Denizens of the Deep (continued)
Then, too, there is the swordfish, which is an occasional visitor to the Bahama waters. The swordfish attains a length varying from twelve feet to fifteen feet. Its main characteristic is the possession of a great development of the upper jaw, which resembles a huge, tapering, sword-like weapon, the under surface of which is covered with numerous small teeth. This is a powerful weapon, and the swordfish, like the sawfish, will not hesitate to attack a whale, killing it by repeated thrusts of its sword-like projection. Sometimes, like Don Quixote of old, the swordfish will tilt at large vessels, but this encounter is generally disastrous for the swordfish, the weapon being invariably left behind. Frank Buckland, the naturalist, relates that in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London, there is a section of the bow of a whaler impaled by one of these swords. “At one single blow," he says, “the fish had plunged his sword through and completely transfixed thirteen and a half inches of solid timber."
Turtles and tortoises belong to the same family, but the latter name is usually applied to those that live on the land. Belonging to the reptile class of animals, their chief and characteristic feature is the possession of a very strong, bony shell, or carapace, which encases the body, and into which both head and limbs can, in many cases, be completely retracted. Tortoises have normal walking legs, and these fit them for walking on the land or burrowing into the earth. In the true turtles these limbs assume the form of flattened paddles, and in no instance are more than two of the toes provided with claws. Some of the two hundred known species are adapted for an amphibious life, that is to say, they can live either on the land or in the water. Some, on the other hand, rarely leave the water during the whole of their existence.
Turtles are hatched from eggs, the external covering of which differs from that of a bird's egg in being soft and leathery. A hollow is excavated, usually in a sandbank, and in this the egg is deposited, covered up, and left to hatch with the heat of the sun. As soon as the eggs are hatched the young turtles emerge from the sand and instinctively make for the water. The journey down to the water's edge is fraught with many perils to the young turtle, for fish hawks and sea birds of every description are lying in wait to pounce upon it as soon as it makes its appearance. It is said that very few out of eighty or a hundred newly hatched turtles safely pass through this trying ordeal. Even when they reach the shore their dangers are not over, for here shoals of sharks and various kinds of predatory fish are prowling round in search of the very toothsome morsel which the young turtle will provide.
Certain species of marine turtles attain a remarkable size. Some specimens have measured nearly eight feet in length, and weigh over sixteen hundred pounds.
Tarpon fishing is a delightful sport for American and West Indian anglers. In fact, the tarpon is to them what salmon and trout are to English and Scottish anglers. The tarpon is a fish found near the coast in warm American seas. It attains a length of seven feet and weighs about two hundred pounds. It is angled for with a rod and line. When caught, it makes a desperate attempt to rid itself of the hook. and has been known to leap right over the side of a small boat.
Crocodiles frequent these waters. When hunting the crocodile, the natives lasso the snout and then dive into the water and capture the creature. This, as one can readily imagine, requires a good nerve and exceptional dexterity.
Schools of porpoises disporting themselves are a common sight in these regions. Porpoises are generally harpooned. The harpoon can either be fired from a gun, which is the modern method, or thrown by hand, but great skill is necessary to do this properly. The porpoise, which possesses a flat tail, is an extremely powerful fish, and when caught will draw a small boat and its occupants through the water for a considerable distance. It is quite an innocent fish, although it does a great deal of damage to the nets of the fishermen, for it follows the herring shoals, gets into the net, and destroys it.