“The head, at some distance, resembles that of a dog, with his ears cut close; but when near you see it has a long thick snout, a wide mouth, and the eyes sunk within the head. Altogether it has a most horrid look; insomuch, that if one were to paint a Gorgon’s head, I think I could not find a more frightful model. As they swim, the head, which is high above the water, is continually moving from side to side to discover danger. The body is horizontally flattish, and covered with a hairy skin, often very finely varied with spots. Beneath the skin is a deep spongy fat, something like that of the skinny part of a leg of mutton: from this they chiefly draw the oil. The fins, or feet, are very near the body, webbed like a duck, about twelve inches wide, but in shape very much like the hand of a man; when they feed as they swim, they stoop the head down to the fore foot. When they dive, they swim under water, I think I may say a quarter of a mile together; and they dart after their pray with a surprising velocity, considering their bulk and the element they divide.”
(Elizabeth Spence, Letters from the North Highlands during the Summer 1816)
More Historical Miscellany here.
Image credit: mtchm