Not the least charming feature of this ocean fishing is that the quarry are more or less edible. Dolphins are considered quite a luxury in the Mediterranean, fetch a high price at Gibraltar, and their weight in rupees at Bombay. The name is a popular one given to several species of Delphinus. The common dolphin is not unlike a porpoise, but has a much sharper snout. Byron wrote :
Dies like the dolphin, whom each pang imbues.
With a new colour, as it gasps away,
The last still loveliest, till—'tis gone—and all is grey.
But this creature of the changing colours, alluded to by the poetical youth on the East Indiaman, is not one of the mammalia at all, but the coryphene (not to be confounded with coryphee, whose colours are artificial, and unchangeable by the emotions), which is a true fish. On the edible question Captain Howell writes me : ' The bonito is little thought of by anyone as an edible fish, though sailors seem to like them. Both dolphin and barracuda are excellent eating, especially the former. The dolphin, to my taste, is one of the most delicate-eating fish that swims. The seerfish has been described as being like a white salmon'.
Of Tunnies there are two varieties, the short-finned (Orcynus thynnus), which is most common, and the long-finned tunny, or albicore (Orcynus germo). Old writers record, or invent, tunnies of enormous weight. Aristotle wrote of one weighing 1,200 lbs., and, according to Belonius, one was caught off Spain in 1665 which measured thirty-two feet in length, and was sixteen feet in girth. Sometimes tunnies are captured in the Cornish pilchard and mackerel drift nets, but there is no regular fishery for them that I am aware of on the British coasts. The Spanish tunny fisheries, on the other hand, are of great importance, and have been carried on for many years, the practice having been introduced, it is said, by the Phoenicians. As in the time of AElian, watchmen in some lofty position on the coast give warning of the advent of the shoals, when the boats put to sea, and the fish are surrounded by nets. There are also a large number of tunnies caught in the Black Sea, as the shoals pass the Bosphorus. The Romans used to consider the fish caught off Spain and Sardinia superior as food to those brought from Constantinople.
These fish are very widely distributed. They have been caught off the Scotch coasts and also near Ireland. One 8 ft. 3 in. long, weighing about 300 lbs., was brought into Dublin in the year 1841. Pennant mentions one of 460 lbs. caught off Inverary in 1769. At the beginning of the century three were caught off Margate. In 1840 they are said to have been plentiful off the Cornish coast, and a shoal visited the Moray Firth in 1850, one which was caught measuring nine feet in length. Day states that off Sardinia tunnies frequently attain a weight of 1,000 lbs., and Cetti asserts that they run to 1,800 lbs.
Albicore, or Long-finned Tunny—so called because the pectoral fin is one-third, or thereabouts, the length of its body —are found in the Bay of Biscay later in the year than the common tunny, which they resemble in their habits. Large numbers of them often follow vessels, and it has been suggested that they do this thinking to obtain some protection from their great enemy the swordfish.
One was caught some distance up the river Exe, having been left by the tide on the wrong side of some palings, but very few examples have been captured on the British coasts.