Chapter Seven: Leviathan, or the Whale: In which we Discuss the Physeter, the Mysticetus, Jasconius, and other Cetalogical Wonders too Large and Marvelous to be Believed.
Have you ever wondered which animal possesses the largest nose? The sperm whale wins the contest with a nose than can be up to 20′ long. Inside this honker you can find a clear amber oil that continues to mystify scientists (I think it’s just snot …).
Some biologists suggest that mass stranding regulates certain orciniae populations. This would mean that whales commit mass suicide as population control. I’m not sure I buy that …
A whale can go 7-8 months without eating. I wish I could do that; it would save me a lot of money! The 100′ blue whale is the biggest species of whale, whereas the 12′ pygmy sperm whale is the smallest.
This is what Loren Eiseley, an anthropologist-poet, has to say about the whale: “It is worth a thought that someday the whale might talk to us and us to him. It would break, perhaps, the long loneliness that has made man a frequent terror and abomination even to himself” (Ellis 226-227). I thought that was worth a mention for your later pondering.
I’m sharing another quote from this chapter because it is absolutely beautiful. Joan McIntyre writes in her book Mind in the Waters: “This is the mind that I have always believed existed somewhere. The deep calm mind of the ocea, connected to body, living in the world, not looking out at it. Surrounded by the gentle clicking of each other’s sound, these creatures drift and dive, carve shining bubbled circles in the still water, move like dream ghosts out of the seas’ unchanging past. Not changing the world around them – only listening, touching, eating, being. It seems enough” (Ellis 229).
The point of this chapter is mainly to show how the whale has gone from being a mythical monster (the leviathan), to a commercial object, to the first literary monster (Herman Melville’s white whale), and finally to a conservative and almost religious icon.
I was happy to see that Ellis didn’t forget to mention the importance of this sacred monster in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Even so, this was my least favorite chapter. I guess whales just aren’t exciting enough for me.
Fun Fact: The bowhead/polar whale’s scientific name is Balena mysticetus.