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islands of Mingan. Amongst these islands there is secure and good anchorage, and they present an excellent situation for a cod, seal, and salmon fishery; they are well adapted also for carrying on a trade with the Esquimaux Indians.
Higher up the river you have The Bay of Seven Islands, a secure harbour for ships in any wind. In this neighbourhood are what are called The King's Posts. The French king established settlements or posts here for fishing, and carrying on the fur trade with the Indians, who inhabit the country as far north as Hudson's Bay. The King's Posts belong to government, as successors to the rights of the French king. They are held in lease by the Northwest Company, established in Montreal, who pay 1000l. per annum of rent, and they have the exclusive right of trading with the Indians of the Labrador country. Some of the finest furs come from these posts, particularly bears and foxes.
We have proceeded up the river a considerable way, but it still looks like a sea. To-day I witnessed a very extraordinary scene; a fierce battle, in consequence of
a whale being attacked by a thresher and a sword-fish. One would think that the immense size and strength of the whale would put him entirely out of danger, but size and strength must often yield to ingenuity and stratagem; no animal seems exempt from a violent death, not even the whale. Our Canadian pilot informed me that such conflicts were very common in the river St. Lawrence. The thresher (the Canadians call it un fléau) is from fifteen to twenty feet long; of the flat fish genus, resembling a sole, but rather longer in proportion; the back, like that of the sole, is black; and the belly white. He is assisted in his attack on the whale by the sword-fish. It would seem that pure antipathy and mischief are alone the causes of this combination; they have not the stimulus of hunger, as they do not eat the whale when dead. Fish are generally considered to be extremely stupid animals; but here you have a concerted plan, and an instance of ratiocination, approaching to that of the dog or fox.
When the attack is to commence, the sword-fish gets under the whale, and darts
up at him with immense force*. The whale, feeling the stroke and attack of the sword-fish, flies to the top of the water, where the thresher attacks him. I saw the whale come up, raising his huge back high out of the water. The tail of the thresher was immediately seen brandished in the air, and most part of his body out of the water; flap after flap he struck the whale on the back as fast as I could with a stick, who, feeling the blows, darts down head foremost, raising his immense forked tail in the air, and striking with it on every side, apparently with a view of hitting the thresher, and if it did, instant death most
To shew the strength of the sword-fish, it may be proper to observe, that the sword has been found sticking in the bottom of a ship. On the 16th September, 1806, in Ayre's ship-yard, in Kensington, near Philadelphia, the ship Pensilvania packet was hove down, and it was found that she had been struck six feet below the bends by a sword-fish: the sword had pierced the copper sheathing, and bottom plank, to the ceiling inside; the sword was broken short off outside; it had been driven in with such force as to splinter the plank and cause a leak. It is supposed that the sword-fish mistakes the ship for a whale. I believe there is to be seen, in the British Museum, a part of the bottom of a ship, with the sword of the fish which pierced it sticking in it.
probably would follow. The sword-fish again attacks him; the whale rises again, and is again attacked by the thresher; he again descends, but attempts in vain to elude the attack of his enemies. I saw him several times raise his head out of the water, at the moment the thresher's tail was brandishing in the air, and striking him. He seemed to attempt to catch it in his mouth.
The conflict continued in view about an hour. Sometimes they remained under water for a few minutes, but the whale must come to the surface of the water to breathe, or blow, as it is called; and besides, the attacks from the sword-fish, it is to be presumed, were incessant, and would naturally make him rise to the surface. It is probable they did not leave the whale till they had killed him. I understand, from the Canadians, that whales have been found killed by the sword-fish, who at the same time has fallen a sacrifice to his own furious attack, not having been able to draw the sword from its whale-belly scabbard.
This latter circumstance, if true (for I
have not myself seen it), is sufficient evidence to prove that the sword-fish assists the thresher in his attack on the whale, and I find that the Canadians all agree that the sword-fish has a share in the battle.
It is impossible to conceive any thing more desperate than the conflict appeared to be. To see the tremendous animals in contact, part of both raised high out of the water at the same time; the black back and immense head of the whale, contrasted with the long white and black tail of the thresher, in constant action, literally threshing the whale most unmercifully; every blow resounding like the noise of a cannon feeling the blows, and galled on all sides by creatures he might well despise, he flounces about, blowing and making a tremendous noise; dashing the water to a prodigious height, and occasioning a sort of local storm.
One would imagine that Job alluded to such battles when he describes the Leviathan :-" out of his nostrils goeth smoke; he maketh the deep to boil like a pot; he maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary."