In the year 1866 everybody in Europe and America was excited by a mysterious object that sailors and ships often saw at sea. This object was long and round and often glowed with light under the water. It was much longer than any whale that had been seen before, and it could move very fast. All over the world, everybody talked about it and asked what it could be? Scientists from every country wrote articles, gave lectures and talked about the animal. What was it, they asked, and did the monster really exist?
In 1867 the problem changed from a scientific problem to a serious danger. On April 13th, the steam boat Scotia was in the north east Atlantic. At 4.17pm the boat was hit by a sharp object and water quickly went into the boat. The captain told the passengers to stay calm, and told them there wasn’t any danger. He then continued to sail the ship to Liverpool. When the engineers looked at the boat, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Two metres below the water mark, there was a large hole in the shape of a triangle. The newspapers wrote about the story and the public demanded that the monster must be caught.
At the time these things were happening, I was returning from a scientific trip in The United States of America. I was waiting to go back to my job as Professor in the Paris Museum of Natural History. As I waited in New York before my trip back to France, I was asked by the New York Herald newspaper to explain the problem. Here is what I wrote on April 30th 1867:
The ocean is totally unknown to us. What happens there? What animals can live i5 or 20 kilometres under the sea? We do not yet know all the living things that live at the bottom of the sea. The common narwhale, or sea unicorn is often 30 metres long. If the size and strength is increased by ten, then this could be the animal we are looking for. The narwhale has an ivory tusk, just like an elephant, which is as hard as iron. If this weapon were ten times stronger, then it could make a large hole in the ship. ‘Therefore, until J get more information, J have to think that the monster is a huge narwhale.
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