Sperm Whale Calf

As when the stricken whale, that from the tub has reeled out hundreds of fathoms of rope; as, after deep sounding, he floats up again, and shows the slackened curling line buoyantly rising and spiralling towards the air; so now, Starbuck saw long coils of the umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan, by which the young cub seemed still tethered to its dam. Not seldom in the rapid vicissitudes of the chase, this natural line, with the maternal end loose, becomes entangled with the hempen one, so that the cub is thereby trapped. Some of the subtlest secrets of the seas seemed divulged to us in this enchanted pond. We saw young Leviathan amours in the deep.

—The Grand Armada

Amid the epic drama of Chapter 87: The Grand Armada, Ishmael and Queequeg encounter the eye of a storm of frightened whales, and see a sight rare to any human eyes, a Sperm Whale nursery. Once again, the combination of ecological interest and unfeeling industrial slaughter is here witnessed and described in all its complexity. Queequeg almost lovingly strokes the head of a young whale, feeling no animosity or economic greed, but a deeper respect for the nature of things, and the balances both seen and felt in the natural world, that Ahab’s monomaniac quest contraposes with fiery vehemence.

In the game, a calf is easy to kill, but the mercilessness of such action cannot help but be felt with a twinge of guilt. The sailors on the Pequod are out of balance with nature, and this should never be forgotten as the journey grinds to its inexorable conclusion—a devastating, decisive, and utterly unthinking re-balancing of the scales.

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