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Inasmuch, then, as this Leviathan comes floundering down
upon us from the head-waters of the Eternities, it may be fitly
inquired, whether, in the long course of his generations, he has not
degenerated from the original bulk of his sires.

But upon investigation we find, that not only are the whales
of the present day superior in magnitude to those whose fossil
remains are found in the Tertiary system (embracing a distinct
geological period prior to man), but of the whales found in that
Tertiary system, those belonging to its latter formations exceed in
size those of its earlier ones.

Of all the pre-adamite whales yet exhumed, by far the largest
is the Alabama one mentioned in the last chapter, and that was
less than seventy feet in length in the skeleton. Whereas, we
have already seen, that the tape-measure gives seventy-two feet
for the skeleton of a large sized modern whale. And I have


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heard, on whalemen's authority, that Sperm Whales have been
captured near a hundred feet long at the time of capture.

But may it not be, that while the whales of the present hour
are an advance in magnitude upon those of all previous geological
periods; may it not be, that since Adam's time they have

Assuredly, we must conclude so, if we are to credit the
accounts of such gentlemen as Pliny, and the ancient naturalists
generally. For Pliny tells us of whales that embraced acres
of living bulk, and Aldrovandus of others which measured eight
hundred feet in length—Rope Walks and Thames Tunnels of
Whales! And even in the days of Banks and Solander, Cooke's
naturalists, we find a Danish member of the Academy of Sciences
setting down certain Iceland Whales (reydan-siskur, or Wrinkled
Bellies) at one hundred and twenty yards; that is, three
hundred and sixty feet. And Lacépede, the French naturalist,
in his elaborate history of whales, in the very beginning of his
work (page 3), sets down the Right Whale at one hundred
metres, three hundred and twenty-eight feet. And this work
was published so late as A. D. 1825.

But will any whaleman believe these stories? No. The
whale of to-day is as big as his ancestors in Pliny's time. And
if ever I go where Pliny is, I, a whaleman (more than he was),
will make bold to tell him so. Because I cannot understand
how it is, that while the Egyptian mummies that were buried
thousands of years before even Pliny was born, do not measure
so much in their coffins as a modern Kentuckian in his socks;
and while the cattle and other animals sculptured on the oldest
Egyptian and Nineveh tablets, by the relative proportions in
which they are drawn, just as plainly prove that the high-bred,
stall-fed, prize cattle of Smithfield, not only equal, but far exceed
in magnitude the fattest of Pharaoh's fat kine; in the face of
all this, I will not admit that of all animals the whale alone
should have degenerated.


Page 512

But still another inquiry remains; one often agitated by the
more recondite Nantucketers. Whether owing to the almost
omniscient look-outs at the mast-heads of the whale-ships, now
penetrating even through Behring's straits, and into the remotest
secret drawers and lockers of the world; and the thousand harpoons
and lances darted along all continental coasts; the moot
point is, whether Leviathan can long endure so wide a chase,
and so remorseless a havoc; whether he must not at last be
exterminated from the waters, and the last whale, like the last
man, smoke his last pipe, and then himself evaporate in the
final puff.

Comparing the humped herds of whales with the humped
herds of buffalo, which, not forty years ago, overspread by tens
of thousands the prairies of Illinois and Missouri, and shook
their iron manes and scowled with their thunder-clotted brows
upon the sites of populous river-capitals, where now the polite
broker sells you land at a dollar an inch; in such a comparison
an irresistible argument would seem furnished, to show that
the hunted whale cannot now escape speedy extinction.

But you must look at this matter in every light. Though
so short a period ago—not a good life-time—the census of the
buffalo in Illinois exceeded the census of men now in London,
and though at the present day not one horn or hoof of them
remains in all that region; and though the cause of this
wondrous extermination was the spear of man; yet the far
different nature of the whale-hunt peremptorily forbids so
inglorious an end to the Leviathan. Forty men in one ship
hunting the Sperm Whale for forty-eight months think they
have done extremely well, and thank God, if at last they carry
home the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days of the old
Canadian and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when
the far west (in whose sunset suns still rise) was a wilderness
and a virgin, the same number of moccasined men, for the
same number of months, mounted on horse instead of sailing


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in ships, would have slain not forty, but forty thousand and
more buffaloes; a fact that, if need were, could be statistically

Nor, considered aright, does it seem any argument in favor
of the gradual extinction of the Sperm Whale, for example, that
in former years (the latter part of the last century, say) these
Leviathans, in small pods, were encountered much oftener than
at present, and, in consequence, the voyages were not so
prolonged, and were also much more remunerative. Because,
as has been elsewhere noticed, those whales, influenced by
some views to safety, now swim the seas in immense caravans,
so that to a large degree the scattered solitaries, yokes, and
pods, and schools of other days are now aggregated into
vast but widely separated, unfrequent armies. That is all.
And equally fallacious seems the conceit, that because the
so-called whale-bone whales no longer haunt many grounds in
former years abounding with them, hence that species also
is declining. For they are only being driven from promontory
to cape; and if one coast is no longer enlivened with their jets,
then, be sure, some other and remoter strand has been very
recently startled by the unfamiliar spectacle.

Furthermore: concerning these last mentioned Leviathans,
they have two firm fortresses, which, in all human probability,
will for ever remain impregnable. And as upon the invasion
of their valleys, the frosty Swiss have retreated to their
mountains; so, hunted from the savannas and glades of the
middle seas, the whale-bone whales can at last resort to their
Polar citadels, and diving under the ultimate glassy barriers
and walls there, come up among icy fields and floes; and in a
charmed circle of everlasting December, bid defiance to all
pursuit from man.

But as perhaps fifty of these whale-bone whales are
harpooned for one cachalot, some philosophers of the forecastle
have concluded that this positive havoc has already very


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seriously diminished their battalions. But though for some
time past a number of these whales, not less than 13,000, have
been annually slain on the nor' west coast by the Americans
alone; yet there are considerations which render even this
circumstance of little or no account as an opposing argument
in this matter.

Natural as it is to be somewhat incredulous concerning the
populousness of the more enormous creatures of the globe,
yet what shall we say to Harto, the historian of Goa, when he
tells us that at one hunting the King of Siam took 4000
elephants; that in those regions elephants are numerous as droves
of cattle in the temperate climes. And there seems no reason
to doubt that if these elephants, which have now been hunted
for thousands of years, by Semiramis, by Porus, by Hannibal,
and by all the successive monarchs of the East—if they still
survive there in great numbers, much more may the great
whale outlast all hunting, since he has a pasture to expatiate
in, which is precisely twice as large as all Asia, both Americas,
Europe and Africa, New Holland, and all the Isles of the sea

Moreover: we are to consider, that from the presumed great
longevity of whales, their probably attaining the age of a
century and more, therefore at any one period of time, several
distinct adult generations must be contemporary. And what
that is, we may soon gain some idea of, by imagining all the
grave-yards, cemeteries, and family vaults of creation yielding
up the live bodies of all the men, women, and children who
were alive seventy-five years ago; and adding this countless
host to the present human population of the globe.

Wherefore, for all these things, we account the whale
immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality.
He swam the seas before the continents broke water; he once
swam over the site of the Tuileries, and Windsor Castle, and
the Kremlin. In Noah's flood he despised Noah's Ark; and


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if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands,
to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and
rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood, spout
his frothed defiance to the skies.