Bertha the whale and Olaf the walrus live in a tank at Coney Island. Bertha is one year old and Olaf is 2. Bertha is a white whale, but she is not white, she is putty-colored, dowdy and unhappy. She will become white when she grows up. Olaf is brown, furry and happy. He swims—languorous, old-worldly—on his back looking like an elderly Turkish wrestler with his great mustache and the heavy rolls of fat on his neck. Bertha, the melancholy dear, does not eat. Olaf, on the other hand, slurps up 60 pounds of fish and clams a day. Bertha has been offered mackerel, whiting, sand eel, killifish, flounder, butterfish, smelt, shrimp, scallop and squid; she has ignored the bouillabaissian lot. Dr. Carleton Ray, assistant to the director of the New York Aquarium, where Bertha and Olaf live, gives Bertha 6 cc. of B-complex vitamins three times a week to stimulate her appetite and keep her fit. "Holy mackerel," he says, his favorite expletive, "it's quite a struggle getting a needle into her." Dr. Ray also takes Bertha's temperature with a household thermometer. It is 95°, which is normal for Bertha. "The most difficult thing in keeping an animal alive in captivity," Dr. Ray says, "is to find the clue to its happiness. We have not found the clue to Bertha's. But there's plenty of life left in the old girl, yet. She's living off her blubber."
Bertha, the first live whale to be shown in New York in 60 years, arrived at Coney a fortnight ago. There are four other whales in captivity, all on the West Coast. Olaf is the only walrus on exhibition in the Western Hemisphere and behaves as if he knows it; very condescending fellow, Olaf, but friendly in an offhand way.
Bertha was caught in Bristol Bay, Alaska last August on Dr. Ray's birthday, by Dr. Ray and three associates. "Catching a white whale is fun," says Dr. Ray. "Shipping a white whale is a brute." Bertha was caught in the shallow, muddy water off the estuary of the Kvichak River where white whales loaf. The expedition, mounted in two skiffs with out-board motors, cut Bertha out of the herd and, keeping always to her offshore side, drove her inshore; white whales can swim only 10 mph but are deuced tricky. When Bertha was driven into three feet of water, a salmon net was thrown over her. One man jumped in the water to keep her head up—whales are capable of drowning—while another slipped a harness over her. "White whales don't struggle," says Dr. Ray. "They don't want to hurt themselves. They are very docile and have large, folded and complex brains. Aside from primates—us, the great apes and monkeys—small whales and porpoises are the most intelligent mammals." Bertha was hauled into the skiff and run over to a seepage pool. From there she was carried in a sling to a fishing boat. From the fishing boat she was transferred to a truck, from the truck to the first of four planes, where, riding on air and foam mattresses, which buoyed her 400 pounds as though she were in water, and covered with damp, muslin sheeting, she was flown to a California aquarium and thence to New York. Dr. Ray sat up with her, wetting her down and feeling her tail to determine whether she was getting too hot. She did during a two-hour layover in Chicago where it was 90°. Bertha developed a distressingly irritating condition analogous to sunburn there. Now her hide is peeling and splotchy and she feels awful.
Walruses have been known, on occasion, to eat white whales, but Olaf has grandly ignored Bertha; oh, he did give her an inquisitive mustache rub when she arrived. Dr. Ray believes that Olaf may set a good example, since Bertha has proved such a delicate, finicky feeder. "If Bertha sees Olaf eating," he says, "she may want to see what eating's all about." When Bertha gets on her feed, Dr. Ray is going to make an actress out of her. He is going to teach her to take food from the hand, to jump through hoops, to ring a bell and to retrieve on her head which is the way whales fetch, anyway. "The only limit to her learning," he says proudly, "is the ingenuity of the teacher. You can teach her in an hour what it would take a dog days to learn."
But Dr. Ray is disappointed; aquarium visitors have not appreciated Bertha. "Holy mackerel," he says, "I heard one guy say, 'look at the shark!' I mean, he had read the sign, too. They'll like her in time, though. Whales have personality and, people want to see things that imitate themselves. But right now they say, 'So it's a whale. So all right, but what can it do?' People are getting lazy; a whale isn't enough for them anymore. We'll give the people what they want to see but do it with taste. You know, when aquarists go to bed at night they dream about a tank nine miles long with a killer whale in it. It won't have to do anything."
"Excuse me," Dr. Ray interrupted himself, "I've got to go wash my hands. I have a date tonight. They're always complaining I smell of fish."
While Dr. Ray was on his date, Bertha was morosely swimming in circles. When she breached into the mild night, she could hear the waves rolling in from Portugal to Bay 11, the terrible rattle of the roller coaster and the wistful piping of the merry-go-round. Whales are said to have sensitive hearing and Bertha no doubt had heard the salmon net singing in the dark arctic water, too.
Elsewhere in this issue is a story on the major league meeting in Chicago last week, the meetings which were reported in unprecedented detail by Bill Furlong, an ingenious sportswriter who works for the Chicago Daily News. By listening in at an air vent, Furlong managed to score a distinct beat on his sports-writing colleagues. His copy, which made fascinating reading (see page 20), brought a splutter of protest from the baseball brass, which seems only natural, but it also roused the wrath of his fellow sportswriters, which is really incomprehensible. Furlong was called "unethical," "a rabble rouser," "a gent's-room reporter." A Cleveland sportswriter said, "I'm pretty sure the Baseball Writers' Association of America will demand an explanation."
The Chicago Daily News defended its man. A News columnist wrote that Furlong's method abused neither ethics nor law, and that the hubbub was "symbolic of the entertainment industry's attitude toward journalism. The baseball owners want sports reporters to be parrots for their press agents."