Another note on whales and silence from Tim Severin

I blogged this paragraph from The Brendan Voyage – but here is something rather different from In Search of Moby Dick:


“Not everything matched the old whaling lore. I was startled when the Lamalera hunters chanted and thumped their paddles loudly on the sides of the boat as they raced down on a sperm whale wallowing on the surface. From what I had read, the nineteenth-century whalemen took great care to as silent as possible when approaching the whale in light weather. They crept upon the animal like pygmies stalking an elephant in the forest. They muffled the oars in the rowlocks, forbade anyone to talk in the boat, and during the final approach on their target often stowed their oars and took up paddles which they dipped soundlessly in the water. They would have been puzzled to see that the Lamalera whales ignored the din kicked up by their hunters – and astounded by the outcome of a recent experiment conducted in the Azores where the islanders in open boats hunted sperm whales in the Yankee style until the 1980s. The modern Azoreans wanted to protect the sperm whales from being run down by the inter-island ferries. Someone suggested clearing the whales away from the ferry routes by blasts of underwater sound. Several sounds were tried, of varying intensities and frequencies. The whales took not the slightest notice. Like birds who learn to ignore the gas-powered bang guns which farmers leave in fields, the sperm whales seemed to have learned to disregard submarine cacophony.”

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