N.B.—Never be ashamed to ask questions at any of your Brother Officers in order to gain information. The Sergeants of your Company will furnish you with any Rolls, Lists or Returns you may have occasion for respecting the Regt.
THE “PORPOISE” (BELUGA OR WHITE WHALE)
FISHERY ON THE ST.
The so-called “porpoise” of the St. Lawrence is in reality the French marsouin, the English beluga, a word of Russian origin, signifying white. The Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas), is a real whale with its most striking characteristic the white, or rather cream-coloured, skin described by some writers as very beautiful. Like the narwhal it has no dorsal fin. Though the smallest member of the whale family it is sometimes more than twenty feet long; but usually ranges from thirteen to sixteen feet. The young are bluish black in colour and may be seen swimming beside their mother who feeds them with a very thick milk. These young grow rapidly and become mottled and then white as they grow older. The beluga is peculiar to northern regions where the water is cold: when one is seen at the mouth of an English river it is a subject of special note. There are numbers in Hudson Bay and they have been found in the Yukon River, it is said, 700 miles from its mouth, whither they went no doubt after salmon or other fish.
Jacques Cartier saw the beluga disporting itself off Malbaie nearly 400 years ago and in summer it is still to be seen there almost daily. It is never alone. One sees the creatures swimming rapidly in single file. They come to the surface with a prolonged sigh accompanied by the throwing of a small jet of water; the perfectly white bodies writhe into view as the small round heads disappear. Sometimes the beluga makes a noise like the half suppressed lowing of oxen and, since the aquatic world is so silent, sailors have christened the beluga, for this slender achievement, the “sea canary.” It is a playful creature and is apparently attracted by man’s presence. Before its confidence in him was shaken it used to linger about wharves and ships. But, in spite of the extremely small aperture of its ear, it is very sensitive to sound and modern man with his fire arms and clatter of machinery frightens it away. In 1752 the Intendant Bigot issued special instructions to check the use of firearms on the point at Riviere Ouelle, in order that the beluga might not be frightened, to the ruin of the extensive fishery that has existed there for more than two hundred years. Its sight, touch and taste are also well developed but it has no olfactory nerve and is apparently without the sense of smell. The creature has qualities that we should hardly expect. It has been tamed and almost domesticated. The enterprising Barnum exhibited in New York a beluga which drew a boat about in his aquarium. At Boston another beluga from the St. Lawrence drew about a floating car carrying a woman performer. It knew its keeper and at the proper time would appear and put its head from the water to be harnessed or to take food. This beluga would take in its mouth a sturgeon and a small shark confined in the same tank, play with them and allow them to go unharmed. It would also pick up and toss stones with its mouth.