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WITH an Account of the Otter the first part of Kural Sports con
cluded; there are several animals, such as the Walrus, Seals, &c. who, by their almost constant residence in the water, seem to partake greatly of the nature of Fishes, but as their power of living in the Deep increases, so, in the same degree, augments their unfitness for existing upon the Earth; they are nevertheless classed by Naturalists under the denomination of Quadrupeds, and being perfectly amphibious, living with equal ease in the water or on land, may be considered as the last link in the scale of Nature, by which one great division of the animal world seems united to the other; these, however, are not the immediate objects of consideration in this work, and the Otter is mentioned, as most connected with the detail now proposed to be entered upon, which is that of Fish.
It has been asserted, that the History of Fishes affords small entertainment; for hitherto Philosophers, instead of studying their nature, have employed themselves in augmenting catalogues, and in lieu of observations or facts, the reader is furnished with a long list of names, disgusting from their barren superfluity; for no man can be well pleased with the extensions of a language, while the Science unfolds nothing which can reward his memory, for the increasing burden imposed upon it. Under these circumstances, altho' it would be presumption in the Compiler to profess to arrange the History of this class of beings, yet he might be accused of neglect, were he not to notice some of their distinguishable properties.
The Natural History of Fishes is, at best, more imperfect than that of Quadrupeds and Birds, inasmuch as the Element, which is their residence, is of such vast dimensions, and wherein they can so easily withdraw themselves beyond the influence of human power, that their haunts are rendered inaccessible to Man, and they are able to shun his remarks upon their modes of procedure, with regard to the ordinary functions of animal life; some very skilful Ichthyologists maintain, that there are to be found in the different collections of Fishes about London, six hundred kinds, not enumerated by LINNEUS; what numbers then must still remain in the unexplored and unfathomable Abyss of the Ocean!
The external form of the greater part of fishes, greatly tends to the celerity and ease of their motion; at either end being sharp, and swelling towards the middle, they are by nature so modelled, as to be endeavoured to be imitated in the built of those ships, in which the quickest dispatch is needful; but far short, falls human contrivance; for all the larger fishes can not only overtake the fastest sailing vessel, but play around it without any apparent extraordinary effort..
The Tail is the principal instrument from whence this velocity of the fish is derived, aided by the strength and pliancy of the Back-bone; when in pursuit of its prey, or avoiding an enemy, all the smaller fins are laid close to its body; by the impulse of the tail alone, it then glides through the water with the swiftness of an arrow; the other fins are too minute and flexible, compared with the animal's weight, to impel it so quickly; their principal use is to adjust and moderate the movement, communicated by the energy of the tail; deprive a fish of these fins, and when put into water, he darts downwards, upwards, and laterally, with all its usual quickness, but is unable to direct its course. The Ventral and Dorsal fins serve to keep the fish in a perpendicular posture, and possibly the first contributes to raise or sink them; the Pectoral fins assist and regulate progressive motion; by extending them, the progress is stopt when swimming rapidly forward, and by folding either, whilst the other continues to play, the turn to