“The Real Moby Dick”

sperm whale— Sperm whales are pretty awesome; equipped with a massive “battering ram” type head, they can dive to 10,000 feet and remain submerged for over an hour!  They also grow for 50 of their 80 year life cycle, and so must eat constantly. Oil contained in two chambers of their head was once burned, fueling the New England economy of an earlier day; one sperm whale could provide 100 barrels of oil.

When whales were hunted by wooden ships, the tables occasionally got turned, and the whales got to take a few whalers and their vessels with them. One such ship, the Essex, was sunk by a whale in 1820, the incident providing the inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. The 20 crewmen of the Essex endured for 3 months in open whale boats following the sinking of their ship, and only 8 crewmen ultimately survived.  Now Melville used a natural history book of the day for factual information on sperm whales, then exaggerated their aggressive qualities.  His legendary white whale was almost an embodiment of evil, but hey, I wouldn’t like being harpooned, either!

So the MonsterQuest team went searching for aggressive albino whales in the Atlantic off Portugal in a recent offering, and initially spotted dolphins, fish, and turtles; one diver even suffered a nasty facial sting from a Portuguese Man o’ War.  When whales were actually spotted, they tended to dive before the team got into position; can you blame them?  Eventually, pilot whales were inspected up close by team divers.

While sperm whales were not sighted muchless any white ones, the episode was nonetheless interesting for the lore on whales and whaling, which thankfully is no longer widely practiced.  Most intriguing was the fact that Melville apparently changed his ending to Moby Dick, originally planning to have both the whale and the ship perish in the finale.  In his published version, the whale takes out the Pequod and survives, heading out to parts unknown of the sea, a malevolent force of nature unconquered by man…

…now that’s what I call a happy ending!You rule, Moby!–Woo-hoo!

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3 Comments on ““The Real Moby Dick””

  1. Carycomic Says:

    One of the marine biologists interviewed was skeptical about sperm whales using their craniums as battering rams. But, that segment about the “clicks” getting louder, before that one documented attack on a videographer’s small boat, got me to thinking.

    It’s established fact that bottlenose dolphins focus their sonar into a tight beam to zap, or stun, their prey fish. So, why couldn’t bull sperm whales do the same thing? That is; use their sonar to amplify the impact of their ramming against the object of their hostility, while simultaneously cushioning the amount of impact against their own head (a.k.a. “melon”).

    It would be like the bio-sonic equivalent of two rival quarterbacks head-butting each other with their helmets on.

    • vulpesffb Says:

      –Sonic attack capabilities!–No wonder Capt. Ahab was outclassed in his encounter with the “White Whale!”

      Learning from this experience, Ahab lowered his sights in his next life, and pursued an albino mallard they called, “Moby Duck.”

  2. Carycomic Says:

    Ba-DUM-Boom!!


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