Death of Old Whale
The Pequod Meets The Virgin
The predestinated day arrived, and we duly met the ship Jungfrau,
Derick De Deer, master, of Bremen.
At one time the greatest whaling people in the world, the Dutch and
Germans are now among the least; but here and there at very wide
intervals of latitude and longitude, you still occasionally meet
with their flag in the Pacific.
For some reason, the Jungfrau seemed quite eager to pay her
respects. While yet some distance from the Pequod, she rounded to,
and dropping a boat, her captain was impelled towards us,
impatiently standing in the bows instead of the stern.
"What has he in his hand there?" cried Starbuck, pointing to
something wavingly held by the German. "Impossible!- a lamp-feeder!"
"Not that," said Stubb, "no, no, it's a coffee-pot, Mr. Starbuck;
he's coming off to make us our coffee, is the Yarman; don't you see
that big tin can there alongside of him?- that's his boiling water.
Oh! he's all right, is the Yarman."
"Go along with you," cried Flask, "it's a lamp-feeder and an
oil-can. He's out of oil, and has come a-begging."
However curious it may seem for an oil-ship to be borrowing oil on
the whale-ground, and however much it may invertedly contradict the
old proverb about carrying coals to Newcastle, yet sometimes such a
thing really happens; and in the present case Captain Derick De Deer
did indubitably conduct a lamp-feeder as Flask did declare.
As he mounted the deck, Ahab abruptly accosted him, without at all
heeding what he had in his hand; but in his broken lingo, the German
soon evinced his complete ignorance of the White Whale; immediately
turning the conversation to his lamp-feeder and oil can, with some
remarks touching his having to turn into his hammock at night in
profound darkness- his last drop of Bremen oil being gone, and not a
single flying-fish yet captured to supply the deficiency; concluding
by hinting that his ship was indeed what in the Fishery is
technically called a clean one (that is, an empty one), well
deserving the name of Jungfrau or the Virgin.
His necessities supplied, Derick departed; but he had not gained his
ship's side, when whales were almost simultaneously raised from the
mast-heads of both vessels; and so eager for the chase was Derick,
that without pausing to put his oil-can and lamp-feeder aboard, he
slewed round his boat and made after the leviathan lamp-feeders.
Now, the game having risen to leeward, he and the other three German
boats that soon followed him, had considerably the start of the
Pequod's keels. There were eight whales, an average pod. Aware of
their danger, they were going all abreast with great speed straight
before the wind, rubbing their flanks as closely as so many spans of
horses in harness. They left a great, wide wake, as though
continually unrolling a great wide parchment upon the sea.
Full in this rapid wake, and many fathoms in the rear, swam a huge,
humped old bull, which by his comparatively slow progress, as well
as by the unusual yellowish incrustations over-growing him, seemed
afflicted with the jaundice, or some other infirmity. Whether this
whale belonged to the pod in advance, seemed questionable; for it is
not customary for such venerable leviathans to be at all social.
Nevertheless, he stuck to their wake, though indeed their back water
must have retarded him, because the white-bone or swell at his broad
muzzle was a dashed one, like the swell formed when two hostile
currents meet. His spout was short, slow, and laborious; coming
forth with a choking sort of gush, and spending itself in torn
shreds, followed by strange subterranean commotions in him, which
seemed to have egress at his other buried extremity, causing the
waters behind him to upbubble.
"Who's got some paregoric?" said Stubb, "he has the stomach-ache,
I'm afraid. Lord, think of having half an acre of stomach-ache!
Adverse winds are holding mad Christmas in him, boys. It's the first
foul wind ever knew to blow from astern; but look, did ever whale
yaw so before? it must be, he's lost his tiller."
As an overladen Indiaman bearing down the Hindostan coast with a
deck load of frightened horses, careens, buries, rolls, and wallows
on her way; so did this old whale heave his aged bulk, and now and
then partly turning over on his cumbrous rib-ends, expose the cause
of his devious wake in the unnatural stump of his starboard fin.
Whether he had lost that fin in battle, or had been born without it,
it were hard to say.
"Only wait a bit, old chap, and I'll give ye a sling for that
wounded arm," cried cruel Flask, pointing to the whale-line near
"Mind he don't sling thee with it," cried Starbuck. "Give way, or
the German will have him."
