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Page 503


In the first place, I wish to lay before you a particular, plain
statement, touching the living bulk of this leviathan, whose
skeleton we are briefly to exhibit. Such a statement may prove
useful here.

According to a careful calculation I have made, and which I
partly base upon Captain Scoresby's estimate, of seventy tons
for the largest sized Greenland whale of sixty feet in length;
according to my careful calculation, I say, a Sperm Whale of
the largest magnitude, between eighty-five and ninety feet in
length, and something less than forty feet in its fullest circumference,
such a whale will weigh at least ninety tons; so that,
reckoning thirteen men to a ton, he would considerably outweigh
the combined population of a whole village of one thousand
one hundred inhabitants.

Think you not then that brains, like yoked cattle, should be
put to this leviathan, to make him at all budge to any landsman's

Having already in various ways put before you his skull,
spout-hole, jaw, teeth, tail, forehead, fins, and divers other parts,
I shall now simply point out what is most interesting in the
general bulk of his unobstructed bones. But as the colossal
skull embraces so very large a proportion of the entire extent
of the skeleton; as it is by far the most complicated part; and
as nothing is to be repeated concerning it in this chapter, you
must not fail to carry it in your mind, or under your arm, as
we proceed, otherwise you will not gain a complete notion of
the general structure we are about to view.


Page 504

In length, the Sperm Whale's skeleton at Tranque measured
seventy-two feet; so that when fully invested and extended in
life, he must have been ninety feet long; for in the whale, the
skeleton loses about one fifth in length compared with the living
body. Of this seventy-two feet, his skull and jaw comprised
some twenty feet, leaving some fifty feet of plain back-bone.
Attached to this back-bone, for something less than a third of
its length, was the mighty circular basket of ribs which once
enclosed his vitals.

To me this vast ivory-ribbed chest, with the long, unrelieved
spine, extending far away from it in a straight line, not a little
resembled the hull of a great ship new-laid upon the stocks,
when only some twenty of her naked bow-ribs are inserted,
and the keel is otherwise, for the time, but a long, disconnected

The ribs were ten on a side. The first, to begin from the
neck, was nearly six feet long; the second, third, and fourth
were each successively longer, till you came to the climax of the
fifth, or one of the middle ribs, which measured eight feet and
some inches. From that part, the remaining ribs diminished,
till the tenth and last only spanned five feet and some inches.
In general thickness, they all bore a seemly correspondence to
their length. The middle ribs were the most arched. In some
of the Arsacides they are used for beams whereon to lay foot-path
bridges over small streams.

In considering these ribs, I could not but be struck anew with
the circumstance, so variously repeated in this book, that the
skeleton of the whale is by no means the mould of his invested
form. The largest of the Tranque ribs, one of the middle ones,
occupied that part of the fish which, in life, is greatest in depth.
Now, the greatest depth of the invested body of this particular
whale must have been at least sixteen feet; whereas, the corresponding
rib measured but little more than eight feet. So
that this rib only conveyed half of the true notion of the living


Page 505
magnitude of that part. Besides, for some way, where I now
saw but a naked spine, all that had been once wrapped round
with tons of added bulk in flesh, muscle, blood, and bowels. Still
more, for the ample fins, I here saw but a few disordered joints;
and in place of the weighty and majestic, but boneless flukes,
an utter blank!

How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for timid untravelled
man to try to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by
merely poring over his dead attenuated skeleton, stretched in
this peaceful wood. No. Only in the heart of quickest perils;
only when within the eddyings of his angry flukes; only on the
profound unbounded sea, can the fully invested whale be truly
and livingly found out.

But the spine. For that, the best way we can consider it is,
with a crane, to pile its bones high up on end. No speedy
enterprise. But now it's done, it looks much like Pompey's

There are forty and odd vertebræ in all, which in the skeleton
are not locked together. They mostly lie like the great knobbed
blocks on a Gothic spire, forming solid courses of heavy
masonry. The largest, a middle one, is in width something
less than three feet, and in depth more than four. The smallest,
where the spine tapers away into the tail, is only two inches
in width, and looks something like a white billiard-ball. I was
told that there were still smaller ones, but they had been lost
by some little cannibal urchins, the priest's children, who had
stolen them to play marbles with. Thus we see how that the
spine of even the hugest of living things tapers off at last into
simple child's play.