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Setting Pigeons Free at Sea
Scientific American
August 17, 1895

Picture of handling pigeons

The Accident at Grascogne

After the accident that happened to the Grascogne, it was asked on all sides how news might be received from a vessel at sea. By an extraordinary chance, the Grascogne had been met by no other ship. How could such a contingency be remedied? The use of carrier pigeons, which render so many services on land, was at once thought of. But, there was one question to be answered. What would be the attitude of the pigeons at sea? Would they, after the preliminary carriage to the point of embarking, withstand their imprisonment on board? Would they or would they not suffer seasickness? Finally, on being set free, would they start for their Respective destinations, or seized with fear, would they settle upon the spars? These two last points are of great importance.
It was in order to solve this complicated problem that the Petit, Journal put itself at the head of a pigeon fancier movement such as has not been seen within the memory of amateurs. After setting free sixty thousand pigeons at the Trocadero, our contemporary chartered a transatlantic steamer, the Manoubia, and invited the owners of carrier pigeons to a conclusive experiment. It was a question of shipping the graceful messengers and setting them free at various distances at sea.
The embarkation was fixed for Saturday, June 39. The port selected was Saint Nazaire. On the evening before sailing, the baskets arrived in so great numbers that it was necessary to pass the night in order to proceed to the multiple operations necessitated by this extraordinary competition. Five thousand pigeons had been sent, and it was necessary to receive them, register them, sort them, classify the baskets by distances in order to prevent any subject of error later on, to countermark each pigeon's wing with the stamp of the Petit Journal, to tag the baskets and to constantly feed the birds, and especially to water then, since the pigeon cannot do without its supply of pure water. The manner in which the owners inform the receivers that their birds are thirsty is curious. Upon all the baskets there appears a placard through which the pigeons speak personally, as it were, as follows:

Something to drink, please.
We are thirsty.
Fresh water, if you please.
Please fill our trough.

This appeal is heard, and the water carriers pass about continuously, while the grain falls into the cages.
A selection having been made at the station, the cages were put aboard the cars to be taken to the wharf. Having been placed aboard the Manoubia, there was a final verification and another registering, and then adieu to terra firma. Countermarking pigeons

Freed at Sea

The Manoubia reached the open sea abreast of Croisic and Belle Isle, pointing toward the west. What says the barometer? Variable. Apprentice sailors such as we would perhaps prefer much fairer weather, but the pigeon fanciers are delighted. The wind blows from the open and the sky is overcast, both conditions excellent for the pigeons, which dread the reverberation of too glowing a sun. All the afternoon men are at work watering the pigeons or attaching dispatches to the messengers, or else guarding the cages for fear of a squall. Mean while the zealous become cool, enthusiasm grows weak, and of the convinced fanciers, several lie upon the deck in careless poses. The night passed rather inauspiciously for the fanciers, but admirably for the pigeons, not one of which was seasick. At three o'clock there was an awakening of all by stroke of bell; every one came on deck and preparations were made for the freeing at 60 miles, which was appointed for four o'clock. The baskets were carried aft. The pigeons understood that the moment had arrived and gave evident signs of impatience. The doors were opened; what was going to happen? The pigeons, perhaps with a little stupefaction, came out of their provisional abode. It was feared that they would not leave the upper works or yards, but they hastened to cross them with a loud noise of wings and were seen grouped in the air and turning round and round to the number of fifteen hundred. In five minutes they had disappeared. At eight o'clock there was a second setting free under the same conditions at 120 miles. The sea being decidedly too rough for the passengers, the Manonbia put in at Belle Isle. There remain two thousand pigeons to be countermarked for the settings free at 180 and 300 miles. The first results made known were very satisfactory. Not only did the bearers of dispatches return accurately, but the generality of the battalions gave proof of extraordinary valiantness. There were scarcely more than two or three that failed to get their bearings and remained upon the spars. As for the rest, they betook themselves toward terra firma with admirable precision. Dispatches from all parts told of the return of the birds to the cotes. —L'lllustration.

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