|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
Among other fowl I noted some sheathbills from the wading-bird family, the size of pigeons, white in color, the beak short and conical, the eyes framed by red circles. Conseil laid in a supply of them, because when they're properly cooked, these winged creatures make a pleasant dish. In the air there passed sooty albatross with four-meter wingspans, birds aptly dubbed "vultures of the ocean," also gigantic petrels including several with arching wings, enthusiastic eaters of seal that are known as quebrantahuesos,* and cape pigeons, a sort of small duck, the tops of their bodies black and white--in short, a whole series of petrels, some whitish with wings trimmed in brown, others blue and exclusive to these Antarctic seas, the former "so oily," I told Conseil, "that inhabitants of the Faroe Islands simply fit the bird with a wick, then light it up."
"With that minor addition," Conseil replied, "these fowl would make perfect lamps! After this, we should insist that nature equip them with wicks in advance!"
Half a mile farther on, the ground was completely riddled with penguin nests, egg-laying burrows from which numerous birds emerged. Later Captain Nemo had hundreds of them hunted because their black flesh is highly edible. They brayed like donkeys. The size of a goose with slate-colored bodies, white undersides, and lemon-colored neck bands, these animals let themselves be stoned to death without making any effort to get away.
Meanwhile the mists didn't clear, and by eleven o'clock the sun still hadn't made an appearance. Its absence disturbed me. Without it, no sights were possible. Then how could we tell whether we had reached the pole?
When I rejoined Captain Nemo, I found him leaning silently against a piece of rock and staring at the sky. He seemed impatient, baffled. But what could we do? This daring and powerful man couldn't control the sun as he did the sea.
Noon arrived without the orb of day appearing for a single instant. You couldn't even find its hiding place behind the curtain of mist. And soon this mist began to condense into snow.
"Until tomorrow," the captain said simply; and we went back to the Nautilus, amid flurries in the air.
During our absence the nets had been spread, and I observed with fascination the fish just hauled on board. The Antarctic seas serve as a refuge for an extremely large number of migratory fish that flee from storms in the subpolar zones, in truth only to slide down the gullets of porpoises and seals. I noted some one-decimeter southern bullhead, a species of whitish cartilaginous fish overrun with bluish gray stripes and armed with stings, then some Antarctic rabbitfish three feet long, the body very slender, the skin a smooth silver white, the head rounded, the topside furnished with three fins, the snout ending in a trunk that curved back toward the mouth. I sampled its flesh but found it tasteless, despite Conseil's views, which were largely approving.
The blizzard lasted until the next day. It was impossible to stay on the platform. From the lounge, where I was writing up the incidents of this excursion to the polar continent, I could hear the calls of petrel and albatross cavorting in the midst of the turmoil. The Nautilus didn't stay idle, and cruising along the coast, it advanced some ten miles farther south amid the half light left by the sun as it skimmed the edge of the horizon.
The next day, March 20, it stopped snowing. The cold was a little more brisk. The thermometer marked -2 degrees centigrade. The mist had cleared, and on that day I hoped our noon sights could be accomplished.
Since Captain Nemo hadn't yet appeared, only Conseil and I were taken ashore by the skiff. The soil's nature was still the same: volcanic. Traces of lava, slag, and basaltic rock were everywhere, but I couldn't find the crater that had vomited them up. There as yonder, myriads of birds enlivened this part of the polar continent. But they had to share their dominion with huge herds of marine mammals that looked at us with gentle eyes. These were seals of various species, some stretched out on the ground, others lying on drifting ice floes, several leaving or reentering the sea. Having never dealt with man, they didn't run off at our approach, and I counted enough of them thereabouts to provision a couple hundred ships.
"Ye gods," Conseil said, "it's fortunate that Ned Land didn't come with us!"
"Why so, Conseil?"
"Because that madcap hunter would kill every animal here."
"Every animal may be overstating it, but in truth I doubt we could keep our Canadian friend from harpooning some of these magnificent cetaceans. Which would be an affront to Captain Nemo, since he hates to slay harmless beasts needlessly."
"Certainly, Conseil. But tell me, haven't you finished classifying these superb specimens of marine fauna?"
"Master is well aware," Conseil replied, "that I'm not seasoned in practical application. When master has told me these animals' names . . ."
"They're seals and walruses."
"Two genera," our scholarly Conseil hastened to say, "that belong to the family Pinnipedia, order Carnivora, group Unguiculata, subclass Monodelphia, class Mammalia, branch Vertebrata."
"Very nice, Conseil," I replied, "but these two genera of seals and walruses are each divided into species, and if I'm not mistaken, we now have a chance to actually look at them. Let's."
|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea -- by Verne