Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Brutality in Whaling: Moby Dick Chapter 67 – 92

'The Pequod', Used in the Film 'Moby Dick', c.1954
by Jack Sullivan

The whale’s anatomy
(part 2 – the 1st part is in the previous chapter post)

After being killed, a whale’s body would be slain. Its head would be hung on the side of the ship. One remarkable aspect of sperm whale is how it can live both at equator and at the pole with the same lungs and warm blood as in human being. It is because the nature provides it with thick ‘blanket’ as skin, which is called ‘blubber’. The more interesting analysis is about sperm whales head—which is more noble than the right whale’s—and its eyes, which are located on both sides of the head, instead of on the front.

One aspect of sperm whales that nobody knows, is the substance of its spout; is it water or vapor? As sperm whale’s outer skin is poisonous, men cannot touch it to investigate, and so it remains a mystery. But Ishmael believed it’s vapor, which signified with deep thoughts, and thus makes sperm whale a profound being :D. He also thought sperm whale is the most devoted animal because of its ‘fluke’ tail.

One very important article comes from sperm whale is ambergris, a waxy and highly fragrant substance used in perfumery and other cosmetics products. It is actually produced from the bowels of a whale with dyspepsia!

The noble creatures that are treated barbarianishly

Whale hunting used to be much more honorable in the past when they treated whales as noble creature. Now they were cruelly slain after being caught. The Pequod met a blind whale one day; this too was killed cruelly by Stubb. Ishmael also criticized the use of lance pitch-poling, which produced an even crueler effect to whales than harpoons. Stubb could even made jokes about the poor whale while it was slowly dying.

One day The Pequod met a herd of whales which swam in a giant circle. Ishmael’s boat was carried away into the centre of the circle; where he saw an amazingly calm group of young and nursing female whales with their babies. It was an amazing sight, but then one wounded whale entered the circle and replaced the calmness with panic moves, from which the boat could narrowly escape at the end.

The dark ‘superstitious’ of whale hunting

The Pequod met another whaling ship—Jerobeam—whose passenger was a lunatic man who believed himself as the incarnation of Gabriel the Archangel. He prophesied once that hunting and killing Moby Dick would be doomed as it was the Shaker God incarnated. And the prophecy came true, as a mate was killed while the Jerobeam was hunting Moby Dick.

Though not its assignment, Captain Ahab instructed his men to hunt a Right Whale too. It turned out later that Ahab—of Fedallah’s advice—wanted to hung its head on the opposite side of the sperm whale’s to ‘protect’ the ship.

My random thoughts

In many occasions, Melville has explained about the nobleness in whales, especially Sperm Whales. Now the question is, can killing a whale be justified by our conscience? In an occasion the Pequod hunted a blind whale—quite a pitiable view—and killed it. Look at how Melville described about it:

“For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.”

Is killing an animal is really wrong, then, while we can utilize its organs for our daily lives? Didn’t God create them for our needs? Why killing a whale is brutal while killing a cow isn’t? Why eating whale’s meat means cannibalism while eating a cow’s isn’t? I think, to answer these questions did Melville wrote this book, well….one of his purposes. I believe the only answer we can get is our own conscience. When we kill the animals to feed ourselves, it’s natural; but killing them for enriching us, or for putting the blame of our misfortune, that is a murder! Why killing a blind-pitiable whale is right for someone (Flask) but wrong for the other (Starbuck)? Again, it’s all about conscience, as illuminated by these dialog right after the blindness of the whale be known:

Flask: “A nice spot! Just let me prick him there once”
Starbuck: “Avast! There’s no need of that!”

Sperm whale’s ambergris is another proof of Melville’s genius in finding deep philosophy in whaling:

“Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? (….) that we are sown in dishonor, but raised in glory.”

And isn’t that how we are in the presence of God? Sinners but redeemed nonetheless to see His glory.



  1. This is a part of the book I actually liked. :) That last quote is a great one! Loved reading your thoughts; it's really got me thinking. I was never sure if Melville approved of whaling, though Starbuck does, in limitation and for practical reasons.

    1. I think Melvile approved of whaling as long as they didn't do it so brutally. The same with Starbuck I think, but he has been a whale man for a long time, maybe he already got used to it. But I'm glad that he opposed Ahab's revenge scheme 'till the end.

  2. There is so many ways to study Moby Dick. Yours is an intriguing perspective, esp. that last question!

    1. Well, it only proved Melville's genius way of presenting the philosophies through a story about whales. :)


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