Of the whales found on the coasts and seas of these Indies and the Mainland.

Translated by Charlotte Rhoads ‘22

Pliny[1] writes about the animals of the water, the largest of which are whales. But I cannot speak as assuredly to the size or massiveness he attributes to them, because I have not measured them or seen them on land. But I have seen many at sea, which, according to the estimation of seamen and how they appear when they launch themselves high out of the water (in such a way that they look from afar like a ship’s sail), can be judged to be no smaller than those that roam and hunt in the coasts of Spain. Many times I have come across them and seen them in these north seas between these islands and the Mainland; I have also seen them off the southern coasts of the Mainland, but I will write more specifically about them when I discuss said land in the second part of this natural history. All of the men from these seas that I have heard talk about this matter say that the whales here are the largest animals of the water; but I have not known them to have died in the Indies, nor have I found ambergris, which, in the opinion of some of them, comes from the whale, á coitu ceti.[2] I think that the animal named Physeter, which Pliny[3] says rises out of the water like a column, higher than the sails of ships, and after shoots a deluge of water out of its mouth, must be a whale because they behave in the same way. To this purpose, I will say what I and many others saw at the mouth of the gulf of Orotiña, which is two-hundred leagues west of the city of Panama, on the coast of the Mainland looking south. In the year 1529, as the ship in which I was traveling was leaving that small gulf out to the open sea on route to Orotiña, close to the mouth there was a fish or large water animal, which occasionally rose like a tree; out of the water it showed a head and two arms and part of the body, and it was much taller than our ship and masts. Having risen, it would splash down on the water and would repeat the same action within a small space; but it was not spouting water through its mouth, because it would make the waves on which it fell splash up when it hit the water; a child of this animal or something similar, but much younger, would do the same, always straying from the older. The sailors and those who were traveling on the ship said they were a whale and calf. The arms they showed were very large, and some said that whales do not have them; but what I saw is as I described it, as I was on the ship. Also on the ship was father Lorenço Martin, canon of the church of Castilla del Oro, and the grand master and pilot was Johan Cabeças, and there was also a nobleman, the aforementioned Sancho de Tudela; these and others who found themselves there are still living and could attest to seeing the same, for I would never want in such a situation to not offer witnesses. In my opinion, every arm of this animal I judged to be twenty-five feet in length, and as thick as a barrel. Its head was taller than fourteen or fifteen feet, and it and the rest of the body was much broader. And it rose high above the water to the height of five medium-sized men. We felt great fear when it approached the boat during those jumps, as our ship was small; and we suspected that this animal seemed to have some foreboding of coming weather, which suddenly broke into a great gale or westerly wind that helped our purpose and navigation, and in few days we arrived at the city of Panama.

[1] Pliny, Book IX, Chapter 3. [GFO]

[2] Insert English translation here. [EE]

[3] Pliny, Book IX, Chapter 4. [GFO]