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A Cruel Operation

A Cruel Operation image
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There are many articles of daily and hourly use constautly passing before our eyes aud throngh our hands about the prodncriou of which we know comparatively litt.jf . nothing. An interesting exan:pie cl this is tortoise shell, from which combs and hairpins are made, besides a mnltitude of trinkets for the dressing table, the desk and the pocket. Fierce crusades have been instituted in recent years against the slaughter of birds for the procurement of their plumage for hat trimuiings, and yet I venture to say that the process of procuring tortoise shell is a cruelty to animal life which far esceeds that to which birds are subjected. In the eightieslhappened to be down in Bluefields, on that awfnl Mosquito coast, and at the invitation of one Manuel Latona, who was the owner and captain of a small schooner, went with hirn to the cay El Roncador for tortoise shell. This cay gets its name (which in English would be the Snorer) from the exceedingly angry surf, which can be heard for a long distance breaking over the reefs. This is the cay on which a conple of years back the historio oíd ship Kearsarge was wrecked and battered to pieces. El Koncador is nothing more or less than a typical coral island, such as is found throughout the southern seas, three-quarters of a mile long, perhaps, and not more than a quarter of a mile across its widest part. Surrounding the island is a reef, inside of which the water is smooth and rather shallow, and at the bottoni of this shallow water there grows a peculiar kind of sea grass which is a dainty food for the turtle tribes. There is also found on the top of the water inside the reef a sort of small blubber fisli, called in Spanish dedales, or thimble flsh, which is perhaps the greatest delicacy of the entire turtle menu. The turtle whose shell is valued in commerce is a email species known as the hawk bilL There are other varieties which come to El Roncador to spawn, but they are not molested. During the night the turtles crawl np on the ghore to lay their eggs, each female depositing on an average about 70. To do this they dig holes in the sand about two f eet deep and after laying the eggs cover them over so deftly that it is almost impossible for a novice to flnd them. These eggs are really delicious when roasted, but the turtle fishers are careful not to destroy those they do not jtake for food, so as to promote as much as possible the iacrease of this valnable sea reptile. At night the fishers conceal themselves along the shore as well as possible, and when the turtles come up ont of the water on the beach they rush forth and turn them over on their backs with iron hooks, leaving them secure in this position until morning. The tortoise shell of commerce is not, as is generally believed, the horny covering or shell proper of the turtle ; it is the scales whieh cover the shield. These goales are 13 in number, 8 of them being flat and the other 5 somewhat curved. Four of those that are flat are quite large, sometimes being as much as 12 inches long and 7 inches broad, nearly transparent and beautifully variegated m color with red, yellow, white and dark brown clouds, which give the effeots so f ully brought out when the shell is properly polished. A turtle of average size will furnish about eight pounds of these laminas, or scales, each piece being trom an eighth to a quarter of au inch in thickness. It is the method by which theso scales are loosened vvhich is the repulsive part of the business. The turtles are not killed, as that would lead to their extermination in a very few years. After capturing them the fishers wait fordaylight to complete the work. The turtles are turned over again in their natural position aud fastened firmly to the gi-ound by means of pegs. Then a tranen of dried leaves or sea grass is spread evenly over the back of the turtle and eet aiire. The heat is not great enough to injure the s-hell, mercly causing it to separate the joints. A lcrge blade, very similar in sbape to a cheniist's spatnla, is then inserted horizontally between the laminie, which are gently pried from the back. Great care must be taken not to injure the shell by too much heat, and yet it is not forced off until it is fully prepared for separation by a snfficieut amount of warmth. The operation, as one ruay readily imagine, is the extreme of cruelty, and many turtles do not survive it. Most of them do live, however, and tbrive, and in time grow a new covering, just as a man will grow a new finger nail in place of one he might lose. The peculiarity of the second growth of shell, though, is that instead of reproducing the original numherof 13 segmentsit is restored in one solid piece. To see the operation of taking the shell from the living turtle once is about all a man of northern breeding wants of it, and if the helpless reptiles had the power of voicing their sufferings under it their cries would teil of as heartless a business as man has yet engaged in.


Ann Arbor Argus
Old News