I hear that some will cover themselves with algae and fucus plants. People mistake them for islets. They pitch camp on top, make themselves at home, light a fire--"
"Build houses," Conseil said.
"Yes, funny man," Ned Land replied. "Then one fine day the animal dives and drags all its occupants down into the depths."
"Like in the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor," I answered, laughing. "Oh, Mr. Land, you're addicted to tall tales! What sperm whales you're handing us! I hope you don't really believe in them!"
"Mr. Naturalist," the Canadian replied in all seriousness, "when it comes to whales, you can believe anything! (Look at that one move! Look at it stealing away!) People claim these animals can circle around the world in just fifteen days."
"I don't say nay."
"But what you undoubtedly don't know, Professor Aronnax, is that at the beginning of the world, whales traveled even quicker."
"Oh really, Ned! And why so?"
"Because in those days their tails moved side to side, like those on fish, in other words, their tails were straight up, thrashing the water from left to right, right to left. But spotting that they swam too fast, our Creator twisted their tails, and ever since they've been thrashing the waves up and down, at the expense of their speed."
"Fine, Ned," I said, then resurrected one of the Canadian's expressions. "You expect us to fall for that?"
"Not too terribly," Ned Land replied, "and no more than if I told you there are whales that are 300 feet long and weigh 1,000,000 pounds."
"That's indeed considerable," I said. "But you must admit that certain cetaceans do grow to significant size, since they're said to supply as much as 120 metric tons of oil."
"That I've seen," the Canadian said.
"I can easily believe it, Ned, just as I can believe that certain baleen whales equal 100 elephants in bulk. Imagine the impact of such a mass if it were launched at full speed!"
"Is it true," Conseil asked, "that they can sink ships?"
"Ships? I doubt it," I replied. "However, they say that in 1820, right in these southern seas, a baleen whale rushed at the Essex and pushed it backward at a speed of four meters per second. Its stern was flooded, and the Essex went down fast."
Ned looked at me with a bantering expression.
"Speaking for myself," he said, "I once got walloped by a whale's tail-- in my longboat, needless to say. My companions and I were launched to an altitude of six meters. But next to the professor's whale, mine was just a baby."
"Do these animals live a long time?" Conseil asked.
"A thousand years," the Canadian replied without hesitation.
"And how, Ned," I asked, "do you know that's so?"
"Because people say so."
"And why do people say so?"
"Because people know so."
"No, Ned! People don't know so, they suppose so, and here's the logic with which they back up their beliefs. When fishermen first hunted whales 400 years ago, these animals grew to bigger sizes than they do today. Reasonably enough, it's assumed that today's whales are smaller because they haven't had time to reach their full growth. That's why the Count de Buffon's encyclopedia says that cetaceans can live, and even must live, for a thousand years. You understand?"
Ned Land didn't understand. He no longer even heard me. That baleen whale kept coming closer. His eyes devoured it.
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "It's not just one whale, it's ten, twenty, a whole gam! And I can't do a thing! I'm tied hand and foot!"
"But Ned my friend," Conseil said, "why not ask Captain Nemo for permission to hunt--"
Before Conseil could finish his sentence, Ned Land scooted down the hatch and ran to look for the captain. A few moments later, the two of them reappeared on the platform.
Captain Nemo observed the herd of cetaceans cavorting on the waters a mile from the Nautilus.
"They're southern right whales," he said. "There goes the fortune of a whole whaling fleet."
"Well, sir," the Canadian asked, "couldn't I hunt them, just so I don't forget my old harpooning trade?"
"Hunt them? What for?" Captain Nemo replied.