With one intent all the combined rival boats were pointed for this
one fish, because not only was he the largest, and therefore the
most valuable whale, but he was nearest to them, and the other
whales were going with such great velocity, moreover, as almost to
defy pursuit for the time. At this juncture, the Pequod's keels had
shot by the three German boats last lowered; but from the great
start he had had, Derick's boat still led the chase, though every
moment neared by his foreign rivals.
The only thing they feared, was, that from being
already so nigh to his mark, he would be enabled to dart his iron
before they could completely overtake and pass him. As for Derick,
he seemed quite confident that this would be the case, and
occasionally with a deriding gesture shook his lamp-feeder at the
"The ungracious and ungrateful dog!" cried Starbuck; "he mocks and
dares me with the very poor-box I filled for him not five minutes
ago!"- Then in his old intense whisper- "give way, greyhounds! Dog
"I tell ye what it is, men"- cried Stubb to his crew- "it's against
my religion to get mad; but I'd like to eat that villainous Yarman-
Pull- won't ye? Are ye going to let that rascal beat ye? Do ye love
brandy? A hogshead of brandy, then, to the best man. Come, why don't
some of ye burst a blood-vessel? Who's that been dropping an anchor
overboard- we don't budge an inch- we're becalmed. Halloo, here's
grass growing in the boat's bottom- and by the Lord, the mast
there's budding. This won't do, boys. Look at that Yarman! The short
and long of it is, men, will ye spit fire or not?"
"Oh! see the suds he makes!" cried Flask, dancing up and down- "What
a hump- Oh, do pile on the beef- lays like a log! Oh! my lads, do
spring- slap-jacks and quahogs for supper, you know, my lads- baked
clams and muffins- ho, do, do, spring,- he's a hundred barreler-
don't lose him now- don't oh, don't!- see that Yarman- Oh, won't ye
pull for your duff, my lads- such a sog! such a sogger! Don't ye
love sperm? There goes three thousand dollars, men!- a bank!- a
whole bank! The bank of England!- Oh, do, do, do!- What's that
Yarman about now?"
At this moment Derick was in the act of pitching his
lamp-feeder at the advancing boats, and also his oil-can; perhaps
with the double view of retarding his rivals' way, and at the same
time economically accelerating his own by the momentary impetus of
the backward toss.
"The unmannerly Dutch dogger!" cried Stubb. "Pull now, men, like
fifty thousand line-of-battle-ship loads of red-haired devils. What
d'ye say, Tashtego; are you the man to snap your spine in
two-and-twenty pieces for the honor of old Gayhead? What d'ye say?"
"I say, pull like god-dam,"- cried the Indian.
Fiercely, but evenly incited by the taunts of the German, the
Pequod's three boats now began ranging almost abreast; and, so
disposed, momentarily neared him. In that fine, loose, chivalrous
attitude of the headsman when drawing near to his prey, the three
mates stood up proudly, occasionally backing the after oarsman with
an exhilarating cry of, "There she slides, now! Hurrah for the
white-ash breeze! Down with the Yarman! Sail over him!"
But so decided an original start had Derick had, that spite of all
their gallantry, he would have proved the victor in this race, had
not a righteous judgment descended upon him in a crab which caught
the blade of his midship oarsman. While this clumsy lubber was
striving to free his white-ash, and while, in consequence, Derick's
boat was nigh to capsizing, and he thundering away at his men in a
mighty rage;- that was a good time for Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask.
With a shout, they took a mortal start forwards, and slantingly
ranged up on the German's quarter. An instant more, and all four
boats were diagonically in the whale's immediate wake, while
stretching from them, on both sides, was the foaming swell that he
It was a terrific, most pitiable, and maddening sight. The whale was
now going head out, and sending his spout before him in a continual
tormented jet; while his one poor fin beat his side in an agony of
fright. Now to this hand, now to that, he yawed in his faltering
flight, and still at every billow that he broke, he spasmodically
sank in the sea, or sideways rolled towards the sky his one beating
fin. So have I seen a bird with clipped wing, making affrighted
broken circle in the air, vainly striving to escape the piratical
hawks. But the bird has a voice, and with plaintive cries will make
known her fear; but the fear of this vast dumb brute of the sea, was
chained up and enchanted in him; he had no voice, save that choking
respiration through his spiracle, and this made the sight of him
unspeakably pitiable; while still, in his amazing bulk, portcullis
jaw, and omnipotent tail, there was enough to appal the stoutest man
who so pitied.
