Hunting the DugongExtract from Jules Verne's "20.000 Leagues".
The Nautilus floated on the surface of the sea, approaching the Arabian coast off Djeddah, when the following occurred:
"If you held a harpoon just now, Master Land, would it not burn your hand?"
"Just so, sir."
"And you would not be sorry to go back, for one day, to your trade of a fisherman and to add this cetacean to the list of those you have already killed?"
"I should not, sir."
"Well, you can try."
"Thank you, sir," said Ned Land, his eyes flaming.
"Only," continued the Captain, "I advise you for your own sake not to miss the creature."
"Is the dugong dangerous to attack?" I asked, in spite of the Canadian's shrug of the shoulders.
"Yes," replied the Captain; "sometimes the animal turns upon its assailants and overturns their boat. But for Master Land this danger is not to be feared. His eye is prompt, his arm sure."
At this moment seven men of the crew, mute and immovable as ever, mounted the platform. One carried a harpoon and a line similar to those employed in catching whales. The pinnace was lifted from the bridge, pulled from its socket, and let down into the sea. Six oarsmen took their seats, and the coxswain went to the tiller. Ned, Conseil, and I went to the back of the boat.
"You are not coming, Captain?" I asked.
"No, sir; but I wish you good sport."
The boat put off, and, lifted by the six rowers, drew rapidly towards the dugong, which floated about two miles from the Nautilus.
Arrived some cables-length from the cetacean, the speed slackened, and the oars dipped noiselessly into the quiet waters. Ned Land, harpoon in hand, stood in the fore part of the boat. The harpoon used for striking the whale is generally attached to a very long cord which runs out rapidly as the wounded creature draws it after him. But here the cord was not more than ten fathoms long, and the extremity was attached to a small barrel which, by floating, was to show the course the dugong took under the water.
I stood and carefully watched the Canadian's adversary. This dugong, which also bears the name of the halicore, closely resembles the manatee; its oblong body terminated in a lengthened tail, and its lateral fins in perfect fingers. Its difference from the manatee consisted in its upper jaw, which was armed with two long and pointed teeth which formed on each side diverging tusks.
This dugong which Ned Land was preparing to attack was of colossal dimensions; it was more than seven yards long. It did not move, and seemed to be sleeping on the waves, which circumstance made it easier to capture.
The boat approached within six yards of the animal. The oars rested on the rowlocks. I half rose. Ned Land, his body thrown a little back, brandished the harpoon in his experienced hand.
Suddenly a hissing noise was heard, and the dugong disappeared.
The harpoon, although thrown with great force; had apparently only
struck the water.
Imagine the passion which excited impatient Ned Land! He hurled at the
unfortunate creature the most energetic expletives in the English tongue.
For my part, I was only vexed to see the dugong escape all our attacks.
"The Project Gutenberg Etext of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"
written 23 Jan 00