To the letter writer who enjoyed all the sounds of the island, I’m happy to report that yes, when you hear the boat whistles, they’re talking to each other.

Thanks to Michael Leahy of Leahy Marine, I have a partial list, sent by this generous sharer, of what some of those sounds mean.

Here’s his report: “You can tell your friend that there’s indeed a code for the sounding of commercial ships’ whistles.

“Here are a few: One short for passing to port, two short for passing to starboard.”

Here are some they all really need to know: “Five short blasts indicates danger of imminent collision course. One continuous blast of whistle and simultaneously, ringing of the general alarm bell indicates fire or other emergency requiring crews to assemble at their emergency stations.”

Here’s another really important one: “Seven short and one long of both whistle and general alarm bell is the signal to crew to abandon ship.

“One long blast of the whistle is used when a vessel is ready to get underway from the berth. Periodic short blasts of the whistle while underway at sea indicate fog sufficient to restrict visibility.

“This is accompanied by placing the engine order telegraph on ‘standby,’ which requires that either the chief or first engineer to personally stand by at the engine throttles and reduce the engines from full sea speed to a specified RPM.

“Periodic sounding of the ship’s bell at the bow, simultaneously with the gong at the stern is used when the ship is at anchor in heavy fog in close waters.”

So, now you know that we learn something new every day, and special thanks to our marine expert.

In other matters of language, concerning words we speak, rather than whistles we blow, I refer to all the names of animals which we use to signify things other than animals. Is that a good segue?

There’s badger, a part of the weasel family. But as a verb, it means to harass or annoy somebody.

Then, of course, there’s the weasel himself, which is somebody who’s sneaky and insincere. Have you known someone who managed to weasel out of a job?

All these references come from Merriam Webster, as usual.

A similar animal is a ferret. They’re sneaky too, though some people love them as pets. They, and those who emulate them, ferret things out. They bring things to light.

Remember “You dirty rat,” a quote from James Cagney in a movie? A rat is associated with filth and pestilence. Incidentally, they’re also popular pets. In criminal parlance, they’re the ones who rat out their fellow criminals.

The wild animals with whom I’m most familiar are squirrels. People who emulate them squirrel away stuff for future use. As do the squirrels with my pecans and acorns.

Words and whistles. They all have a lot of meanings.

Cathy Gillentine is a Daily News columnist. She may be reached at

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