General Schaw asked permission to make a few observations on the subject of antarctic research, which he had the honour of bringing before them in a paper read at one of their late meetings. And first with regard to the right whale, on which there had been some discussion. He had seen lately a paper read by Mr. Clements Markham before the Royal United Institute in London on “Antarctic Research.” From that paper and the discussion upon it it seemed probable that a paying whale-fishery might be found in antarctic waters. It is certain that right whales carrying the valuable whalebone—which is the support of the remarkable nets or fringes by which these whales collect their minute food—are caught in New Zealand waters. He was informed that such
whales frequent a narrow channel on the north-east coast of the North Island, where they are caught in strong nets. The habitats and breeding-waters of these whales are within the antarctic zone. Captain Rose mentions having seen them, and last year the well-known whale-fisher Captain Larsen reported that he had harpooned one in those waters but lost it. The antarctic right whale was not so valuable as the arctic whale, the whalebone being shorter, yet it had a very high price in the London market. He was glad to be able to state that, contrary to the fears expressed by Mr. Tregear at the former meeting, the subject of antarctic research was being favourably considered by the Premier, and there was a good prospect that the Australasian Colonies would unite in voting a moderate contribution to the expense of an undertaking in which they are so greatly interested. There could then be no doubt that the Mother-country would at once organize an exploring expedition to these unknown regions. From such an expedition we might confidently expect to obtain most important results, both of practical and scientific value.
The President stated that the right whale had been taken in these waters within the last seven years. There was a most interesting paper on this subject in the volume of our Transactions for 1886.
Mr. McKay said it was the first time he had heard of a right whale being in these seas. He thought there must be a mistake in the matter, and the whale meant was no doubt the large sulphur-bottom whale, a specimen of which could be seen in the Museum. The whalebone was not of much value.
The President stated, in reply to Mr. McKay, that no one had asserted that the Greenland whale was to be found in the Antarctic Ocean, but the term “right whale” had come to be applied, perhaps loosely, to any large whale yielding the remarkable substance known as whalebone. Instances of its use were frequently to be seen in the newspapers of the day. He directed the attention of the members to a most interesting paper on antarctic exploration by the late Charles Traill, published in the 19th volume of our Transactions,* in which frequent mention was made of the “southern right whale,” or “black whale,” as it is called by the whalers.
[Note.—The following whalebone whales are recorded for the southern seas: (1) Neobalœna marginata (the pigmy whale); (2) Eubalœna australis (the black whale); Megaptera lalandi (the humpback whale); Physalus australis (the southern great rorqual); Balœnoptera huttoni (the pike whale). No. 1 is the nearest representative of the right whale, or bowhead, of the Arctic seas. The black whale (No. 2) is the tohora of the Maoris, and is the one usually pursued by southern whalers. Its whalebone is only one-fifth of the value of that of the right whale.—Ed.]
[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., xix. (1886), 479.