But Not in a Book
I have always been enamored by Herman Melville's novel, Moby Dick. The novel is an interesting triangulation between Captain Ahab, his crew, and Moby Dick. Melville is able to blend and interweave the various plots of the various storylines. However, Ahab was obsessed with revenge against the great white whale who took his left leg. Ahab was reminded of Moby Dick every time he took a step. Interestingly, Ahab's left leg was a prosthesis made from a jawbone of a whale due to a run in with Moby Dick years before.
Therefore, most Americans have enjoyed the novel and the film about Ahab attempting to get even with his nemesis, Moby Dick. However, while looking up something on the Internet, I came across an article about a relative of Moby Dick, a very distant relative.
Sperm whales have been around for many millions of years. However, the Smithsonian had a jaw and some teeth of an Albicetus oxymycterus in their marine mammal section in Washington, DC. Nearly a century ago, it was found in Santa Barbara, CA. Scientists determined that the fossil was that of a walrus.
While the walrus fossil sat on a shelf at the Smithsonian, several scientists noticed that this skeleton had conical teeth. Walruses have tusks that are more flattened. Thus began the process of re-identifying the walrus fossil. What marine scientist discovered was a rostrum of a white whale, Albicetus oxymycterus.
The next question is how Hermann Melville got involved with the offspring of Albicetus oxymycterus, Moby Dick. Melville actually worked on a whaling ship. However, he blended his experiences with the actual sinking of the Essex due to a run-in with a whale in November 1820, which was two decades before Melville went to sea. There was also a rumor about killing an albino whale in 1839. Melville used the two stories and his experience to create his novel, Moby Dick., which was published on November 14, 1851. This is the 165th anniversary of Melville's novel.
Therefore, after nearly a century having misidentified Moby Dick's predecessor as a walrus, the Smithsonian learned the reality of their fossil. In my research into writing this essay, I learned a great deal also. Here are some interesting findings. The sperm whale possesses the largest brain of any creature that ever swam in the oceans or roamed on the land. The term sperm is a substance called spermaceti, which the whalers thought was sperm housed in their hands. While that is merely a mistaken notion, scientists aren't completely sure of its function. Nevertheless, they believe that it helps with buoyancy. Sperm whales are capable of deep sea dives of over a half mile in depth. Even more amazing is that such a dive would mean that this mammal would have to hold its breath for an hour and a half.
A sperm whale will devour a ton of fish and squid per day. Males will, after mating, swim to higher latitudes at about 23 mph while the females and calves remain in more tropical waters. Finally, the name Melville used for the title of his novel comes from the name of a real whale called Mocha Dick.
This is an excellent video about the stories that come together in Moby Dick.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.