teeth, unfilled, for their future existence. These teeth, accordingly, never proceed beyond the first stage of development, and the young cub at birth, is a sucker. The palate, soon after birth, becomes covered with numerous transverse ridges, and a white horny substance begins to spring from them, lengthening with the growth of the animal, and corresponding to the development of the jaws, longest where the arch of the upper jaw is greatest, and diminishing towards the throat and snout, to mere hairs. Thus, the animal destroys myriads of minute mollusca, and even microscopic marine insects, which, from their enormous increase, might become the source of pestilence, had it not been for their wholesale consumer.

Notes By Dr. Hector.

The following is a list, with dimensions, of those specimens of Cetacians in the Colonial Museum, Wellington, which possess interest from their being rarely represented in collections.

1. Balæna Marginata (Gray).

Cranium presented by Sir George Grey: obtained at the Island of Kawau—See Plate 2b, Fig. 1, upper surface; Fig. 2, lower surface; Fig. 3, side view; Fig. 4, section showing Baleen in sitû.

Weight of cranium 58 lbs.
" of lower jaw 13 "
Total weight 71 lbs.
ft. in.
Snout to occipital foramen 4 9
" to fronto-nasal suture 2 10
" to centre of orbit 3 10
Breadth at nostrils 2 5
" mastoid processes 2 7
Lower jaw— length; convex surface 3 11
" greatest depth 0 8

Baleen, 29 inches long, 3 ½ inches wide.

From the character afforded by the baleen of this specimen, I conclude that it is the head of the Balœna Marginata (Gray), or West Australian whale.

Dr. Gray says*:—“This species is only known from three laminae of baleen. It is much smaller and broader, compared with its width at the base, than, and is differently coloured from, the baleen of any of the other species.

“The baleen very long, slender (nearly eight times as long as wide at the base), pure white, thin, with a rather broad black edge on the outer straight side.

“This is, undoubtedly a very distinct species. The baleen is of nearly the same structure as that of the Greenland whale; but we do not know

[Footnote] * See “Catalogue of Seals and Whales in the British Museum,” p. 90.

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Skull Of Balæna Marginata Gray. Zool. E & T.

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what may be the form of the first ribs, or of the bones of the other parts of the skeleton.”

The plates of baleen, in the Kawau specimen, presented by Sir George Grey, are slightly longer than the dimensions given above, but the proportion of width to length is the same; and the well-marked black margin ¼ to ⅜ of an inch in width, clearly identifies the species.

This interesting specimen, must therefore, be considered as unique, and has been carefully figured in Plate 2b.

2. Berardius Arnuxii (Duvernoy).

Skull and lower jaw, cervical vertebræ, scapulae, hyoid, pectoral extremities right and left, and pelvic bones of one individual; also, a single tooth of another individual, weight, 206 grains.

Length of head 23·5 inches
" nose 15 "
" dental groove 7 "
" lower jaw 19 "
Width, notch 5·5 "
" orbits 9·5 "
" intermaxillary at blow holes 4·5 "
" nose 2 "
Height at occiput 9·5 "

On small tooth imbedded close to tip of lower jaw on left side, one inch high; weight, 38·8 grains; irregular triangular shape. This is the skull of a young animal. A strong ligament connecting the muscle of the forehead with the snout is deeply imbedded in the intermaxillary groove. The snout is described as long and flexible. Atlas and axis anchylosed.

Length of cervical vertebræ, 3·7 inches. Scapula, longitudinal diameter, 10 inches; transverse diameter, 6 inches. Pectoral extremities, length, 14 inches; width, 3 ½ inches. Hyoid arch, 55 by 4 inches high. Pelvic bones, 2 ½ inches.

The specimen was cast on the beach of the West Coast, near Porirua Harbour, and was prepared by Dr. Knox.

Only two other specimens have, hitherto, been obtained; the first at Akaroa in 1846, now deposited in the Paris Museum; the second was captured at the mouth of the Avon, and prepared by Dr. Haast, for the Canterbury Museum (see Art. 45, p. 190).

A fourth, and very large specimen, has been lately stranded in Wellington Harbour, and, in part, secured for the Museum by Dr. Knox, who, from his examination, has some doubt of the identity of the above species, founded on the character of the teeth.

3. Lagenorhyncus Clanculus. Complete Skeleton.

ft. in.
Total length 5 1
Cervicals (7) anchylosed 1·3
Dorsals (14) 11·5

Lumbar and Caudal 48, thirty-four of which have processes, and may be considered as lumbars.

Length— total 14
" beak 7·5
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Width at notch 3·5
" at orbit 6
" of intermaxillary at blow-hole 2·7
" at middle of beak 2·5
Height of occiput 5·7
Length of flappers 12
Scapula, longitudinal 6·5
" transverse 4·5

This specimen was harpooned outside Wellington Harbour, and appears to be the common Dolphin of the Coast.

Lower jaws of two others.

Three skulls of Delphinus sp. (?).

4. Globiocephalus Macrorhynchus. (Gray.)

Black-fish of South Seas. Two skulls, one showing longitudinal section.

One lower jaw, six cervical vertebræ.

Four lumbar, thirteen caudal, two scapulae.

Two hyoids.

Both skulls are of the same dimensions.

Length 26
" of nose 15
" of tooth series 8
" of a lower jaw of a different individual 15
Width at notch 11
" at orbit 17
" of intermaxillary at blow-hole 7·5
" at middle of nose 9·5
Height at occiput 14
Scapula, transverse diameter 15
" longitudinal diameter 12

Hyoid arch, 11 inches wide, by 7 inches high: Sternum, 10 × 7 inches, with three sternal ribs, each 7 inches long.

First rib is 10 inches from head to tip, but is bent, with an arch of 5 inches.

Atlas, axis, and three other cervicals are anchylosed. The combined cervicals have a conjoined length of four inches.

[The section below cannot be correctly rendered as it contains complex formatting. See the image of the page for a more accurate rendering.]

Vertical diameter of Foramen magnum, 2 ½ inches; conjoined length of the four Lumbars, 8 inches; height, including spinous processes, 8·5 inches; caudal appendage, 16 inches, of thirteen segments, two of which are anchylosed; teeth, 9·9/8·8

This species is only known from two imperfect specimens in the British Museum and College of Surgeons' Museum.