Moby Dick Monday

Moby Dick, or, The Whale by Herman Melville

Tor Classics, New York, 1996

This book was mooched.

Moby Dick Monday is a read-along organized by Ti at Book Chatter.

I’ve read another 60 pages or so and am still very happy with this book.  The more I read the more I want to learn about the author.

I do have a hard time with Melville’s descriptions of whale butchery.  I find it fascinating and appalling at the same time, knowing what the whaling industry did to cetacean populations.  Japanese whaling continues to decimate whales around the planet.  The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research justifies whale hunting by population numbers but, according to many researchers,  here, here and here this claim is false.  The Japanese also hunt and kill Dolphins.  Watch The Cove, if you can.  I haven’t been able to watch it.

My favorite section this week comes from chapter 87.  I think that Melville once sat in a boat surrounded by a multitude of whales and had a similar experience.  Ismael’s description is overwhelming.  I found myself holding my breath as I read.  I wanted to be on that boat, watching those whales.

From Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between the revolving outer circles, and inclusive of the spaces between the various pods in any one of those circles, the entire area at this juncture, embraced by the whole multitude, must have contained at least two or three square miles. At any rate—though indeed such a test at such a time might be deceptive—spoutings might be discovered from our low boat that seemed playing up almost from the rim of the horizon. I mention this circumstance, because, as if the cows and calves had been purposely locked up in this innermost fold; and as if the wide extent of the herd had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise cause of its stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and every way innocent and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller whales—now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the lake—evinced a wondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still becharmed panic which it was impossible not to marvel at. Like household dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.

But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;—even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight. Floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar’s bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby’s ears newly arrived from foreign parts.

I can not even imagine this huge gathering, I wonder if such an event happens.  I know Humpback whales gather in nurseries, do Sperm whales do the same?   I know a bit about Orcas and Humpbacks as we have them in the Northwest but know nothing about Sperm whales. Any whale scientists out there?

I am taking part in this adventure with others:

Ti at Book Chatter

Jill/Softdrink of Fizzy Thoughts

Jill of RhapsodyinBooks

Dar of Peeking Between the Pages

Eva of A Striped Armchair

Wisteria from Bookworm’s Dinner

Sandra at Fresh Ink Books

Claire from kiss a cloud


Filed under Classic, Read-Along

3 responses to “Moby Dick Monday

  1. Ti

    I will say this…Melville’s descriptions of whaling in general, are so well-drawn and vivid. I find myself out in the middle of the ocean, participating in this adventure with the crew. As each chapter passes I find myself enjoying it more. It was a love/hate thing there for a while but it’s definitely growing on me.

  2. Yes, that passage you cited was wonderful. I loved reading about the infants. The American Cetacean Society has some facts about sperm whale breeding, here:

  3. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s posts about Moby Dick. I really dreaded reading it for school a few semesters ago but once I started the book, I was amazed at how good it was. I’m glad you’re still enjoying it.

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