[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
IS a species of the Ray. This fish had long been disregarded in this country as coarse, bad-tasted food, but for some time past it rose into fashion, and appears now with no unbecoming grace upon our best tables. The body is broad and flat, of a brown colour on the back, and white on the belly; the head is hardly perceptible, as it is comprehended in the whole of the shoulder; the mouth and eyes are as we might properly say, on the breast, so that this fish and all belonging to this class may be styled acephalous, or, without a head. Some other species have large thorns interspersed on the back, and from that peculiar circumstance are called Thornbacks. They are esteemed the best of the kind. The tail of the Skate is long and generally prickly: the eggs are often found on the beach after a storm, in the shape of a square bag with two long strings at each end as here represented.
In this the embryo is contained, and grows till it has acquired strength enough to burst through its prison. The colour of the bag is maroon, and the substance like thin brown parchment or leather. The female begins to drop her eggs singly in the month of May, and continues to exclude them for several months, to the number of two or three hundred. Some naturalists are of opinion that these fishes are the largest inhabitants of the deep, and that the smallest of them only, come near the surface of the water; the biggest remaining flat at the bottom of the sea, where an unfathomable depth secures them against the wiles of man.
The Kraken mentioned by Pontoppiden, the learned bishop of Bergen, is perhaps one of the kind; but we cannot give much faith to the report, as it is supposed that this enormous bulk, which inhabits the bottom of the seas about the Norway coasts, is three or four miles in breadth; and that when it moves and palpitates on the ooze, it heaves the tide so vehemently that the fishermen are obliged to steer away as fast as they can, to avoid being upset by the commotion of the water:
“Thus when beneath the shaggy hills and plain
Of Enna, where fair Persephone once
Won Pluto’s heart, the vanquish’d giant heaves
His weary sides; disturbed Ætna shakes
Her hoary head, and sends the stormy rage
Of burning stones, of cinders, and of flames
That light afar, by lurid starts, the seas
From fam’d Pachynum to the Libyan shores.
Aroused by the ghastly blaze, the herds
Affrighted leave the cooling shades and start
On Erix’ heathy brow, whilst cities wide
Totter and listen to the dismal roar
Of elements confused -.”
The fabulous story of the giant Enceladus seems to be a fit companion for that of the Kraken, although the latter is most seriously delivered by a mitred naturalist, and solemnly reported as true, whereas the former is nothing more than the work of the lively imagination of ancient poets, who, ignorant of the simplest effects of nature, endeavoured to explain them according to their mythological tenets.