(With apologies to the late August Derleth for modifying his story title.)
Dear daughter, brother, sister & friends, terrestrial, aquatic and otherwise,
On Sept. 23, it was reported in major news outlets that a Cuvier’s beaked whale had managed to stay submerged for 3 hrs. 42 minutes, or, in metric terms, 3 hrs. 42 minutes. Yeah, really!
The NYT wrote:
Dr. Quick’s latest paper, published Wednesday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, documents the whales’ most impressive observed descent to date: 3 hours 42 minutes, trouncing the previous record by over an hour. The new record is nearly seven times longer than scientists expect the mysterious mammals should be able to dive, based on scientific understanding of their body size and metabolic rate.
“This is just so beyond what we’ve seen before,” said Andreas Fahlman, a physiologist at the Oceanographic Foundation of the Valencian Community in Spain and an author on the study. “They’re not supposed to be able to do this, but they do.”
Based on the whales known metabolism, which I presume was recorded by some kind of suction-cup-attached recording device, scientists could account for only 33 minutes of dive time. The whale (actually a big dolphin, very little is know about them) beat that by +7x. These creatures also hold the record for the deepest dive recorded, to 10,000 feet, almost 2 miles or 3,048 meters!
With this fact recently on my mind, I was astonished to hear tonight, during an Ian Gordon reading of the H. P. Lovecraft short story “The Temple,” written in 1920 and first published in 1925, Lovecraft describe dolphins, the common Delphinis delphis, accompanying a submarine at great depth for over 2 hours without breathing!
The story concerns the nasty Prussian captain of a German U-boat in WW1, when the weapons had just come into widespread use. He sinks an Allied ship and shoots the lifeboats with his deck gun, but one of the dead, later found clinging to a rail, sports an oddly carven ivory head in his pocket that drives its owners mad. The sub suffers a catastrophic engine failure that leaves it adrift in the currents. After murdering a rebellious crew (how do you shoot someone in a submarine?) and having his #2 commit suicide, the current sweeps the sub and the Prussian, now solo, to a submerged temple… cue the theremin music! (I won’t spoil it for you, but in typical HPL fashion, you won’t leave the theater humming the themesong.)
This is what HPL had to say about the dolphins:
We often cast a beam around the ship, but saw only dolphins, swimming parallel to our own drifting course. I was scientifically interested in those dolphins; for though the ordinary Delphinus delphis is a cetacean mammal, unable to subsist without air, I watched one of the swimmers closely for two hours, and did not see him alter his submerged condition… (13:00-13:20)
…His mind was tired, but I am always a German, and was quick to notice two things; that the U-29 was standing the deep-sea pressure splendidly, and that the peculiar dolphins were still about us, even at a depth where the existence of high organisms is considered impossible by most naturalists. That I had previously overestimated our depth, I was sure; but none the less we must still be deep enough to make these phenomena remarkable. (15:55-16:25)
Now, Lovecraft did intensive research for his stories, including scientific articles; I read an analysis of The Color Out of Space citing several scientific articles published before the short story came out, that include reports of lighting hitting a fallen meteor, for instance, which he mentions in the story! But what was he thinking when he fantasized that the minions of C’thul’hu dolphins could hold their breath for so long, or dive so deep? Was he venturing in forgotten dreams into the weedy Sargassos of some time-lost realm of the great sea-god Nodens, or just fucking around? Only C’thul’hu knows… but I’m not brave or mad or stoned enough to ask him. You first, Indy!
Here’s the web site for the story, it runs just under an hour, and Mr. Gordon is a wonderful narrator. Enjoy his sonorous voice and oblique delivery!
“The Cult of Cthulhu is active, not reactive. It’s about the Great Old Ones, unspeakable oaths, unquiet voids, hideous sanity-shattering secrets, and magic as black as the yawning gulfs beyond time and space. Our religion has no limitations. That makes it demonstrably superior to Satanism.”
– Venger Satanis, high priest of the Church of C’thulhu