The Dolphin, pp.228-233.

[Three Hundred Animals Contents]

   IS a large fish so like the porpus that he has been often confounded with it, although they differ much from each other. He seldom exceeds five feet in length, the body is roundish, growing gradually less towards the tail; the nose is long and pointed, the skin smooth, the back black or dusky-blue, becoming white towards the belly; he is entirely destitute of gills, or any similar aperture, but respires and also spouts water through a pipe of a semi-circular form, placed on the upper part of the head. The lower end of the pipe opens in the mouth, and is capable of being opened and shut at pleasure. We find eight small teeth in each jaw; a dorsal and two pectoral fins, and the tail in the shape of a half moon. Their snouts are most useful to them when in search of eels and other fishes which harbour in the mud at the bottom of the sea. 

   Several curious stories have been related on this animal, most of which are fabulous. The anecdote of Arion whom a Dolphin, enchanted with the harmonious strains of his lyre, saved from sinking in the sea, is well known and acquired great credit among ancient poets; but it is rather an instructing allegory than a well grounded fact. However this fish has obtained the reputation of being particularly fond of man, from the following interesting anecdote related by Pliny the younger, who, at the time he wrote it, does not appear to have had any doubt of its being true. It is as follows, “There is in Africa a town called Hippo, situated not far from the sea coast; it stands upon a navigable lake from whence a river runs into the sea and ebbs and flows with the tide. Persons of all ages divert themselves there with fishing, sailing, or swimming, especially boys, whom love of play and idleness bring thither. The contest among them is who shall have the glory of swimming farthest. It happened in one of those trials of skill, that a certain boy more bold than the rest, launched out towards the opposite shore; he was met by a Dolphin who sometimes swam before him, and sometimes behind him, then played round him, and at last took him upon his back, then set him down, and afterwards took him up again: and thus he carried the frightened boy out into the deepest part, when immediately he turned back again to the shore and landed him among his companions. The fame of this remarkable event spread through the town, and crowds of people flocked round the boy to ask him questions and hear his answers. The next day the shore was lined with multitudes of spectators, all attentively contemplating the ocean, or whatever at a distance looked like it; in the mean while the boys swam as usual, and among the rest the youth I am speaking of went into the lake, but with more caution than before. The Dolphin again appeared, and came to the boy, who, together with his companions, swam away with great precipitation. The Dolphin, as it were to invite and recall them, leaped and dived up and down, darting about in a thousand different convolutions; this he practised for several days together, till the people began to be ashamed of their timidity. They ventured therefore to advance nearer, playing with him, and calling him to them, while he, in return, suffered himself to be touched and stroked. Use rendered them more courageous; the boy in particular who first had experienced the safety, swam by the side of him, and leaping upon his back was carried about in that manner: thus they gradually became acquainted and delighted with each other. There seemed now, indeed, to be no fear on either side; the confidence of the one, and tameness of the other mutually increasing; the rest of the boys in the mean while surrounding and encouraging their companion. 

   It is very remarkable that this Dolphin was followed by a second who seemed only as a spectator or attendant on the former; for he did not at all submit to the same familiarities as the first, but only conducted him backwards and forwards, as the boys did their comrade. But what is further surprizing, and no less true, is that this Dolphin, who thus played with the boys, would come upon the shore, dry himself on the sand, and as soon as he grew warm, roll back into the sea. Octavius Avitus, deputy governor of the province, actuated by an absurd sense of superstition, poured some precious ointment over him as he lay on the shore: the novelty and smell of which made him retire into the ocean, and it was not till after several days that he was seen again, when he appeared dull and languid. However he recovered his strength and continued his usual playful tricks. All the magistrates round the country flocked thither to see the sight, the entertainment of whom, upon their arrival and during their stay, was an additional expense, which the slender finances of this little community could ill afford; besides the quietness and retirement of the place was utterly destroyed. It was thought proper, therefore, to remove the occasion of this concourse, by privately killing the poor Dolphin.” 

   The elder Pliny mentions a similar circumstance of a Dolphin who used to carry a boy to school upon his back, and bring him back home, across the streights which separate Baiæ from Puzzoli; the boy died of an accidental illness, and for several days the disappointed fish made his appearance at the place where he was wont to take the boy up; but finding him not, soon pined away and died; he was placed in the same tomb with the remains of his friend the boy. 

   There are several other facts mentioned by ancient authors to prove the philanthropy of the Dolphin, but those related above, being the most interesting, will be sufficient for our purpose. Since the provice of Dauphiné in France has been united to the crown, the heir apparent has been called “Dauphin,” and quarters a Dolphin on his shield. Falconer in his beautiful poem “The Shipwreck,” describes the death of this fish in the following elegant manner: 

“ – beneath the lofty vessel’s stern 

A shoal of Dolphins they discern, 

Beaming from burnished scales refulgent rays, 

‘Till all the glowing ocean seems to blaze. 

In curling wreaths they wanton on the tide; 

Now bound aloft, now downward swiftly glide, 

Awhile beneath the waves their tracks remain 

And burn in silver streams along the liquid plain; 

Soon to the sport of death the crew repair, 

Dart the long lance, or spread the baited snare. 

One in redoubling mazes wheels along, 

And glides, unhappy, near the triple prong. 

Rodmond, unerring, o’er his head suspends, 

The barbed steel, and every turn attends; 

Unerring aim’d, the missile weapon flew, 

And, plunging, struck the fated victim through. 

The upturning points his ponderous bulk sustain; 

On deck he struggles with convulsive pain; 

But while his heart the fatal javelin thrills, 

And fleeting life escapes in sanguine rills, 

What radiant changes strike the astonished sight, 

What glowing hues of mingled shade and light! 

No equal beauties gild the lucid West 

With parting beams all o’er profusely drest; 

No lovelier colours paint the vernal dawn 

When orient dews impearl the enamelled lawn; 

Than from his sides, in bright suffusion flow, 

That now with gold empyreal seem to glow. 

Now in pellucid sapphires meet the view, 

And emulate the soft celestial hue; 

Now beam a faming crimson to the eye, 

And now assume the purple’s deeper dye; 

But here description clouds each shining ray; 

What terms of art can Nature’s power display!” 

———————————————-FALCONER’S SHIPWRECK, canto II. 

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