Bull Sperm Whale

To a landsman, no whale, nor any sign of a herring, would have been visible at that moment; nothing but a troubled bit of greenish white water, and thin scattered puffs of vapour hovering over it, and suffusingly blowing off to leeward, like the confused scud from white rolling billows. The air around suddenly vibrated and tingled, as it were, like the air over intensely heated plates of iron. Beneath this atmospheric waving and curling, and partially beneath a thin layer of water, also, the whales were swimming. Seen in advance of all the other indications, the puffs of vapour they spouted, seemed their forerunning couriers and detached flying outriders.

—The First Lowering

The Bull Sperm Whale is the optimal whale to hunt in our game—this was done to mirror the fact that these were the most common whales hunted by Nantucket whaleships such as the Pequod. Mares were of course hunted as well, and certainly whaling men did not distinguish or care at all what sort of Sperm whale they were killing. Though known as the most dangerous whales to fight, due to their perceived ‘masculine’ aggression, Melville excepts older and wiser whales as greater enemies than even these:  ‘the young males, or forty-barrel-bulls, as they call them, are by far the most pugnacious of all Leviathans, and proverbially the most dangerous to encounter; excepting those wondrous grey-headed, grizzled whales, sometimes met, and these will fight you like grim fiends exasperated by a penal gout.’ —Schools and Schoolmasters

Previous
Next
compendium