Seeing now that but a very few moments more would give the Pequod's
boat the advantage, and rather than be thus foiled of his game,
Derick chose to hazard what to him must have seemed a most unusually
long dart, ere the last chance would for ever escape.
But no sooner did his harpooneer stand up for the stroke, than all
three tigers- Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo- instinctively sprang to
their feet, and standing in a diagonal row, simultaneously pointed
their barbs; and darted over the head of the German harpooneer,
their three Nantucket irons entered the whale. Blinding vapors of
foam and white-fire! The three boats, in the first fury of the
whale's headlong rush, bumped the German's aside with such force,
that both Derick and his baffled harpooneer were spilled out, and
sailed over by the three flying keels.
"Don't be afraid, my butter-boxes," cried Stubb, casting a passing
glance upon them as he shot by; "ye'll be picked up presently- all
right- I saw some sharks astern- St. Bernard's dogs, you know-
relieve distressed travellers. Hurrah! this is the way to sail now.
Every keel a sunbeam! Hurrah!- Here we go like three tin kettles at
the tail of a mad cougar! This puts me in mind of fastening to an
elephant in a tilbury on a plain- makes the wheelspokes fly, boys,
when you fasten to him that way; and there's danger of being pitched
out too, when you strike a hill. Hurrah! this is the way a fellow
feels when he's going to Davy Jones- all a rush down an endless
inclined plane! Hurrah! this whale carries the everlasting mail!"
But the monster's run was a brief one. Giving a sudden gasp, he
tumultuously sounded. With a grating rush, the three lines flew
round the loggerheads with such a force as to gouge deep grooves in
them; while so fearful were the harpooneers that this rapid sounding
would soon exhaust the lines, that using all their dexterous might,
they caught repeated smoking turns with the rope to hold on; till at
last- owing to the perpendicular strain from the lead-lined chocks
of the boat, whence the three ropes went straight down into the
blue- the gunwales of the bows were almost even with the water,
while the three sterns tilted high in the air. And the whale soon
ceasing to sound, for some time they remained in that attitude,
fearful of expending more line, though the position was a little
ticklish. But though boats have been taken down and lost in this
way, yet it is this "holding on," as it is called; this hooking up
by the sharp barbs of his live flesh from the back; this it is that
often torments the Leviathan into soon rising again to meet the
sharp lance of his foes. Yet not to speak of the peril of the thing,
it is to be doubted whether this course is always the best; for it
is but reasonable to presume, that the longer the stricken whale
stays under water, the more he is exhausted. Because, owing to the
enormous surface of him- in a full grown sperm whale something less
than 2000 square feet- the pressure of the water is immense. We all
know what an astonishing atmospheric weight we ourselves stand up
under; even here, above-ground, in the air; how vast, then, the
burden of a whale, bearing on his back a column of two hundred
fathoms of ocean! It must at least equal the weight of fifty
atmospheres. One whaleman has estimated it at the weight of twenty
line-of-battle ships, with all their guns, and stores, and men on
As the three boats lay there on that gently rolling sea, gazing down
into its eternal blue noon; and as not a single groan or cry of any
sort, nay, not so much as a ripple or a bubble came up from its
depths; what landsman would have thought, that beneath all that
silence and placidity, the utmost monster of the seas was writhing
and wrenching in agony! Not eight inches of perpendicular rope were
visible at the bows. Seems it credible that by three such thin
threads the great Leviathan was suspended like the big weight to an
eight day clock. Suspended? and to what? To three bits of board. Is
this the creature of whom it was once so triumphantly said- "Canst
thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish-spears?
The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold, the spear, the
dart, nor the habergeon: he esteemeth iron as straw; the arrow
cannot make him flee; darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at
the shaking of a spear!" This the creature? this he? Oh! that
unfulfilments should follow the prophets. For with the strength of a
thousand thighs in his tail, Leviathan had run his head under the
mountains of the sea, to hide him from the Pequod's fishspears!
In that sloping afternoon sunlight, the shadows that the three boats
sent down beneath the surface, must have been long enough and broad
enough to shade half Xerxes' army. Who can tell how appalling to the
wounded whale must have been such huge phantoms flitting over his
head! "Stand by, men; he stirs," cried Starbuck, as the three lines
suddenly vibrated in the water, distinctly conducting upwards to
them, as by magnetic wires, the life and death throbs of the whale,
so that every oarsman felt them in his seat. The next moment,
relieved in great part from the downward strain at the bows, the
boats gave a sudden bounce upwards, as a small icefield will, when a
dense herd of white bears are scared from it into the sea.
"Haul in! Haul in!" cried Starbuck again; "he's rising."
The lines, of which, hardly an instant before, not one hand's
breadth could have been gained, were now in long quick coils flung
back all dripping into the boats, and soon the whale broke water
within two ship's length of the hunters.
His motions plainly denoted his extreme exhaustion. In most land
animals there are certain valves or flood-gates in many of their
veins, whereby when wounded, the blood is in some degree at least
instantly shut off in certain directions. Not so with the whale; one
of whose peculiarities it is, to have an entire non-valvular
structure of the blood-vessels, so that when pierced even by so
small a point as a harpoon, a deadly drain is at once begun upon his
whole arterial system; and when this is heightened by the
extraordinary pressure of water at a great distance below the
surface, his life may be said to pour from him in incessant streams.
Yet so vast is the quantity of blood in him, and so distant and
numerous its interior fountains, that he will keep thus bleeding and
bleeding for a considerable period; even as in a drought a river
will flow, whose source is the well-springs of far-off and
indiscernible hills. Even now, when the boats pulled upon this
whale, and perilously drew over his swaying flukes, and the lances
were darted into him, they were followed by steady jets from the new
made wound, which kept continually playing, while the natural
spout-hole in his head was only at intervals, however rapid, sending
its affrighted moisture into the air. From this last vent no blood
yet came, because no vital part of him had thus far been struck. His
life, as they significantly call it, was untouched.
As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part
of his form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was
plainly revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had
been, were beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the
knot-holes of the noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points
which the whale's eyes had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs,
horribly pitiable to see. But pity there was none. 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. Still
rolling in his blood, at last he partially disclosed a strangely
discolored bunch or protuberance, the size of a bushel, low down on
"A nice spot," cried Flask; "just let me prick him there once."
"Avast!" cried Starbuck, "there's no need of that!"
But humane Starbuck was too late. At the instant of the dart an
ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it into more
than sufferable anguish, the whale now spouting thick blood, with
swift fury blindly darted at the craft, bespattering them and their
glorying crews all over with showers of gore, capsizing Flask's boat
and marring the bows. It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so
spent was he by loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from
the wreck he had made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped
with his stumped fin, then over and over slowly revolved like a
waning world; turned up the white secrets of his belly; lay like a
log, and died. It was most piteous, that last expiring spout. As
when by unseen hands the water is gradually drawn off from some
mighty fountain, and with half-stifled melancholy gurglings the
spray-column lowers and lowers to the ground- so the last long dying
spout of the whale.
Soon, while the crews were awaiting the arrival of the ship, the
body showed symptoms of sinking with all its treasures unrifled.
Immediately, by Starbuck's orders, lines were secured to it at
different points, so that ere long every boat was a buoy; the sunken
whale being suspended a few inches beneath them by the cords. By
very heedful management, when the ship drew nigh, the whale was
transferred to her side, and was strongly secured there by the
stiffest fluke-chains, for it was plain that unless artificially
upheld, the body would at once sink to the bottom.
It so chanced that almost upon first him with the spade, the entire
length of a corroded harpoon was found imbedded in his flesh, on the
lower part of the bunch before described. But as the stumps of
harpoons are frequently found in the dead bodies of captured whales,
with the flesh perfectly healed around them, and no prominence of
any kind to denote their place; therefore, there must needs have
been some other unknown reason in the present case fully to account
for the ulceration alluded to. But still more curious was the fact
of a lance-head of stone being found in him, not far from the buried
iron, the flesh perfectly firm about it. Who had darted that stone
lance? And when? It might have been darted by some Nor' West Indian
long before America was discovered.
What other marvels might have been rummaged out of this monstrous
cabinet there is no telling. But a sudden stop was put to further
discoveries, by the ship's being unprecedentedly dragged over
sideways to the sea, owing to the body's immensely increasing
tendency to sink. However, Starbuck, who had the ordering of
affairs, hung on to it to the last; hung on to it so resolutely,
indeed, that when at length the ship would have been capsized, if
still persisting in locking arms with the body; then, when the
command was given to break clear from it, such was the immovable
strain upon the timber-heads to which the fluke-chains and cables
were fastened, that it was impossible to cast them off. Meantime
everything in the Pequod was aslant. To cross to the other side of
the deck was like walking up the steep gabled roof of a house. The
ship groaned and gasped. Many of the ivory inlayings of her bulwarks
and cabins were started from their places, by the unnatural
dislocation. In vain handspikes and crows were brought to bear upon
the immovable fluke-chains, to pry them adrift from the timberheads;
and so low had the whale now settled that the submerged ends could
not be at all approached, while every moment whole tons of
ponderosity seemed added to the sinking bulk, and the ship seemed on
the point of going over.
"Hold on, hold on, won't ye?" cried Stubb to the body, "don't be in
such a devil of a hurry to sink! By thunder, men, we must do
something or go for it. No use prying there; avast, I say with your
handspikes, and run one of ye for a prayer book and a pen-knife, and
cut the big chains."
"Knife? Aye, aye," cried Queequeg, and seizing the carpenter's heavy
hatchet, he leaned out of a porthole, and steel to iron, began
slashing at the largest fluke-chains. But a few strokes, full of
sparks, were given, when the exceeding strain effected the rest.
With a terrific snap, every fastening went adrift; the ship righted,
the carcase sank.
Now, this occasional inevitable sinking of the
recently killed Sperm Whale is a very curious thing; nor has any
fisherman yet adequately accounted for it. Usually the dead Sperm
Whale floats with great buoyancy, with its side or belly
considerably elevated above the surface. If the only whales that
thus sank were old, meagre, and broken-hearted creatures, their pads
of lard diminished and all their bones heavy and rheumatic; then you
might with some reason assert that this sinking is caused by an
uncommon specific gravity in the fish so sinking, consequent upon
this absence of buoyant matter in him. But it is not so. For young
whales, in the highest health, and swelling with noble aspirations,
prematurely cut off in the warm flush and May of life, with all
their panting lard about them! even these brawny, buoyant heroes do
Be it said, however, that the Sperm Whale is far less liable to this
accident than any other species. Where one of that sort go down,
twenty Right Whales do. This difference in the species
is no doubt imputable in no small degree to the greater quantity of
bone in the Right Whale; his Venetian blinds alone sometimes
weighing more than a ton; from this incumbrance the Sperm Whale is
wholly free. But there are instances where, after the lapse of many
hours or several days, the sunken whale again rises, more buoyant
than in life. But the reason of this is obvious. Gases are generated
in him; he swells to a prodigious magnitude; becomes a sort of
animal balloon. A line-of-battle ship could hardly keep him under
then. In the Shore Whaling, on soundings, among the Bays of New
Zealand, when a Right Whale gives token of sinking, they fasten
buoys to him, with plenty of rope; so that when the body has gone
down, they know where to look for it when it shall have ascended
It was not long after the sinking of the body that a cry was heard
from the Pequod's mast-heads, announcing that the Jungfrau was again
lowering her boats; though the only spout in sight was that of a
Fin-Back, belonging to the species of uncapturable whales, because
of its incredible power of swimming. Nevertheless, the Fin-Back's
spout is so similar to the Sperm Whale's, that by unskilful
fishermen it is often mistaken for it. And consequently Derick and
all his host were now in valiant chase of this unnearable brute. The
Virgin crowding all sail, made after her four young keels, and thus
they all disappeared far to leeward, still in bold, hopeful chase.
Oh! Many are the Fin-Backs, and many are the Dericks, my friend.